Monday, October 20, 2014: 5:15 PM

Elizabeth S. Focella, PhD, Jamie Arndt, PhD and Victoria A. Shaffer, PhD, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

Breast cancer awareness advertisements (BCAAs) often contain sexualized images of women and sexually provocative terms. While these provocative images and terms may draw attention to breast cancer awareness, they may also have unanticipated consequences for women who view them. One of these includes self-objectification, whereby women place greater value on their physical appearance than their overall health. Having a close relative with breast cancer, however, may reduce the impact that BCAAs have on women’s self-objectification. The purpose of this research is to determine whether objectifying BCAAs increase women’s self-objectification, whether this is influenced by a family history of breast cancer, and whether self-objectification impacts women’s own health behavior.


Female participants (N = 604; recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk) were randomly assigned to view either: 1) BCAAs that are sexually provocative, 2) BCAAs that are not sexually provocative, or 3) advertisements unrelated to breast cancer. Participants then completed a measure of self-objectification in which they rank-ordered the personal importance of traits ranging from physical appearance (e.g., physical attractiveness) to physical ability (e.g., physical coordination). Participants then completed several measures including their desire to keep their breast if diagnosed with breast cancer and their desire to learn more about their personal breast cancer risk. Finally, we asked participants whether they had a close relative who had breast cancer.


Analyses revealed that viewing sexually provocative BCAAs caused women who did not have a relative with breast cancer to self-objectify more than women who viewed neutral BCAAs and women who viewed ads unrelated to breast cancer, p = .029. Further, greater self-objectification was associated with 1) a decreased desire to learn more about personal breast cancer risk, p < .001 and 2) an increased desire to keep their breast if diagnosed with breast cancer, p= .02.


BCAAs that contain sexualized images may have the unintended consequence of increasing women’s self-objectification, which can make women less interested in learning about their personal breast cancer risk—an outcome that is actually in opposition to the objectives of BCAAs. However, women with a family history of breast cancer may be buffered from the effects of objectifying BCAAs. Considering these results, organizations should consider their specific goals (e.g., raise money, encourage breast cancer screening) when creating BCAAs.