How Social Media Usage Affects Body Image 
Sat, April 10, 2021

How Social Media Usage Affects Body Image 

With most things being available and easily accessible through the internet, it’s no wonder that so many of us already live entire parts of our lives on social media / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via 123RF

 

With most things being available and easily accessible through the internet, it’s no wonder that so many of us already live entire parts of our lives on social media. When there is an event, big or small, most people would update their social media with pictures and videos from the event. While some don’t usually do that, at least one of their friends or family does, and sometimes they’re even tagged in the pictures.

For things like social gatherings and family reunions, people are not necessarily at fault for wanting to share the festivities, but the truth is, social media is a collection of only the pictures we want people to see: the edited, filtered, and near-perfect pictures that you have the courage to share. But sometimes, people feel a need to perform on social media, to one-up each other, and this is especially dangerous when it then damages a person’s body image. 

Recent studies over the years have already shown us that social media has poignant effects on our lives and in the case of body image, the source of our insecurities is so easy to see even through just one scroll on Instagram where near-perfect influencers abound. 

Self-Judgement Through Social Media 

The most prevalent practice that people often do on social media without realizing it is comparing themselves to personalities, or even just other people, on social media. Say, you’re on Instagram, even if you’re not the type to Instagram every little thing in your life, you still feel like that picture you took on the beach in Hawaii maybe isn't edited with enough saturation to make the colors pop, just like that one influencer’s photo seems to be. 

Postdoctoral researcher Jasmine Fardouly at the Macquarie University in Sydney says it’s something that happens to nearly everyone on social media. 

“People are comparing their appearance to people in Instagram images, or whatever platform they’re on, and they often judge themselves to be worse off,” she tells news outlet BBC. 

Her words are backed by solid data, too. A survey on 227 female university students found that “they tend to compare their own appearance negatively with their peer group and with celebrities but not with family members, while browsing Facebook. The comparison group that had the strongest link to body image concerns was distant peers, or acquaintances.” 

These issues are more amplified with women than men, which is why most of these studies are conducted with female participants as they are more likely to develop a negative body image due to societal standards and unrealistic expectations. 

The most prevalent practice that people often do on social media without realizing it is comparing themselves to personalities, or even just other people, on social media / Photo by: scyther5 via 123RF

 

Sometimes, those unrealistic expectations do get debunked. 

A 2017 study by associate professor Amy Slater of the University of West England found that people on Instagram who would view compassionate quotes seemed to be nicer to themselves than those who surfed the #fitspo tag. 

Even if this is the case, another study found that even well-intentioned body image posts, those that advocate for a more inclusive take on what it means to be “sexy,” are still not one hundred percent good for us. 

The downside of body-positive images is that they still just focus on the body. It’s a reach to call it objectivity so hastily, but the research did find conclusive evidence that women still mostly focused on the way their body looks rather than what other traits they had, such as their skills or their personalities. 

But aren’t you allowed to edit your appearance on social media anyway? So that, even if you know you’re not exactly a Kardashian, you can still look even as half-decent as the rest of the Instagram crowd? Well, that doesn’t help either. 

An article on Mill Valley News reported that York University looked at data concerning the self-confidence of people after they posted a picture of themselves online and found that their self-confidence went down when there were not enough likes on their pictures compared to someone else’s, leading them to actually feel uglier when they didn’t initially feel that way before posting. 

Explaining the Addiction

We already know that social media usage affects body image, so why don’t we just not post anything on social media, or go on a social media detox and not come back? Well, it’s because social media developers improve platforms based on a natural social human behavior called “FOMO,” or the “fear of missing out.” 

Jas Saran writes in a Forbes article, “Social media feeds our need for social validation and causes a feeling of missing out if we’re not logged in… The addictive nature of it is not helped by how easily we are able to continuously tune into social media. We can log into our accounts through our smart TVs, phones, iPads, computers, laptops, etc. It’s everywhere.” 

This ensures that we are online all the time. Even if we remind ourselves that we shouldn't compare ourselves to others, the fact is that we do, and we do it a lot. 

As bad as it is for mental health and our body image, there are still some positive things that social media brings us, such as for artists who want to share their work but don’t know how. According to Saran, sometimes social media serves as an effective creative outlet and most of these people often get gigs and actual jobs through sharing their work. 

“Many people have become successful by showcasing their talents over social media, and Instagram is a perfect platform to facilitate this; it reached over 1 billion monthly active users in 2008,” Saran writes. 

Artists who share their works on Tumblr and Twitter sometimes get their big breaks, too, thanks to artists already in the industry always on the lookout for new talent. 

Some artists even collaborate with each other and use their social media platforms to post advertisements so other artists can see it and hone their skills while making some money. Even influencers and YouTubers are in on it. For instance, classical musician YouTubers Eddie and Bret often use their platform -- either on YouTube or through Facebook Stories -- to hire people on social media to join their production team.