This paper redirects some of the
philosophical discussion of sexual objectification. Rather than contributing
further to debates over what constitutes objectification and whether it is
harmful, I argue that aesthetic experience is a useful tool for resisting
objectification. Attending to our embodied experiences provides immediate
evidence that we are subjects; aesthetically attending to that evidence is a
way of valuing it. I consider the human body as an aesthetic site, then as an
ethico-aesthetic site, and finally as a site of resistance. In addition to
deepening accounts of body aesthetic experience, this paper helps frame human
bodies as integral to moral agency, rather than impediments to it.
body aesthetics; felt experience;
"Women Recovering Our Clothes," Iris Marion Young describes an
experience of sexual objectification both captured in and evoked by an
advertisement for wool clothing. The two-panel advertisement's slogan,
"See yourself in wool," invites Young to imagine herself in place of
the woman pictured the first panel, which she enthusiastically accepts. The
resulting imagined scenarios are lively and diverse, suggesting a full human
life. But the second panel shows the woman watched from behind by a man, who
Young describes as "bringing me down to his size." By including this
second picture, the ad flips the switch on women: they're objects, after all.
Young accepts the invitation to see herself as a subject on her own terms,
which the ad rejects. Both she, and the woman wearing wool, are objects.
analysis of the ad and her response to it describes one kind of sexual
objectification; her analysis links ideas in feminist film criticism about
subjects and objects, gazers and the gazed-on. Young describes the pleasure of
viewing fashion advertisements as lying "in images of female bodies in
their clothes because my own gaze occupies the position of the male gaze
inasmuch as I am a subject at all." This reading oversimplifies her earlier
response to the ad, where she imagined herself as a subject in wool. It also
reveals that awareness of ourselves as subjects can run alongside our
experiences of objectification. In constructing a detailed philosophical
response to the ad, Young demonstrates a subjectivity similar to traditional
masculine subjectivity. But another, more basic kind of subjectivity enables
the philosophical work and provides an immediate contradiction to the
objectifying narrative Young encounters. That basic subjectivity, which is my
focus here, lies partly in Young's disoriented response to the ad. For people
in similar positions, reminders of subjectivity can be found in disorientation
and in our bodily responses to objectification.
is a lively existing literature on sexual objectification but the terms of the
philosophical discussion there are rather narrow. Rather than contributing to
the existing debates primarily about what objectification is and whether
it is harmful, I focus on ways we can respond to our own sexual
objectification. Rather than trying to understand
objectification itself, I am trying to understand how we can respond to it
without succumbing to it. How do we resist the catcall? How do we refuse,
rather than internalize, the way the man in the ad, or the ad itself, sees us?
And how do we resist the idea that our bodies, so often the focus of
objectification, do not burden us? First, I argue that attention to embodied
experiences affirms subjectivity by providing (sometimes immediate!) counter-testimony
to objectification. Affirmation and counter-testimony enable resistance to
objectification. However, we still need to figure out how to give that
counter-testimony special weight, particularly since objectification often
comes at us from multiple sources and over a sustained period of time.
second suggestion is that aesthetic appreciation of embodiment lends needed
weight. I urge particular attention to aesthetic facets of felt bodily
experiences, thereby turning aesthetic and moral attention to first-personal
experiences of being a body (embodiment). Such a multisensory experience
emphasizes our bodies for ourselves, not for others. I focus on embodiment,
especially bodily feelings, because bodies feature so prominently in our
thinking about and experiences of objectification, embodiment and subjectivity
intertwine, and bodily feelings feature prominently and diversely in other
forms of subjective experience, such as emotions. It is important that the
attention be aesthetic because of the way aesthetic experience intertwines with
value and appreciation. Aesthetic attention is a way of valuing something; it
is also something we do as subjects. Aesthetically valuing embodiment helps us
resist the kinds of oppression that deny our subjectivity and seek to enlist us
in that denial. Our bodies are not merely the occasion of vulnerability and
objectification but a source of resistance to objectification and openness to
of the physical facts of human existence has a long history, while more recent
work, particularly by feminist philosophers, points out bodily and aesthetic
burdens borne by members of marginalized groups. Even in this important critical work,
bodies remain "problems." Rather than continuing to place the
sensuous in conflict with the moral, I highlight one particular way the
aesthetic and human bodies are allies of self-understanding and projects of
resistance. Human lives present a complex union
of subject-object experience. We are objects, as physical beings regarded by
others, and subjects, as selves, persons, agents. Bodily experiences, such as I discuss
here, are subjective, in the sense that they are personal, not public, and not
objective. Our subjective experience gives evidence to our personhood when that
personhood is under threat from objectification. My focus is on humans who
experience objectification, often marginalized groups. I leave to others the
project of extending and nuancing the analysis to dominant groups.
Young's essay demonstrates, bodily surfaces, significantly of other people's
bodies, are readily available to our senses, especially to sight. The ad
Young engages offers a clear case of sighted aesthetic engagement with bodies.
