If you mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Facebook whenever you get a few seconds of downtime, you’re far from alone. But have you ever wondered how all those images of other people’s bodies – whether your friend’s holiday snap or a celebrity’s gym selfie – could be affecting how you view your own?
Much has been made over the years about how mainstream media presents unrealistic beauty standards in the form of photo-shopped celebrities or stick-thin fashion models. Now that influencers fill up our feeds, it’s easy to imagine that social media, too, is all bad when it comes to body image.
But the reality is more nuanced, and there may be ways to curate your Instagram feed to make you feel happier in your own skin – or, at least, stop you feeling worse. It’s important to note that research into social media and body image is still in its early stages, and most studies are correlational. This means we can’t prove whether, for example, Facebook causes someone to have negative feelings about their appearance, or whether people who are concerned about their appearance are more likely to use Facebook.
That being said, using social media does appear to be correlated with body image concerns. A systematic review of 20 papers published in 2016 found that photo-based activities, like scrolling through Instagram or posting pictures of yourself, were a particular problem when it came to negative thoughts about your body. But there are many different ways to use social media – are you just consuming what others post, or are you taking, editing and uploading selfies? Are you following close friends and family, or a laundry list of celebrities and influencers?
Research suggests that who we compare ourselves to is key.
“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.” In a survey of 227 female university students, women reported 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. People present a one-sided version of their life online. If you know someone well, you’ll know they’re only showing the best bits – but if they’re an acquaintance, you won’t have any other information to go on.
Culled from BBC
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