Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 1–2, pp 52–62 | Cite as

Examining the Roles of Self-Objectification and Appearance Expectations in Young Women’s Indoor Tanning Behavior

  • Sophia Choukas-Bradley
  • Jacqueline Nesi
  • Laura Widman
  • Seth M. Noar
Original Article


Indoor tanning among U.S. young women is a major public health concern that increases risk for skin cancer. Many young women engage in indoor tanning despite the risks, and prior evidence suggests that appearance-related motivations for tanning may outweigh health concerns. The present study examined appearance expectations as a mediator of the association between young women’s self-objectification and indoor tanning behavior. Emerging adult college women (n = 332, 18–19-years-old; 66.9% White) provided reports of their self-objectification (operationalized as body surveillance), appearance-related tanning expectations, body esteem, and indoor tanning behavior. Results revealed that higher levels of self-objectification were indirectly associated with women’s higher likelihood of indoor tanning. This association was mediated by positive appearance expectations for tanning. These associations appeared to be robust: The mediational model was significant whether body esteem was included as a control variable or not; whether the behavioral outcome was lifetime or past-year indoor tanning; and whether the sample included only White participants or was ethnically heterogeneous. Results suggest that young women who more frequently engage in self-objectification are more likely to engage in indoor tanning and that this association is explained in part by young women’s positive appearance-related expectations for tanning. Furthermore, the findings point to indoor tanning as an important and understudied correlate of self-objectification. A deeper understanding of women’s appearance-related motivations to tan may in turn facilitate the development of more effective interventions for this high-risk behavior, which remains troublingly common among young women in the United States.


Tanning Body image Physical appearance Objectification Psychology of women Health behavior 



We would like to thank Dr. Mitch Prinstein of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for his guidance and provision of resources toward the completion of this project. This work was supported in part by funding from the National Institutes of Health (T32MH018269, University of Pittsburgh). This work was also supported by funding from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-1144081, awarded to Jacqueline Nesi). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or NIH.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This manuscript has not previously been published in whole or in part, nor is it under review elsewhere. The study conforms to APA standards on the ethical treatment of human participants. The study was approved by the institutional review board at the university where data were collected. All participants provided informed consent.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_913_MOESM1_ESM.docx (107 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 107 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  4. 4.School of Media & Journalism and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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