Surfaces are the most intuitive point of entry for my project, and there is
plenty of work on bodily visibility. The existing literature lays a
groundwork for the aesthetic's presence in a non-traditional arena, the
first-personal and felt. I first consider the human body as an aesthetic site,
then as an ethico-aesthetic site, and finally as a site of resistance. I next
review work in aesthetics emphasizing bodily experiences, particularly tactile
experience of one's own body, as aesthetic experiences. I draw on work by
Sherri Irvin and Yuriko Saito to establish ways the body can be a site of
aesthetic experiences, rather than merely the conduit for them. I then turn to
feminist work on bodily experiences in the context of moral value. Developing
an awareness of bodily changes and sensations, and their aesthetic characteristics,
improves self-knowledge and self-understanding. As a specific instance of the
impact of our aesthetic environment on our moral lives, objectification
illustrates the moral significance of giving attention to the aesthetics of embodied experiences.
Body aesthetics outside and in
experience is, to borrow a term from Sherri Irvin, pervasive. This section of
the paper explores that pervasiveness and outlines some aesthetic experiences
specific to embodiment (body aesthetics). Body aesthetics expands philosophy's
focus to include aesthetic experiences beyond art-oriented aesthetics; here, I
focus on felt experience. By directing our aesthetic attention to bodies, the
things people do to and with bodies, and the experience of having a body, body
aesthetics understands aesthetic experience as, on some level, always accessible.
aesthetics de-emphasizes the notion of aesthetic experience as separate from
our day-to-day lives, thereby overlapping everyday aesthetics. Per Saito, everyday
aesthetics directs attention to "sensuous qualities like size, shape,
color, texture, sometimes smell, and the arrangements of parts. After all, it
is these sensuous qualities with which we interact on a daily basis that, along
with natural elements, make up the world in which we live." Saito considers the sensuous
qualities of quotidian experiences such as laundry, landscaping, and preparing
and eating food. Such experiences include "aesthetic tastes and attitudes
[that] often … lead to consequences which go beyond simply being preoccupied
with the surface, and . . . affect not only our daily life but also the state
of the society and the world." Both Irvin and Saito's views have
received pushback for their use of the term aesthetic that I will address in
Section IV. First, I survey the way body aesthetics analyzes human bodies and
the experience of embodiment.
values affect the visible features of and practices related to the body.
Aesthetic judgments inform what we put on and take off our bodies: clothing,
makeup, hair, jewelry, tattoos, fat, skin. Practices of body modification and
care intersect with self-understanding and self-expression. They express not
only "one's evaluative feelings regarding oneself and what would make one
pretty, handsome, sexy . . ." but one's cultural context and relationship
to that context. Shirley Ann Tate, discussing black
women's beautification practices and their experiences navigating racialized
beauty standards, writes that "[q]uestions of bodily practices such as
those of beauty are always discursive and subject to the gaze of the
other." However, the "gaze of the
other" is not definitive of these practices, nor of the practitioners. The meaning of
black beauty practices originates in black people's views of themselves. The
gaze of the other matters but so does the gaze of the self.
aesthetics presents felt experiences as aesthetic experiences by directing
attention to aesthetic experiences of or through the body. For
example, Irvin draws on a Deweyan account of "an experience" to help
clarify why we should aesthetically consider activities such as "run[ning]
my tongue back and forth on the insides of my closed teeth." In addition to felt bodily
sensations, the felt experiences from interacting with the world are also
richly aesthetic. Simple features of the world, such as the smell of a cat's
fur, can be quite complex: "[w]hen I lower my face into my cat's fur, my
experience has subtle tactile, olfactory, visual, and emotional components." We find this complexity of meaning
elsewhere: scratching an itch, or the warm and coercive weight of a cat sitting
on the bed with you, or the beginnings of a headache; such cases emphasize
embeddedness and responsiveness to the world.
our emotional experiences figure prominently in embodied aesthetic experiences,
our emotional lives figure prominently in our aesthetic experiences. They also
share some structural features. Emotional experiences frustrate conceptual
divisions between the feeling of our bodies and the appearances of them and
between our physical and our psychological selves. Many emotional states leave
visible signs: we smile, we hunch our shoulders, we cry. Such visual effects
are intuitively objects of aesthetic evaluation. Facial expressions fit into
modes of existing aesthetic evaluation, perhaps because faces are already
objects of aesthetic evaluation and labor. Here, I mean "object" both
in the sense of "focus" and in the sense of “thing." Faces, like
the rest of the body, are both what we appraise and the "raw
material" transformed through aesthetic or interpersonal activity. A smile
changes facial appearance and is a visual display and signal for others. Our
visual habits of aesthetic appreciation allow us to interpret a smile from the
perspectives of observer and creator.
I have much more access to the invisible records of the smile: air on my teeth
and tongue, the stretch of muscles in my cheeks, jaw, lips, and throat. The
emotional context of these physical activities/sensations alters their
aesthetic character. The stretch of muscles in a forced smile has a different
quality from the stretch that accompanies a joyful one. We might not even
notice the tension in our muscles that results from a joyful smile but find a
forced smile unbearable. Our relationships with our bodies track both our
understanding of what our bodies look like when they do things as well
as what it feels like to do or undergo things.
