Self Objectification In The Digital Age
In the Digital Age, new technologies and social media generate a new wave of visual consumption in the gay culture. With the media’s heavy emphasis on a hyper-sexualized muscular body appearance, gay men are adopting these superficial values as measurements of self-worth.
In Martins et al’s study on the role of self objectification in gay men’s body image, they borrow the concept of objectification theory proposed by Fredrickson & Roberts to explain gay men’s body dissatisfaction. “Objectification Theory asserts that individuals who live in a sexually objectifying cultures may adopt an observer’s perspective and base judgements about themselves and their bodies on the extent to which they emulate the sexual and body ideals of their culture” (1997).
The problematic self objectification can be observed in gay men’s social networking applications. In these apps, users often upload sexually suggestive body images of themselves, and browse for body images posted by other users. This rapid consumption cycle in social media reinforces the Objectification Theory, which further motivates individuals to participate in self objectification based on sexualized body standards.
The Gay Male Gaze
Obsessive self objectification may result in self-loathing, intense feeling of inadequacy, and sexually undesirable. On top of these hardships, researches have indicated that gay men experience the highest percentage of body dissatisfaction compared to straight males, straight females, and lesbians. In an empirical literature review conducted by MJ Wood, he points out that “the intersection of gender and sexual orientation compounds body dissatisfaction among gay men, since it reinforces their tendency to objectify both themselves and each other, and to judge their bodies by diverging and conflicting standards” (2008). Wood’s research summarizes that heteronormativity and gender oppression are actively reconstructed in the gay communities, which celebrates masculinity and “straight-acting”, while condemning femininity and obesity. At the same time, these values are projected on body aesthetics, which determines power relations within the gay communities.
A prime example of heteronormative values can be observed from the now-ubiquitous phrase “No Fats No Fems”. Popularized from the gay social networking apps, the term implies that a person is not looking to hook up with men of size or feminine men. “No Fats No Fems” is a self-loathing and discriminating term that promotes masculinity and muscularity to be the only acceptable body appearance in the gay community. In 2016, online retailer Marek + Richard released a tank top with the phrase written on it, which further proves that heteronormativity continues to be influential through media representation, dating norms, and the gay community.
The Proteus Effect
The Proteus Effect proposes that the visual characteristics and traits of an avatar are associated with specific behavioral stereotypes and expectations (Yee, Nick, Jeremy Bailenson, 2007). In Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi-, the player is immersed in virtual reality and inhabits an eggplant body. Through the use of mirror as a tool for self-identification in VR, more than 75% of players have identified the eggplant as their virtual self. Players also exhibit exaggerated behaviors when identifying with the eggplant. The use of mirror has been widely adopted in Facebook’s Oculus Avatars and David O’Reilly’s Character Mirror.