How Has Social Media Affected Body Image?

Body image is important to self-esteem. Due to the unidirectional communication that is characteristic of traditional media, unrealistic beauty standards have been imposed on the public for most of the last century. For susceptible individuals, this has resulted in unhappiness over their appearance, with some even suffering from devastating health consequences. With social media, users can control what content they see and engage with its source. They also have the chance to promote their own material and get responses for doing so. Uploads may be modified or retracted. All actions are done in real-time. However, despite such enabling features, networking websites still have the power to dent people’s confidence about their looks, particularly through picture-based activities, molding of online and offline relationships, and feedback-dependent functions.

Firstly, surveying idealized photos that are displayed in virtual communities apparently has a negative effect on self-perception. In one experiment, adolescent and young adult females were asked to look at manipulated Instagram selfies of different women. Those with a higher tendency to make social comparisons developed lower body satisfaction levels after exposure (Kleemans et al. 103-106). Various studies also show that, in both sexes, there is a link between frequently doing image-based tasks and the presence of eating disorders, excessive exercise habits, and substance abuse (Holland and Tiggemann 102-108; Lewallen and Behm-Morawitz 6-8; Saunders and Eaton 348-352; Nieri et al. 626-628). Additionally, viewing the profile pictures of cosmetically enhanced women increased the desire for aesthetic surgery in a group of young female adults (Walker et al.). One pattern is consistent from these findings, which is that sexually appealing photos of other people trigger feelings of body discontent in vulnerable populations, and this can spawn subsequent behavioral changes.

Secondly, the interactive nature of social media shapes people’s opinions of their own appearance, and this affects offline relationships and vice versa. As an example, mingling electronically with close peers who are thought of as more attractive can set off beauty-enhancing behaviors, even to a greater extent than observing mere acquaintances or strangers. One theory behind this is that peers consider themselves as competitors for the same potential mates (Ferguson et al.). Meanwhile, in research conducted involving teenage Irish girls, the freedom to create a new identity and manage impressions in virtual platforms emboldened the subjects to initiate contact with boys their age. They would have been reluctant to do so off of these platforms for fear of rejection because of looks and other concerns (Dunne et al. 50-53). In contrast, a mother nurturing her adolescent children may curb the Internet’s possible harms to their self-esteem (De Vries et al. 532-534). Indeed, social media has the ability to mask physical flaws and insecurities, which, once bared in real life, might make it hard to establish intimate friendships.

Lastly, tailoring self-presentation according to the number of “likes” obtained by one’s uploads is yet another means by which users may become image-conscious. In one study, women who substantially invested in selfie feedback were found to have a greater drive for thinness (Butkowski et al. 385). In another, Singaporean high school girls took the number of likes on pictures as a measure of attractiveness, causing some to delete those that got only a few (Chua and Chang 192-195). Online matchmaking is one more avenue where users risk hurting their egos. Dating apps, for instance, allow patrons to signify approval or rejection of prospective partners based only on their internet profiles. In connection to this, one cross-sectional study among American adults found that unhealthy weight control behaviors are prevalent among heavy users of such apps (Tran et al. 4-10). Evidently, a highly glamorized cyberspace persona represents low self-confidence and some degree of body dysmorphia.

To conclude, there is reason to believe that social media is damaging to the body image just like traditional media. Photo-based activities, the interplay between virtual and real-life relationships, and feedback-reliant features are the main mechanisms by which it can distort a person’s sense of beauty. Optimizing the benefits of this dynamic field necessitates further research.

Works Cited

Butkowski, Chelsea P., et al. “Body Surveillance on Instagram: Examining the Role of Selfie Feedback Investment in Young Adult Women’s Body Image Concerns.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, vol. 81, no. 5-6, September 2019, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Chua, Trudy Hui Hui and Chang, Leanne. “Follow Me and Like My Beautiful Selfies: Singapore Teenage Girls’ Engagement in Self-Presentation and Peer Comparison on Social Media.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 55, 2016, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
De Vries, Dian A., et al. “Social Media and Body Dissatisfaction: Investigating the Attenuating Role of Positive Parent-Adolescent Relationships.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 48, 2019, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Dunne, Aine, et al. “Young People’s Use of Online Social Networking Sites—A Uses and Gratifications Perspective.” Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, vol. 4, no. 1, 2010, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Ferguson, Christopher J., Muñoz, Monica E., Garza, Adolfo, and Galindo, Mariza. “Concurrent and Prospective Analyses of Peer, Television and Social Media Influences on Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorder Symptoms and Life Satisfaction in Adolescent Girls.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2013, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Holland, Grace and Tiggemann, Marika. “A Systematic Review of the Impact of the Use of Social Networking Sites on Body Image and Disordered Eating Outcomes.” Body Image, vol. 17, 2016. Retrieved from Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Kleemans, Mariska, Daalmans, Serena, Carbaat, Ilana, and Anschütz, Doeschka. “Picture Perfect: The Direct Effect of Manipulated Instagram Photos on Body Image in Adolescent Girls.” Media Psychology, vol. 21 no. 1, 2018. Retrieved from Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Lewallen, Jennifer and Behm-Morawitz, Elizabeth. “Pinterest or Thinterest?: Social Comparison and Body Image on Social Media.” Social Media + Society, March 30, 2016, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Nieri, Tanya, Kulis, Stephen, Keith, Verna M., and Hurdle, Donna. “Body Image, Acculturation, and Substance Abuse Among Boys and Girls in the Southwest.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 31, no. 4, 2005, Accessed on November 6, 2019.
Saunders, Jessica F. and Eaton, Asia A.. “Snaps, Selfies, and Shares: How Three Popular Social Media Platforms Contribute to the Sociocultural Model of Disordered Eating Among Young Women.” Cyberpathology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 21, no. 6, June 1, 2018, Accessed on November 7, 2019.
Tran, Alvin, et al. “Dating App Use and Unhealthy Weight Control Behaviors among a Sample of US Adults: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Journal of Eating Disorders, vol. 7, no. 16, May 31, 2019, Accessed on November 7, 2019.
Walker, Candice E., et al. “Effects of Social Media Use on Desire for Cosmetic Surgery Among Young Women.” Current Psychology, April 30, 2019, Accessed on November 6, 2019.

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