The influence of social media on women’s body image
Students of Applied Psychology & Technology teamed up past semester (2021-2022) to write blog posts. You can read the three best posts here: on social media & women’s body image, online advertising & online shopping behavior, and Pokémon Go.
by Ayten Köksal & Johannes Allgeier
In the last decades social media has become one of the most popular tools used worldwide. That is because of the multiple opportunities they have to offer for individuals. More than one third of people worldwide use social media actively. In the western world this even goes up to 79 percent. On one hand, social media platforms are extremely useful tools and the benefits people can take out of it are enormously. On the other hand, there are a lot of difficulties which arise throughout the growth of social media which some people have to face (Kircaburun et al., 2019).
In this blogpost we focus on the influence these social media platforms have on the body image of women. The body image of women gets strongly influenced because they have the possibility to compare themselves to others. The only thing required? Internet access!
Mostly, these images follow a body ideal that has been created by society. The content creator will only upload the perfect picture, according to the given ideals, which creates a fake reality about the appearance. These ideals nowadays changed a lot throughout the decades. The ideal is considered to be thin as in below average weight. Therefore, many women constantly compare themselves upwards on social media.
This appearance-based comparison between people is normal and usually occurs in the stage of the young adolescence, which means that especially generation Z, who grew up with social media learned to compare themselves based on the body ideal (Lewallen & Behm-Morawitz, 2016; Tiggemann & Anderberg, 2020).
But this comparing has a big influence on young women. These idealized images do not only lead to body dissatisfaction but also contribute to other negative outcomes such as lower academic performances, increased interest in cosmetic surgery, depression and eating disorders. With 79% of people using social media, it is best to avoid these concerns and find ways to prevent it.
First steps were taken by putting disclaimer type labels on pictures. These labels were put on idealized social media images to make women realize they’re highly edited and so that they would stop comparing themselves to the images they would see. These are used on Instagram where you can see what filters were applied to edit the images.
Unfortunately, this seems to be ineffective. The reason behind it is that people tend to reflect themselves to others similar to themselves. Women perceive the images to be relatable and possible for themselves to reach and continue to compare themselves to the images. Disclaimers are not strong enough to make women stop to compare themselves to fake images. Stronger measures need to be taken, but like what (Fardouly & Holland, 2018)?
Reportedly, women stopped comparing themselves if they believed it to be artificial, realizing that the images were enhanced in such a way with different techniques, that it is not reachable for women in everyday life. If women have insight in how drastically these images are enhanced they believe that these are not real, not relatable and definitely unreachable, the social comparison would stop.
Another way to block the comparison is by making women realize that they cannot compare it with their own body, because the average women is destined to be heavier than the women in those images because of their genes. Realizing that diet and exercise will not lead to that ideal because of their genes stops the process of comparison (Posavac et al., 2001).
But how this could be put into practice on social media, is food for thought.
Fardouly, J., & Holland, E. (2018). Social media is not real life: The effect of attaching disclaimer-type labels to idealized social media images on women’s body image and mood. New Media & Society, 20(11), 4311–4328. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444818771083
Kircaburun, K., Griffiths, M. D., & Billieux, J. (2019). Childhood Emotional Maltreatment and Problematic Social Media Use Among Adolescents: The Mediating Role of Body Image Dissatisfaction. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 18(6), 1536–1547. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-019-0054-6
Lewallen, J., & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2016). Pinterest or Thinterest?: Social Comparison and Body Image on Social Media. Social Media + Society, 2(1), 205630511664055. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116640559
Posavac, H. D., Posavac, S. S., & Weigel, R. G. (2001). Reducing the Impact of Media Images on Women At Risk For Body Image Disturbance: Three Targeted Interventions. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20(3), 324–340. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.20.3.324.22308
Tiggemann, M., & Anderberg, I. (2019). Social media is not real: The effect of ‘Instagram vs reality’ images on women’s social comparison and body image. New Media & Society, 22(12), 2183–2199. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819888720
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