Recently, the effects of social media use on our mental health and well-being have been the topic of much debate.
According to the social displacement theory, for example, the more time we spend socializing online, the less time we’re likely to spend socializing in the offline world.
This could lead to a decrease in one’s overall well-being.
However, recent studies have dispelled this myth, with researchers arguing that social media is “not bad in the way people think it is.”
Other studies have drawn links between social media use and loneliness, suggesting that going on a social media “detox” lowers feelings of depression and loneliness.
Does social media have any effect on body confidence and how we perceive our own appearance, however?
New research — led by Jennifer Mills, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada, and Jacqueline Hogue, a Ph.D. student in the department’s Clinical Program — examined the effects of social media on the self-perceived body image of young women.
Mills and Hogue published their findings in the journal Body Image.
Studying social media use and body image
Mills and Hogue divided 118 female undergraduate students aged 18–27 into two groups. Those in the first group logged into Facebook and Instagram for 5 minutes or more and were asked to find one peer of roughly the same age whom they “explicitly considered more attractive” than themselves.
Then, the researchers asked all of the participants to comment on the photos of their peers. In the control group, the women logged into Facebook or Instagram for at least 5 minutes and left a comment on a post of a family member whom they did not consider more attractive.
Before and after these tasks, the participants filled in a questionnaire that asked about how much dissatisfaction they felt with their appearance, using a scale ranging from “none” to “very much.”
“Participants rated how dissatisfied they felt about their overall appearance and body by placing a vertical line on a 10-[centimeter] horizontal line,” the authors explain. The researchers scored the responses “to the nearest millimeter,” which created a 100-point scale.
Their results revealed that after interacting with attractive peers, the women’s perceptions of their own appearance changed, whereas interacting with family members did not have any bearing on their body image.
“Social media engagement with attractive peers increases negative state body image,” explain the researchers.
Mills comments on the findings, saying, “The results showed that these young adult women felt more dissatisfied with their bodies.”
“They felt worse about their own appearance after looking at social media pages of someone that they perceived to be more attractive than them. Even if they felt bad about themselves before they came into the study, on average, they still felt worse after completing the task.”
“When we compare ourselves [with] other people, that has the potential to affect the valuation of ourselves,” she adds.
“We really need to educate young people on how social media use could be making them feel about themselves and how this could even be linked to stringent dieting, eating disorders, or excessive exercise. There are people who may be triggered by social media and who are especially vulnerable,” concludes Mills.