Coping with Objectification: Female English Literature Students’ Physical Identity Development as Emerging Adults

Difa Mahya Zahara


Emerging adulthood is a stage where identity exploration is one of its developmental tasks. As most modern-age emerging adults participate in higher education, educational context becomes decisive in understanding their identity development, including the physical identity (body image) of female college students, especially considering the increasing participation of women in higher education which reflects the necessity to attend to their educational and developmental needs. This study draws qualitative data through a phenomenological study of four female college students of an Islamic university in an urban area of Indonesia, specifically the English Literature students. By applying the feminist theory of objectification and the concept of emerging adulthood, this study aims to understand how female college students experience objectification specific to their educational context and how it impacts their physical identity development as emerging adults. This study finds that objectification is experienced by female college students through the curriculum; learning contents, media, dress codes, and students-lecturers, students-peers, as well as students-staff relationships. The experiences indicate negative views of their physique during the college years reflected in negative subjective experiences (shame, anxiety, disrupted peak motivational states, and diminished awareness of internal bodily states), as well as eating disorder risks. However, an overall positive body image is observed in the current time once graduating which rather reveals a non-appearance-focused physical identity—physical health, comfort, and safety—achieved through contextual and reflective thinking. Thus, this study suggests the implication of college or higher education as a facilitator of emerging adults’ physical identity exploration.


objectification; higher education; emerging adulthood; physical identity; body image

Full Text:



Alleva, J. M., Martijn, C., Van Breukelen, G. J., Jansen, A., & Karos, K. (2015). Expand your horizon: A programme that improves body image and reduces self-objectification by training women to focus on body functionality. Body Image, 15, 81–89.

Arnett, J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. The American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.

Arnett, J. J. (2016). College students as emerging Adults: The developmental implications of the college context. Emerging Adulthood, 4(3), 219–222.

Calogero, R. (2012). Objectification theory, self-objectification, and body image. In Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance (Vol. 2, pp. 574–580).

Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T.-A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173–206.

Garrett, R. (2004). Negotiating a physical identity: Girls, bodies and physical education. Sport, Education and Society, 9(2), 223–237.

Heflick, N., & Goldenberg, J. (2009). Objectifying sarah palin: Evidence that objectification causes women to be perceived as less competent and less fully human. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 598–601.

Holland, E., Koval, P., Stratemeyer, M., Thomson, F., & Haslam, N. (2016). Sexual objectification in women’s daily lives: A smartphone ecological momentary assessment study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 56.

Johnson, B., & Christensen, L. B. (2008). Phenomenology. In Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed approaches (pp. 921–932). SAGE Publication.

Klein, L. B., & Martin, S. L. (2021). Sexual harassment of college and university students: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 22(4), 777–792.

Linder, J. R., & Daniels, E. A. (2018). Sexy vs. Sporty: The effects of viewing media images of athletes on self-objectification in college students. Sex Roles, 78(1), 27–39.

Mack, L. (2010). The philosophical underpinnings of educational research. Polyglossia, 19, 5–11.

Marshall, C., & Young, M. D. (2006). Gender and Methodology. In The sage handbook of gender and education.

McKinley, N. M. (2011). Continuity and change in self-objectification: Taking a life-span approach to women’s experiences of objectified body consciousness. American Psychological Association.

Ministry of Education and Culture. (2020). Higher education statistics 2020. Setditjen Dikti, Kemendikbud.

Morris, K. L., Goldenberg, J., & Boyd, P. (2018). Women as animals, women as objects: Evidence for two forms of objectification. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(9), 1302–1314.

Mumford, E. A., Potter, S., Taylor, B. G., & Stapleton, J. (2020). Sexual harassment and sexual assault in early adulthood: National estimates for college and non-college students. Public Health Reports, 135(5), 555–559.

Nussbaum, M. C. (1995). Objectification. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 24(4), 249–291.

O’Hara, S. E., Cox, A. E., & Amorose, A. J. (2014). Emphasizing appearance versus health outcomes in exercise: The influence of the instructor and participants’ reasons for exercise. Body Image, 11(2), 109–118.

Papadaki, E. (2019). Feminist perspectives on objectification. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Proios, M., Proios, M. C., Mavrovouniotis, F., & Theofanis, S. (2012). An exploratory study of athletic identity in university physical education students. Graduate Journal of Sport, Exercise & Physical Education Research, 1, 98–107.

Santrock, J. W. (2017). Life-span development (16th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Schwartz, S. J., Zamboanga, B. L., Luyckx, K., Meca, A., & Ritchie, R. A. (2013). Identity in emerging adulthood: Reviewing the field and looking forward. Emerging Adulthood, 1(2), 96–113.

Strelan, P., & Hargreaves, D. (2005). Women who objectify other women: The vicious circle of objectification? Sex Roles, 52(9), 707–712.

Szymanski, D. M. (2020). Sexual objectification, internalization, and college women’s depression: The role of shame. The Counseling Psychologist, 48(1), 135–156.

Szymanski, D. M., Strauss Swanson, C., & Carretta, R. F. (2021). Interpersonal sexual objectification, fear of rape, and u.s. College women’s depression. Sex Roles, 84(11), 720–730.

Vasile, C. (2015). Is the body image so important? Physical identity in relation to gender and self esteem. International Conference EPC-TKS 2015, 203, 443–447.

Walseth, K., Aartun, I., & Engelsrud, G. (2017). Girls’ bodily activities in physical education How current fitness and sport discourses influence girls’ identity construction. Sport, Education and Society, 22(4), 442–459.

Winn, L., & Cornelius, R. (2020). Self-objectification and cognitive performance: A systematic review of the literature. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 20.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2023 Difa Mahya Zahara

p-ISSN : 2721-429X
e-ISSN : 2721-4273

Published by Language Center of Universitas Teuku Umar
Website :
Email    :

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.