Kelly Cuccolo

Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ric Ferraro


Purpose: Recreational pole dancing may have dual implications for women’s mental health. Previous research (Pellizzer, et al., 2016) conducted under the framework of Objectification Theory has reported that enjoyment of sexualization can exert negative effects on body image through self-objectification and positive effects on body image through embodiment. The purposes of this study were to a.) replicate findings from Pellizer et al., (2016) and b.) to examine the theorized outcomes of Objectification Theory not addressed by previous research (eating disorder (ED) symptomatology, depressive affect). Methods: Recreational pole dancers (N = 82) were recruited from five recreational pole dancing schools. Participants completed a demographics form, measures of ED symptomatology, depressive symptomatology, positive body image, enjoyment of sexualization, and self-objectification. Participants also provided information on their recreational pole dance practice. Results: The findings of Pellizer et al., (2016) did not replicate in this sample. Participants generally scored significantly higher than community samples but lower than clinical samples on measures of ED symptomatology. Participants scored significantly higher on depressive symptomatology than community samples and but lower than clinical samples. When controlling for physical activity results generally remained unchanged – self-objectification and embodiment did not mediate the relationship between enjoyment of sexualization and the outcome variables. Generally, enjoyment of sexualization was significantly associated with positive body image, and negatively associated with ED and depressive symptoms; self-objectification was negatively associated with positive body image, and positively associated with ED and depressive symptoms; embodiment was positively related to positive body image and negatively related to ED and depressive symptoms. Conclusion: Recreational pole dancing may have dual and conflicting associations with women’s mental health depending on if self-objectification, or embodiment is emphasized. Findings generally align with Objectification Theory in such that self-objectification was associated with deleterious outcomes. Given that participants broadly described recreational pole dancing as beneficial for their mental health, instructors should be mindful to maximize embodying elements during class. Future work should focus on how discrepancies between women’s current and ideal bodies influence observed relationships. Additionally, research should examine changes in variables over time to understand the temporal relationship between variables.