Psychology, Department of
Self‑Objectification During the Perinatal Period: The Role of Body Surveillance in Maternal and Infant Wellbeing
Date of this Version
Published in Sex Roles 88 (2023), pp 459–473.
Pregnancy represents a unique time during which women’s bodies undergo significant physical changes (e.g., expanding belly, larger breasts, weight gain) that can elicit increased objectification. Experiences of objectification set the stage for women to view themselves as sexual objects (i.e., self-objectification) and are associated with adverse mental health outcomes. Although women may experience heightened self-objectification and behavioral consequences (such as body surveillance) due to the objectification of pregnant bodies in Western cultures, there are remarkably few studies examining objectification theory among women during the perinatal period. The present study investigated the impact of body surveillance, a consequence of self-objectification, on maternal mental health, mother-infant bonding, and infant socioemotional outcomes in a sample of 159 women navigating pregnancy and postpartum. Utilizing a serial mediation model, we found that mothers who endorsed higher levels of body surveillance during pregnancy reported more depressive symptoms and body dissatisfaction, which were associated with greater impairments in mother-infant bonding following childbirth and more infant socioemotional dysfunction at 1-year postpartum. Maternal prenatal depressive symptoms emerged as a unique mechanism through which body surveillance predicted bonding impairments and subsequent infant outcomes. Results highlight the critical need for early intervention efforts that not only target general depression, but also promote body functionality and acceptance over the Western “thin ideal” of attractiveness among expecting mothers.
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