our tactile and visual senses are entangled, the division between felt and
visible experience is not especially neat. My smile alters my field of vision
as well as feeling like something to me. Further, it feels like
something to see someone else smile, too: sometimes like tension easing,
sometimes like a lump in the throat, and sometimes like wanting to slap
someone. When we find our bodies undergoing these experiences, we learn
something about our bodily responses but we also learn about our orientation to
the world around us. As I argue in the rest of the paper, attention to the
aesthetic dimension of felt experience underlines subjectivity and, at least
potentially, affirms personhood. For some of us, that affirmation might
constitute new knowledge but for others, it will at least be a useful reminder,
safeguarding subjectivity when it is at risk.
groups are vulnerable to objectification and suffer harm because of this
vulnerability and the way it positions them in their communities. Women,
generally, have to deal with sexual objectification in ways that men,
generally, do not. People of color and the economically
vulnerable, a group that includes many women, as well as queer and disabled
people, and children, also risk objectification and have limited means of
responding to it. Members of these groups experience both sexual objectification
and also a more general kind: diminished access to the kind of moral
consideration set down in the second formulation of Kant's categorical
imperative. They are less likely to be treated as
anything other than a means to someone else's end. In less Kantian terms,
members of these groups are more likely to find other people reduce their
existence to the others' own interests, rather than that interactions with
others reflect diverse particularity. In cases of sexual objectification, those
interests collect around often oppressive sexual and gender dynamics.
outlining the aesthetic possibilities of embodiment and the way these
possibilities often feature in our emotional lives, I explained how it is that
the body can be a source of aesthetic experience beyond the obvious (visual)
ways. Throughout this section, I also kept my case study, objectification, in
view, focusing for the moment on its social and aesthetic aspects. But the
focus on objectification requires a more thorough examination of the way the
body, aesthetics included, features in our moral lives. Objectification, after
all, is primarily a moral wrong, not an aesthetic one.
The ethico-aesthetic body
we have reasons to think of bodily experiences as aesthetic experiences, to
consider emotional experiences as intersecting with aesthetic experiences, and
to understand there are specific, under-explored aesthetic values permeating
our embodiment. These aesthetic values may track our particular social context
and racial, ethnic, and gender identities and may relate, sometimes quite
closely, to moral values. I still need to clarify how our bodies feature in our
moral lives. It is easy to see how they feature negatively: consider your
behavior last time you got hungry. But consider, too, handshakes and hugs.
Drawing on body aesthetics and feminist ethics, I argue that ethico-aesthetic
consideration of the body enables a richer appreciation of embodiment and
ethics. Framing our bodies as sources of morally relevant information, rather
than impediments to rational moral actions, allows us to work with our bodies,
rather than against them.
aesthetics of embodiment addresses the convergence of the aesthetic and the
moral. Irvin and Saito suggest at least two sites of convergence. First,
attending to everyday aesthetic experiences can improve our appreciation of the
world around us and our moral agency. Appreciating aesthetic experiences
already available to us, including felt bodily experiences, may make us less
likely to search, irresponsibly and unreflectively, for "new goods that
make different experiences available. Perhaps we can discover that we already
have enough, or even more than we need, to be satisfied." Second, awareness of the ways our
aesthetic values structure decision-making bolsters our self-awareness and
transparency. Saito explores the second point in the context of environmental
ethics. We have aesthetic tastes for smooth green lawns and bright white cotton
tee shirts; acquiring and maintaining them involves a great deal of money and
hard work—but also, Saito points out, significant environmental harm. This is a good moral reason to adjust
our aesthetic thinking and, thereby, our moral activity. Irvin suggests
adjusting our sense of aesthetic value allows us to reframe the moral project
such that it no longer seems to hinge on self-sacrifice. For example, reducing meat
consumption can be "a matter of finding different ways to indulge the
tastes that were once satisfied by meat." Some of these experiences, such
as the lawns, are largely external to bodies, while others, such as food and
clothing, more obviously interact with or are incorporated into the body,
although there is nothing in principle stopping you from bodily engagement with
a smooth green lawn, and dogs certainly seem to enjoy rolling around on them.
relationship between bodily experiences and ethics also emerges from the work
of Gail Weiss and Ami Harbin, who highlight the moral insights that can arise
from attending to our bodily experience. In Body Images, Weiss argues
for an ethics grounded in "bodily imperatives:” "ethical demands that
bodies place on other bodies in the course of our daily existence." We must also attend to our own body's
demands. Harbin, influenced by Weiss and Sara Ahmed, argues feeling
disoriented, particularly bodily disorientation, aids ethical agency. Both
Weiss's and Harbin's accounts are useful for discussing objectification because
they turn troubling or negative experiences, such as illness, into increased
insights and moral agency. Weiss and Harbin describe encounters that upset our
habits of self-understanding but through which we gain ethical insight.
