Social Network Sites and Body Image

In regard to ‘Amelia’ the service user previously discussed, having access to social networks enabled her to follow her favourite celebrities, feeling a sense of involvement in their lives by following their latest trends and image. She discussed how she come to obsess over posts and pictures which they uploaded, she strived to look like her idolised celebrities therefore, she followed their trends and diets as she believed that if a diet was good enough for her favourite celebrities and results in a ‘perfect’ body image then she would use the same methods to be a step closer to having the ‘perfect’ body like them.

A prospective study was carried out by Tiggermann and Slater, to discover adolescent girls relationship with body image and Facebook use over a 2-year period. Participants included 438 adolescent females within the age range 13-15. They were given a questionnaire to complete based on their Facebook usage and their concerns with body image. Questionnaires were then repeated 2 years down the line.

From the study it was found the ownership of Facebook profiles increased by 90%, the amount of time adolescent females spent on the social networking site and the number of friends gained increased throughout the time span. As well, concerns with body image increased significantly. It was found that the drive to be thin was more prevalent amongst the girls who were in possession of a Facebook profile at the beginning of the study in comparison to those who were not. The original findings of time spent on Facebook found higher rates of internalisation and body scrutiny in Time 2.

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The quantity of friends gained at Time 1 was linked positively with body scrutiny, internalisation and desire to be thin.

Results show positive links towards body image concerns for many reasons. Social networking sites form an environment with many social comparisons. Gaining a substantial quantity of friends on social network sites enable girls to view many other profiles providing them with the opportunity to compare themselves with their social connections via photos. Images that are viewed on social network sites are likely to be images which have been manipulated and are posted because they look good or make them look good. Though the excessive amount of social network connections’ girls report having, it is likely that many are not personally known by them, being friends of friends or celebrities, by not knowing them personally it is hard to see what is real and what is not, usually leading them to believe in what they post is genuine and real life.

Instagram is a photo sharing social network platform which focusses on posting pictures with hashtags, the photos have the tendency to speak louder than the words used. This type of social media enables and provides encouragement for photos to be uploaded by being selected and filtered by the user which is then saved on their own profile. Users have the ability to ‘follow’, ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on other users’ photos which have been uploaded, this includes both peers and celebrities.

Turner and Lefevre, carried out an investigation on how Instagram use influences symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Information was collected from 680 females that were recruited using a convenient non-random sampling. Results found that communities on Instagram who adopt a healthy eating lifestyle can lead to high occurrences of orthorexia symptoms. Increased Instagram use was related to a greater chance of developing orthorexia nervosa. It was highlighted from the study that a great number of individuals are affected by using the social networking site Instagram, users’ psychological wellbeing can be implicated significantly through exposure to celebrities who have idealised bodies and encounter healthy eating lifestyles.

The study carried out by Turner and Lefevre, was unable to represent to population overall due to the majority of participants originating from the author’s personal Instagram account, alongside, the title of research project ‘Health Habits on Social Media’ may have engrossed those who already have interests within health resulting in a bias. Therefore, there is a need for future research to complete a similar study with a random sample of participants to prevent bias and be more generalised.

Social Networking Usage

Smith, Hames and Joiner, found evidence to suggest that maladaptive Facebook use enhanced numbers of bulimic symptoms. It was found following the study that cycles of binge eating occurred. The study was carried out to find links between movements towards negative social evaluations and association with social comparisons. The study used a sample of 232 college students with the mean age of 18, who of which were female, the study took place over four weeks. Participants were asked to partake in a two-part study using the method of questionnaires, which were spaced out over 24 days. The questionnaires were completed via a secure online website.

Questionnaires included statements about social comparisons and social evaluations on social networking sites. Participants were asked to answer on a scale of one to seven, one being disagree and seven being strongly agree. The seven-item questionnaire was then repeated 24 days later. By having this approach, the correlation between maladaptive use on Facebook, body discontentment and bulimia nervosa symptoms were able to be evaluated over this period of time. The study’s results suggest, to reduce body discontentment and eating disorder symptoms within the future more interventions need to be addressed to reduce maladaptive usage on Facebook and other social networking sites. Some limitations were apparent within the study. They did not consider social evaluation and negative social comparisons within real life context outside the world of social networking. Suggesting that the behaviours engaged on social networking sites may not as unique as we think, there may be some degree of social comparisons and social evaluation in real life context also.

Santarossa and Woodruff conducted a study to establish whether problematic social networking site use was related to body image concerns. The participants took part in an online survey which measured the amount of time spent on social networking sites, body image, self-esteem and eating disorder concerns. The results found that females who spent more time on social media in general and that most of this time was spent looking at another person’s profile and commenting on their profiles. This was found to have a link to body image and eating disorder symptoms demonstrating the link to social networking sites and eating disorders.

