Ladies: By the time you are finished reading this article, there’s a good chance you will have done it at least four times.
Gents: You are a lot more fortunate.
According to a TEDxYouth talk by Dr. Caroline Heldman, women participate in habitual body monitoring every 30 seconds. Although some men do too, it is significantly more common for women.
Habitual body monitoring is when people mentally scan the appearance of their bodies.
Dr. Heldman provides examples: “We think about the positioning of our legs, the positioning of our hair, where the light is falling on our face, who’s looking at us, who’s not looking at us.”
Fixing straps, pulling down a skirt and minimizing rolls being seen through clothing are concrete results of constantly assessing the body’s appearance.
Laurier student MaryGrace Zadravec, 20, does not put pressure on herself to look a certain way, besides ensuring she looks presentable. If her hair is out of place or she has poor posture, she said she will most likely only fix it due to comfort, not appearance.
Zadravec feels as though she acts how she wants in a public space, without too much influence from others. However, as a Sales Guide at an upper-scale clothing retailer, she feels like she must be put-together at all times if she wants to reach her sales goals.
“[My colleagues and I] have noticed there are differences in whether we make our goal or not as to what we look like that day,” she said.
Zadravec suggests the media plays a large role in the importance of appearing “perfect” at all times.
Habitual body monitoring is one of the effects of self-objectification. According to the well-received article ‘Objectification Theory’, psychologists Barbara L. Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts suggest that when people subconsciously view their bodies as objects, they are much more likely to monitor their bodies. In turn, negative effects like eating disorders, depression, sexual dysfunction and habitual body monitoring are more likely.
Even more specifically, ‘spectatoring’ is a common form of monitoring one’s appearance: viewing one’s self through a third perspective during sex, without even realizing it. Needless to say, being self-conscious about appearance does not allow for the focus to be on pleasure or intimacy.
Dr. Fredrickson and Dr. Roberts suggest that the women who purposely do not conform by not wearing make-up, wearing loose clothing and not removing body hair may reduce self-objectification and increase psychological wellness.
“I think everyone can be happy and have a better time if they don’t feel like they have to be perfect every second,” Zadravec said.