Objectification, as Young's interaction with the wool advertisement shows, is
disorienting because one feels oneself both object and subject. If properly
attended to, our bodily feelings reject the denigrating narrative of
objectification. In this case, the imperative arising from our own body is that
we recognize the emotional experiences, testimony of our subjectivity,
manifesting through it. While such an imperative is unlikely to receive uptake
from an objectifier,
I argue that cultivating habits of aesthetically appreciating the experiences
that form such an imperative makes us better able to meet the imperative of our
contrasts bodily imperatives with Kantian categorical imperatives and other
abstract or transcendent moral claims. Bodily imperatives support a finely
grained ethics, encompassing the "physical and emotional responses that
rise out of our complex, concrete relationships with other bodies." Bodily imperatives are moral commands
that "emerge out of our intercorporeal exchanges." For Weiss, our self-concept, body
included, relies in large part on our relationships with other people. Weiss
argues that relationships are bodily/embodied, not the communion of abstract
selves at the mercy of their bodies or the bodies of others. Bodies are
integral to personal identity and relationships. The effects of one body on
other bodies are reciprocal, which is not to deny that they may be harmful
and/or negative. Relationships and moral communities have special significance
for practices of moral self-cultivation "that can only be experienced and
enacted through bodily practices . . .that both implicate and transform the
bodies of others." Weiss begins from bodies in their
diverse particularity, not bodies abstracted away from or universalized into
iconography. Bodily histories and specific characteristics, like age, are
"a source of respect both for the moral wisdom they can provide as well as
for the that way they contextualize" our relationships.
in the social, rather than biological, world often seem to sideline bodily
imperatives. Death and birth are instances when the biological intervenes in
the social with undeniable force, and Weiss further contextualizes death and
birth through parent-child relationships. Weiss argues that the relationship
between maternal and fetal bodies is one case where bodily imperatives are
generally acknowledged and understood because "the intercorporeal
exchanges between mother and fetus are too striking to be ignored." In other contexts, bodily
interactions tend to be "described . . . in terms of relatively discrete
bodies interacting with other discrete bodies." The bodily imperatives of a parent-child relationship include feeding
and cleaning the child, the child's need to be fed and cleaned, and the
mother's need to feed and clean, though of course not all mothers experience
these imperatives. These bodily demands require embodied action. We cannot eat
in the abstract any more than we can wipe our child's or parent's body clean of
fecal matter in the abstract.
proposal aligns with other philosophies that view bodies not as obstacles to
morality but rather as media for moral action. For example, classical
Confucianism insists on responsiveness to the particularities of human
personalities and relationships and communicates moral regard through bodily
behaviors. We see this in advice given about how to behave with appropriate
filial feeling and respect toward parents. Parents do not simply require that
their children meet their basic needs, as "‘even dogs and horses are
provided with nourishment. If you are not respectful, wherein lies the difference?'"
Differentiating your dogs and horses from your parents is important work and
hinges, among other things, on the appropriate level of respect.
"Respectful" is conceived robustly, clarified in the next passage,
when Confucius says, "‘It is the demeanor that is difficult.'" Anyone can "go through the
motions" but moral regard must be embodied. Bodily skill is
expected for moral agency. That classical Confucianism is a philosophy for rich
young men, people more likely to sexually objectify others than be objectified
themselves, clarifies that bodily experience is morally relevant to dominant
groups in addition to marginalized ones. Confucian sources emphasize personal
integrity, uniting moral requirements, emotional states, and bodily practice.
Manners, comportment, and facial expressions are salient because these are
aspects of our embodiment that give other people evidence of our emotional
states. Primarily, they are visual evidence; visible signs are the most
accessible to others, so it makes sense to focus on them thinking of
interactions among groups of people. It doesn't help so much with
first-personal experience. How can we return to a consideration of felt experience,
and what role might it play in our moral lives?
Harbin's work on bodily disorientation, influenced by Weiss, describes some of
the possibilities for felt experience. Harbin describes disorientation as
"experiences of shock or surprise, unease, and discomfort. They are often
cued by feelings of being out of place, unfamiliar, or not at home." Recalling Saito and Irvin's
discussion of aesthetic experience, Harbin frames moral life in terms of
"day-to-day practices of interaction: with spaces, objects, living beings,
events, projects, ideas, and norms." Harbin argues disorientation,
"experienced through complex corporeal, affective, and cognitive
processes," is vital to moral agency. Bodily disorientation changes our
attentional patterns, highlighting aspects of our experiences that otherwise go
disorientations often make more visible the ways my
well-being relies crucially on the work of others . . ., and this can support
morally better, potentially reciprocal, interaction with them. As disoriented,
we are more likely to stand out to others, to depend on them, and to appreciate
their power in our lives; this can bring us into closer relationships in some
cases and distance us from parts of our communities in others.
Weiss and Saito, Harbin links attention and ethics: "we enact moral agency
often through habits of attention and action." And it is important to keep
the body in view, as "processes of cognition and emotion cannot be
theorized apart from embodiment."
we understand objectification as a kind of disorientation, and Young's account
gives us reason for doing so, then Harbin's argument that disorientation helps
us direct our attention and critically evaluate our relationship with people
and institutions around us. It also furthers our self-knowledge; specifically,
it lets us know we are subjects who can be viewed as objects. This is not the
same as learning we are objects! Alongside Confucian philosophy, Harbin and
Weiss shine a bright light on the relationship between our bodies and the
habitual and indicate ways this relationship is relevant to our moral
interactions. Through their focus on bodies, they also suggest relevance for
the aesthetic. I turn now to aesthetic attention as a way of valuing the
Aesthetic experience and subjectivity
idea that paying attention is one way of acknowledging value recurs in
philosophy of the everyday. I argue that paying attention to women's
experiences of objectification is one way of counteracting everyday instances
of gendered injustice. My focus here is not on women's testimonies about those
experiences but on the phenomenology of objectification and the way attention
to bodily feelings affirms subjectivity. Further, the aesthetic has a special
place in the ongoing, many-layered project of counteracting gendered injustices
and understanding one's own condition. So, the attention I advocate is, at
least in part, aesthetic attention. I will start by explaining why this is a
project for aesthetics, not just ethics or political philosophy.
