The relationship of yoga, self-objectification, disordered eating, and depressed mood in college-aged women
According to objectification theorists (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997), sexual objectification of the female body contributes to mental health problems which disproportionately affect girls and women including eating disorders and depression. They postulated that living in a culture which sexually objectifies the female body socializes girls and women to view their bodies from a third-person perspective. Fredrickson and Roberts referred to this process as self-objectification and asserted it has negative mental health consequences (e.g., body shame, appearance anxiety) for girls and women. They posited participation in sports programs could buffer girls and women from the harmful effects of sexual objectification. Previous research (Daubenmier, 2005; Impett, Daubenmier, & Hirschman, 2006) indicated that yoga was an effective method for protecting women from engaging in self-objectification. This investigator tested whether yoga practice was associated with lower levels of self-objectification and its related consequences in college-aged women. The roles of habitual body monitoring, body shame, appearance anxiety, flow, and awareness of internal bodily states in the link between self-objectification and disordered eating and self-objectification and depressed mood in this population was also examined. Three hundred seventy-five college-aged women completed measures of self-objectification and its proposed costs. The sample included women who practiced yoga (yoginis), physically active (PA) women (engaged in non-yoga physical activity three or more hours per week), and sedentary/low physically active (SLPA) women (engaged in non-yoga physical activity zero to two hours per week). The yoginis exhibited lower levels of self-objectification compared to women in the SLPA group and greater levels of flow and internal bodily awareness compared to women in the PA and SLPA groups. Participants in the SLPA group exhibited more depressive symptoms compared to participants in the PA group and the yoginis. For the entire sample, appearance anxiety fully mediated the relationship between self-objectification and disordered eating and depressive symptoms. These findings have implications for psychologists who treat college-aged women and university student wellness programs.