Similar research to the Santrossa and Woodruff study was carried out by Fardouly and Vartanian, it was found that young women who spend a large amount of time on Facebook are more likely to be concerned about their body image as they constantly compare themselves to their peers and celebrities online. They measured the amount of time the young women spent on social media sites and how much the women compared themselves to others. The results found that the more time the young women spent on social networking sites, the more likely they were to have body image concerns.

It could be suggested in the case of ‘Amelia’ that through the increased use of social networks which she was able to access via her mobile phone impacted her body dissatisfaction through continually being confronted with idealistic body images which enables social comparisons to be made. She suggested it was since getting her own personal mobile phone when the eating disorder started to develop, increased social network use may be what determined body dissatisfaction which lead to her negative eating behaviours.

Feedback on Social Networking Sites

Although social networking sites enable individuals to enhance relationships and connections they allow all users to comment and respond to posts that are shared on the platforms. Negative and positive comments and evaluations can be sent and received alongside opportunities to compare with one another. Negative comments can enhance body dissatisfaction whereas positive comments can build the self-esteem and reduce body dissatisfaction. This is an area which can have great affects on adolescent females within social networks. The interpersonal theory of eating disorders which proposes disordered eating is the outcome of negative interactions with others by attempting to reinforce self-esteem and to satisfy bad feedback. Social evaluation performs a critical role as a root cause and repercussion for disordered eating behaviours.

A longitudinal study carried out by De Vries et al explored peer appearance-related responses and finding the possible influence they had on body dissatisfaction. They found that increased social networking site use encountered greater rates of peer appearance-related response and feedback. However, it was concluded that feedback received from peers about appearance did not predict body dissatisfaction further down the line.

This finding does not support other research carried out on peer influence on appearance which can result in body dissatisfaction. One reason for this may be the types of feedback received about appearance were not distinguished in the study. Comments received from close friends which are weight related may be perceived and impact body perception differently to a distant friend suggesting ways to make body assets look bigger. Therefore, the impact that feedback received from peers has on individuals differs depending on who the comment was said by and the type and context which it has been said.

Manipulated Images

One of the most popular and recent trend among adolescents is ‘selfie’ taking. These are images of one-self which are usually uploaded onto individual’s personal profiles on social network sites. Boyd suggests ‘selfies’ are a way for individuals to self-express, she elaborates this by saying “Selfies are useful tools for negotiating identity. As a result, you’ll find selfies that are really healthy and empowering as well as those that highlight how some youth are in pain”.

Lowe-Calverley and Grieve, conducted a study to examine the key factors which encourage Facebook users to upload digitally modified ‘selfies’ on to the Facebook platform. Individuals perception of what significant others believe is the norm or steps to take in order to be accepted was found to play an important part of edited ‘selfie’ posts on Facebook. Feeling the need to be accepted is likely to influence users’ actions as they want to gain acceptance from others around them. The more editing behaviours there are around them on social networks the likelihood that they will upload digitally edited photos onto Facebook or other social networking sites is significant.

Lowe-Calverley and Grieve’s, study cannot be generalised across all social network sites as the investigation was carried out only using one social network platform, Facebook. Further research needs to be conducted using similar methods however investigating factors of encouragement to upload modified ‘selfies’ on other platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat. This will give indication to which social networks are more influential on body image due to the need of editing photos to give a better perceived image.

Kleemans et al., investigated the link between images posted on social media sites that have been modified, and whether this has a negative effect on body image to young females, and whether this causes more vulnerability to young women who are more likely to compare themselves to others.

In this study, an online experiment was carried out to investigate the effect of modified pictures on social media sites, on the body image of females. Approximately 144 adolescent girls took part in the study with the average age of 16. They were shown 10 photos some of which had been edited, and then asked a series of questions. The results from this study found that young females who had access to modified photos on social media sites had higher chances of experiencing body dissatisfaction, the adoption of body dissatisfaction was more prominent in girls with higher comparison tendencies, in comparison to girls who took part in the study which were less likely to compare themselves to others did not change body perception following the exposure to edited photos posted on social networking sites. It would be beneficial to repeat this study with the same participants further down the line to evaluate their body dissatisfaction to see if it is still apparent and to examine whether any negative eating behaviours have been developed.

This study further emphasises the effect of manipulated pictures on social networking sites and the impact this can have on vulnerable young girls who have tendencies to make social comparisons. This is further supported in a study by Cohen et al., who found positive associations between social networking site photo activities, and the impact on body image and eating disorders.

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Social Network Sites and Body Image. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved from

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