are three reasons for thinking we should understand my project as aesthetic,
rather than merely moral. First, aesthetic values play a large role in
processes of objectification, such that aesthetic norms signal the value of
certain kinds of bodies. Second, deviation from or adherence to these norms
makes one particularly vulnerable to objectification. In the spectrums of
feminine self-presentation, the middle ground allows one to pass unremarked but
"ostentatiously" feminine or notably androgynous or masculine
self-presentation "provoke" comments. Certain bodies get classed as
"extremely feminine" or "androgynous" without much agential
action at all: people have relatively little to say about the size of their
breasts or the width of their hips. Finally, the link between aesthetic
attention and moral agency means there is a particular need to counter
aesthetic oppression with aesthetic liberation. I use the ethico-aesthetic norm
of sexiness to illustrate these points.
values inform our judgments about our own bodies and the bodies of others,
sometimes enabling objectification. We consider bodies in light of norms like
sexiness and altered bodies/bodily appearances, with respect to such norms.
Though actual ideas about what "counts" as sexy are as diverse as the
people who hold them, what A. W. Eaton calls our "collective taste"
for/in sexiness is fairly limited. It readily acknowledges white, able
bodies. It makes room, sometimes, for racially and ethnically
"ambiguous" bodies, provided they meet or better the standards of
white sexual desirability. In the 1990s, bell hooks argued that Naomi Campbell
"embodies an aesthetic that suggests black women, while appealingly
‘different,' must resemble white women to be considered really beautiful,"
while also being photographed in highly sexualized contexts. Whatever racial progress has occurred
since the 1990s, the sense that Lupita Nyong'o's Vogue covers push the boundaries of
mainstream beauty persists. Vogue covers,
in general, track a slightly different kind of desirability than concepts of
sexiness do, and Nyong'o and Campbell are not treated as desirable, beautiful,
or sexy in the same way Kate Upton is. (They are high fashion in a way Upton is
not). However, the ideals intersect and
overlap, such that women navigate their relationship to each. For women of
color, sexual desirability and beauty are fraught and often dehumanizing,
objectifying in a surprisingly narrow sense. For example, Robin Zheng, writing
about "yellow fever," or white men's sexual "preference" for
Asian and Asian-descended women, argues that "racial depersonalization
inherent in yellow fever threatens Asian/American women with doubts as to
whether they are or can be loved as individuals rather than as objects in a
category." Asian/American women who find
themselves outside the lines of "collective taste" for Asian/American
female bodies might find themselves with doubts as to whether they can be loved
as objects in a category, let alone individuals. Desirability seems possible
only through the lens of the exotic and the subhuman.
is oddly positioned in the context of gender. It sometimes permits male bodies
to be desirable as bodies,
rather than as people. However, the cultural content of
sexiness still requires pouting lips, lush cleavage, and a dramatic hip-waist
ratio, and none of these attributes traditionally fall within the domain of the
male body. Most female bodies also fail
to realize these attributes, and so women-in-waiting "must" learn to
counterfeit them through purchases (lip gloss, elaborate lingerie) or postures
(shoulders back, one foot forward, back arched). The norm here is visual: the
goal is to create an appearance of sexiness, contemplated at a distance. This
appearance of sexiness happens to be pretty useless for reciprocal sexual activity;
it's very difficult to remain sexy while taking off your Spanx. Failure to
learn how to mimic the norm of sexiness can have terrible consequences. So, too, can success.
mode of judgment, conformity to, and rejection of such ideals as sexiness is paradigmatically
visual. This is particularly true of other-directed aesthetic activity but also
of much self-directed aesthetic activity. Applying red lipstick, for example,
does seem like an act of distancing me from my body; it sets up the kind of object/observer
dynamic that got us into this problem in the first place. However, felt
experience is less easily categorized according to objectifying norms. Indeed,
I suggest that felt experience offers a strong counter to objectification.
Paying attention to felt experience foregrounds subjectivity by making salient
those parts of our being which are specific to us individually: our emotions,
reactions, histories, and the nebulous, sometimes mysterious internal
sensations that only we have (total) access to. Only I know what the drag of
the lipstick feels like. Only I know if it dries my lips. This is as important
to my experience of the lipstick as whether the lipstick looks
"perfect." In public, only other people can see if it does, and other
people are not very good at noticing. While my choosing to wear lipstick is one
clear expression of subjectivity, my own, private and specific knowledge of
"what it is like to wear this lipstick" continues to confirm that
what I am is not defined by social scripts around me.
do not need to wear lipstick to create or provide an aesthetic experience for
observers. The earlier example of smiling raised the multi-dimensional aspect
of unadorned embodiment. Our bodies already have visual and tactile features;
they look like something, they feel like something, even at rest. Further, we
can move our bodies in ways (smiling, or frowning, and countless other
movements) that produce additional aesthetic effects for observers. For us,
these experiences are felt. An aesthetic appreciation of such feelings might
entail, as Irvin suggests about itches and scratches, "acknowledging . . .
