According to objectification theory, being treated as an object leads people, especially women, to perceive themselves as objects. This self-objectification increases body surveillance and feelings of body shame. While this relation is well-established in the literature, little is known about factors that can buffer against detrimental consequences of self-objectification. The current work used a multi-method approach to investigate the role of self-compassion on men and women’s perceptions of their bodies.
Study 1 investigated relations between self-compassion, body surveillance, and body shame (N = 60 men, 104 women) using cross-sectional, self-report data. Study 2 (N = 64 men, 94 women) experimentally manipulated self-objectification and self-compassion, assessing resulting body surveillance and shame, whereas study 3 (N = 69 men, 189 women) manipulated self-objectification among participants high and low in self-compassion.
In study 1, self-compassion was inversely related to body shame and body surveillance, with self-compassion moderating the link between surveillance and shame among men. In study 2, self-compassion protected women in the high self-objectification condition from engaging in greater body surveillance. Yet, in study 3, self-compassion failed to buffer the consequences of body surveillance on body shame. An integrative analysis (N = 193 men, 387 women) demonstrated that self-compassion was strongly negatively associated with body shame and body surveillance among men and women, protecting against detrimental consequences of body surveillance among men.
The current work contributes to a better understanding of links between constructs related to objectification theory and compassion for oneself in the light of gender differences.