The Role of Dress in Objectification Research: An Opportunity for Dress Researchers

Lennon, Sharron
Johnson, Kim
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We focus on relationships between the concepts of dress and objectification. A two-pronged definition of dress is all modifications of and supplements to the body. Objectification occurs when a person is reduced to the status of an object for others’ sexual use.

Objectification Theory proposes that girls and women living in media-saturated Western cultures are gazed at, evaluated, and potentially objectified by others. When women and girls are objectified by others, they may self-objectify; or internalize an outsider’s perspective and see themselves as objects to be evaluated for their physical attributes. We show that dress has been used in objectification research to both evoke and document objectification but the importance of dress in these processes has seldom been acknowledged. Whether using a revealing dress manipulation or a manipulation of the body, these manipulations focus participants on their bodies. This focus may be what evokes self- and other-objectification.

Opportunity exists for dress researchers to offer insight in the objectification literature. Some studies provide no rationale for choice of dress stimuli to elicit other-objectification and numerous terms are used to describe dress manipulations (e.g., sexy dress, provocative dress), with no clear rationale. Topics of interest to dress researchers such as sexual harassment/assault, trying on clothes and evaluating oneself in a full-length mirror, and undergoing body scanning may be sexually objectifying experiences to those involved; thus research hypotheses and results can be informed by extant objectification literature. Also using the two-pronged definition of dress, dress researchers can bring new structure/organization to objectification research.