how they call attention to our somatic experience and how they color that
experience in certain ways." The way we experience our own
embodiment matters, just as the way we experience other people's embodiment
matters. Some of that experience is, or can be, aesthetic.
the aesthetic aspect of embodiment is, on some level, just a response to the
bare facts of human existence. At the most basic level, aesthetic appreciation
of embodiment just acknowledges that there are sensuous experiences specific to
my embodiment I can attend to in ways that inform me about the world and
myself. But making the aesthetic aspects of our experience salient alters our
way of valuing them. Calling attention to something's sensuous qualities and
fully attending to the specifics of sensuous experience, rather than screening
them out, is a way of giving that experience value and weight. Aesthetic
experience pervades our lives – but value pervades aesthetic experience.
this in mind, let me suggest a further arena where aesthetic attention to felt
embodied experiences is morally valuable: when objectified by another.
Objectification seeks to cut women down to size, reminding them they are first
and foremost things for men to consider possessing. Receiving this kind of
evaluation can be humiliating. That humiliation has its own bodily
phenomenologies. In the face of an objectifying hiss, my nausea, hot cheeks,
and curled lip "color my somatic experience," as Irvin describes it,
and reaffirm my personhood—if I let them. These bodily reactions push back
against the gaze of ownership, affirming my sense that a moral wrong has been
done to me. In communicating contempt through a curled lip and registering my
anger by the heat in my cheeks, I redirect the negative emotional/moral reaction
of shame away from my self and toward the person who has actually committed the
violation. Simply noting my bodily responses is insufficient to make this
shift;I must also appreciate the bodily responses. Without a way of
valuing these responses, I do not have a reliable way to heed the evidence they
offer. Lacking that cue to pay attention to the bodily testimony, I distance
and alienate myself from the body that received this moral wrong. People who
routinely navigate objectification risk habituated alienation of their bodies,
negatively affecting moral functioning and well-being.
hope that, in this way, I can respond to those who criticize Irvin and Saito
for trivializing the term "aesthetic." My account hits a number of
ideas that critics, particularly Christopher Dowling and Brian Soucek, worry
about. Dowling worries accounts like Irvin's "equivocat[e] between 'aesthetic value' and 'pleasure;'" many everyday experiences are
pleasurable without being aesthetic. I'm not advocating pleasure in the
bodily feelings that arise when we feel ourselves objectified, only
appreciation. Dowling might very well worry that my account offers neither
aesthetic value nor pleasure. Per Soucek, in the absence of "an object
that is as least in principle publicly accessible, one simply lacks an
aesthetic experience." Felt bodily experiences are not in
principle publicly accessible (that I know of).
going to borrow Irvin's response to these critiques. She pushes against the
privacy assumption: as "physiologically similar creatures, common stimuli
produce similar sensations in us" and these sensations are, by virtue of
our membership in a society, capable of being described, evaluated, and
subjected to norms, including aesthetic ones.
Applying aesthetic norms to bodily experience, Irvin argues, does not
differ wildly from applying them to artworks or nature. In both cases, one
"observe[s] various non-aesthetic aspects" or facts about the world,
and applies "norms available in the public domain" to those facts.
Irvin's defense of itches seems applicable to the flushed cheeks that accompany
shame or anger or to the disorientation Harbin and Young describe. I think I
can borrow Irvin's reasoning to respond to Dowling, too. I don't feel pleasure
when my cheeks flush but I may recognize the symmetry of anger and shame in
response to a wrong. This anger alters my body in ways visible and invisible,
and the invisible alterations have as many qualitative features, including
emotional content, as the visible ones. Additionally, reasons I have offered
for thinking the aesthetic aids us in resisting objectification push back
against the worry that we lose something by expanding the scope of the
"aesthetic." By developing new appreciative habits that affirm our
subjectivity, we strengthen the aesthetic's relationship to justice.
attention is not the only attention that can achieve this effect but earlier
arguments, about acknowledging and seeking out aesthetic experience in daily
life, help explain why the aesthetic can make this kind of resistance more
effective. Attending to the aesthetics of something and recognizing aesthetic
experience as a possible response to our interaction with a thing is a way of
valuing that thing. A key component of those earlier arguments was that seeking
out and appreciating aesthetic experience in unexpected areas helps change our
orientation toward those areas. So, as the earlier example went, appreciating
the aesthetic experiences unique to vegetables can help us appreciate
vegetables more, thereby facilitating a vegetable-centric diet. I am not
suggesting we aesthetically appreciate being objectified but rather that we
cultivate an aesthetic appreciation of our bodily responses to objectification.
