Toward Understanding Women's Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks


  • Work on this manuscript was supported by a grant from the Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Foundation awarded to the Women's Studies Program at Duke University, where Fredrickson was on the faculty from 1992–1995 in the Department of Psychology: Social and Health Sciences. The authors gratefully acknowledge the advice, ideas, and support of Jean O'Barr, Abigail Stewart, Philip Costanzo, Karla Fischer, and Lee Hendler, as well as all who participated in the Gender/Body/Self discussions held at Duke University during the summer of 1993. We extend particular thanks to Jean Hamilton and Rachel Wolfe for their contributions to our thinking during the early stages of this work.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Barbara L. Fredrickson, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 525 East University Avenue, Room 3217 East Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109; e-mail: blf@umich.edu.


This article offers objectification theory as a framework for understanding the experiential consequences of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body. Objectification theory posits that girls and women are typically acculturated to internalize an observer's perspective as a primary view of their physical selves. This perspective on self can lead to habitual body monitoring, which, in turn, can increase women's opportunities for shame and anxiety, reduce opportunities for peak motivational states, and diminish awareness of internal bodily states. Accumulations of such experiences may help account for an array of mental health risks that disproportionately affect women: unipolar depression, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders. Objectification theory also illuminates why changes in these mental health risks appear to occur in step with life-course changes in the female body.