Our bodies are the vegetables; aesthetically appreciating bodily responses,
particularly felt responses accessible only to us, is a way of valuing
the body and our affective reactions to the world around us. In situations of
oppression, valuing our bodily counter-testimony helps us resist the forces
structuring that oppression. Attending to the aesthetic facets of the testimony
helps cultivate an attitude of value toward that testimony. Aesthetically
attending to the body makes both object and subject experience salient, thereby
preventing us from perpetuating the idea, on which some kinds of oppression
rely, that subjects and objects are mutually exclusive.
such attention, I learn to appreciate my body as something that strengthens my
subjectivity. Bodily experiences, in the totality of their feeling, are
only accessible subjectively. They are not other-regarding but private. In
their privacy and subjectivity, felt experiences render objectifying comments
and gazes incomplete. Felt experiences offer immediate counter-testimony to the
objectifying judgment and suggest other sources of self-understanding and
value. In conditions of oppression, it is important to have ideas about what
alternatives we have or make in opposition to oppressive structures. Subjective
experiences that say, "but I am a person and it does matter how I
am treated," offer one such alternative. Aesthetic appreciation of that
subjective experience, because of its close relationship with value and worth,
gives persuasive power to the counter-testimony of our embodiment.
attention to felt experience helps render bodies fully human rather than merely
a precondition for objectification or impediment to moral action. It
accomplishes this by adjusting our understanding of what having a body means.
We remain vulnerable; but focusing on the aesthetic possibilities resulting
from our embodiment that makes sensuous experience possible suggests new ways
of approaching the experience. The body is central to our humanity, in that it
features prominently and, at least sometimes, positively in our moral lives.
The body is a rich source of meaningful experience, singularly available to embodied
beings. Pointing out the conditions of human existence and suggesting new ways
to relate to those conditions certainly is a philosopher's task.
decentering the outward appearance of bodies and instead attending to the
specificities of felt experience, we can foreground subjectivity and reframe
the aesthetic in three ways. First, it makes the aesthetic an aid to our moral
lives. Second, it unites aesthetics and ethics by using the aesthetic to
redirect attention to our own embodiment and, thereby, our own subjectivity.
Aesthetic experience is put to ethical purpose. Third, it presents a positive
link between aesthetic experiences and bodily experiences, rather than simply
placing the body at the mercy of (often-corrupt) aesthetic values.
My argument further offers reasons to
move beyond versions of our moral lives and our aesthetic experiences that,
when they acknowledge embodiment's role at all, denigrate the body's role in
moral or aesthetic processes. Instead, it suggests ways bodies positively
contribute to our ethico-aesthetic lives and are worthy objects of moral and
aesthetic attention. One key contribution is the embodied aesthetic
experience’s ability to facilitate resistance to oppression, by reminding us,
when we experience certain kinds of oppression, of the counter-evidence we can
marshal against oppressive narratives and structures. This resistance, as I
understand it, is limited; it mostly has to do with constructing a
self-understanding that allows us to reject the version of ourselves oppressive
narratives and acts, like sexual objectification, propagate. Though it is
clearly no replacement for political action and other forms of outward
resistance, it may make outward resistance feasible.
me close by suggesting another issue I have not discussed here, partly for
reasons of space and focus. What does a better understanding of our ability, as
individuals, to resist objectification suggest for our moral prospects in
community with others? How can we use disorientation to
understand not just ourselves but others, too? And how can we take up this
question without expecting people vulnerable to objectification to bend over
backwards to accommodate the perspectives of their objectifiers? It seems to me
that these questions are the next step in a more diverse philosophical
discussion of objectification and human bodies.
Martin-Seaver is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Auburn University. In addition to her
work on body aesthetics, she has projects on disgust and perfume.'
Published on December 15, 2019.
Author's note: This paper has
benefited from the generosity and guidance of many philosophers, but I would
particularly like to thank the reviewers, Sherri Irvin, and A. W. Eaton. I also
thank attendees at the 2016 ASA Annual Meeting in Seattle, where this paper was
 On Female Body Experience: "Throwing Like a
Girl" and Other Essays (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 62-74.
 A robust philosophical literature exists on
objectification but my intervention is about how we respond to objectification,
not about what it is. For summaries of the disagreement on objectification, see
Evangelina Papadaki, "Feminist Perspectives on Objectification," in Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Zalta, Winter 2015 and Kathleen
Stock, "Sexual Objectification," Analysis, 75, 2 (2015),
191-95. For a critique of the discussion that offers another way of thinking
about objectification, see Ann Cahill, Overcoming Objectification: A Carnal
Ethics (New York: Routledge, 2011). In Body Images, cited elsewhere
in this paper, Gail Weiss offers a similar but less developed critique to
Cahill's. An odd feature of this literature, that I hope my paper helps address,
is that there is less attention paid to people experiencing sexual
objectification than there is to objectification.
Young's case, the objectification came from the company funding the ad, the
people designing the ad, and the male figure in the ad, but sometimes it could
be a much simpler onslaught of street harassment while jogging.
 For some critiques of gendered and racialized bodily
ideals: Sandra Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge,
1990); Janell Hobson "The 'Batty' Politic: Towards an Aesthetic of the
Black Female Body," Hypatia, 18, 4 (2003) 87-105; Susan Bordo, Unberable
Weight (Berkley: University of California Press, 2004).
 A project with more focus on historical sources would have
the time to discuss the ways in which the same texts advocating a suspicion of
the aesthetic as a sign of virtue also, generally, think aesthetic
pleasure and activity (and even human bodies) have an important place in
ethical projects. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth
Bennet's aesthetic pleasure in Mr. Darcy's house and gardens tracks her
improved opinion of him more generally, and also clue the reader into the fact
that this improved opinion is the correct one.
 For contemporary work on humans as subjects and objects:
Nancy Bauer, How to Do Things with Pornography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2015) and Jennifer McWeeny "Varieties of Consciousness
under Oppression: False Consciousness, Bad Faith, Double Consciousness, and Se
Fair Objet," in Phenomenology and the Political, ed. S. West
Gurley and Geoff Pfeifer (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), pp.
 I am not interested in a hard and fast division between
bodies-as-appearances and bodies-as-feelings; rather, I think the phenomenology
of embodiment captures both visual and tactile sensation, both our experiences
of what we look like and our experiences of being "in" our bodies.
(You probably see parts of your body as you read this paper: maybe your hands,
maybe the outline of your nose or cheeks.)
 Yuriko Saito, Everyday Aesthetics (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2007), 2.
 A. W. Eaton, "Taste in Bodies and Fat
Oppression," in Body Aesthetics, ed. Sherri Irvin (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2016), 42.
 Shirley Anne Tate, Black Beauty: Aesthetics,
Stylization, Politics (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 18.
 Tate's project shares some similarities with Young's,
though Young focuses on developing a women-centered account of clothing.
 Sherri Irvin, "The Pervasiveness of the Aesthetic
Ordinary Experience," The British Journal of Aesthetics, 48, 1
(2008), 25-35; ref. 30-31.
 This is not to say anything about who does the
objectifying, just about who has to deal with it.
 Gail Weiss, Body Images: Embodiment as
Intercorporeality (New York: Routledge, 1999), 5.
 Weiss 1999, 168. Of course, it's not clear that the
general awareness of the close relationship between mothers and fetuses is
always for the best.
 Confucius, Analects, trans. Edward Slingerland,
(Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 2003) 2.7, 2.8. See also Analects
2.4 and Book 10 and Hagop Sarkissian, "Ritual and Rightness in the Analects,"
in The Dao Companion to the Analects, ed. Amy Olberding (New
York: Springer, 2014), 95-116.
 While my argument and focus are on objectification and
people likely to experience them, we are all subjects-objects, and aesthetic
attention to bodily feeling could be useful in other moral contexts. Richard
Shusterman's work in somaesthetics similarly points to bodily experience's aesthetic
and moral relevance: Richard Shusterman, Thinking Through the Body (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
 Ami Harbin, "Bodily Disorientation and Moral
Change," Hypatia, 27, 2 (2012), 262-80.
 Harbin, 272, 273, 276.
 For a more thorough philosophical discussion of sexiness,
see Sheila Lintott and Sherri Irvin, "Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A
Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness," in Body Aesthetics, ed. Sherri
Irvin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 299-319. For ways judgments of
taste in bodies align with or support oppressive structures, see Eaton 2016 and
Sherri Irvin, "Resisting Body Oppression: An Aesthetic Approach," Feminist
Philosophy Quarterly, 3, 4 (2017).
 bell hooks, "Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of
Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace," in Writing on the
Body, ed. Katie Conboy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 122-32.
 Though Upton has also been on Vogue covers, her
career relies on her ability to please a very traditional version of the male
gaze in a way neither Campbell's nor Nyong'o's does.
 Robin Zheng, "Why Yellow Fever Isn't Flattering: A
Case Against Racial Fetishes," Journal of the American Philosophical
Association, 2, 3, (2016), 408. See also Alexander Chee, "My First
(and Last) Time Dating a Rice Queen," The Stranger, June 21, 2017,
accessed November 15, 2019, https://www.thestranger.com/queer-issue-2017/2017/06/21/25227046/my-first-and-last-time-dating-a-rice-queen
 See, for example, the camera's treatment of John Abraham
at the beginning of "Shut Up and Bounce:" https://youtu.be/0akqVN4ts0w (accessed November 15, 2019).
 Sherri Irvin suggests it might be the case that there are
simply different norms of sexiness for men. I think that's true—but sexiness
full stop still seems to be feminized to me. If you want to talk about male
sexiness, you have to specify that you're referencing an alternative mode of
sexiness. The situation is the inverse of "woman writer" or
"female comedian," phrases which signal, through the gender label,
that the person being discussed is an exception to our cultural understanding
that writers and comedians are male.
 This is of special poignancy for trans women, whether or
not their self-expression leans toward traditional feminine aesthetics. A
woman's safety might rely on her being "convincingly" a "real
woman." But if she manages this too well, she risks
hyper-sexualization and, perhaps, the assumption that she is a sex worker. And
if she declines to present in a feminine way, she might increase her risk of
encountering transphobic violence. See Talia Mae Bettcher, "Full Frontal
Morality: The Naked Truth About Gender," Hypatia, 27, 2 (2012),
 As the examples in this paper suggest, I do not think the
general phenomena I describe is limited to experiences of objectification. I'm
not sure, however, what its actual limits are and if its aesthetic limits
differ from its moral limits. Probably, swallowing an allergy pill is something
that I could appreciate aesthetically—but I
doubt the experience is relevant to my moral life (in general).
 Christopher Dowling, "The Aesthetics of Daily
Life." The British Journal of Aesthetics 50, 3 (2010), 225–42.
 Brian Soucek, "Resisting the Itch to Redefine
Aesthetics," The British Journal of Aesthetics 67, 2 (2009),
 Sherri Irvin, "Aesthetics and the Private
Realm," The British Journal of Aesthetics 67, 2 (2009), 226-230.
 My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this concluding