Pressure on women to look a certain way has often been blamed on outside media sources that flaunt unrealistic body image and appearances. But what if the pressure to obtain perfection struck a little closer to home?
A new study from researchers in both the United States and the United Kingdom found that the more time women spent looking at photos of their peers on Facebook, the worse they felt about their own appearance, particularly when it came to body image and weight issues. “Facebook and College Women’s Bodies: Social Media’s Influence on Body Image and Disordered Eating” will be presented in full at the 64th Annual International Communication Association Conference in Seattle in May.
The researchers surveyed 881 college-aged women and tracked their Facebook use, exercise habits, diets and feelings about their body image. While past studies have compared Facebook users and non-users and their thoughts on body image, this is the first study to look at how length of time spent on the social network impacts self-perception.
Pressure To Measure Up
“Anything that promotes external orientation is going to cause some feeling of discontent,” said Sarah Maria, body image expert and author of Love Your Body, Love Your Life. “Facebook is designed so that people share things with their friends, like photos. And there is some pressure there to measure up.”
She says that before Facebook, women still felt the pressure to keep up outside appearances but it was mainly due to television, magazines and other forms of media.
“Facebook just makes it an even bigger problem, especially since everyone is on it,” she said.
The study found that for women who were hoping to lose weight, more time spent on Facebook translated to more time hitting the gym and worrying about things like clothing.
Is Facebook use connected to eating disorders? “While time spent on Facebook had no relation to eating disorders, it did predict worse body image among participants,” said a release on the study.
Related: 5 Myths About Eating Disorders
What’s more, the effect of social media photos and comparisons may be worse than outside media sources.
Why Social Media Matters
“The attention to physical attributes may be even more dangerous on social media than on traditional media because participants in social media are people we know,” said study author Petya Eckler of University of Strathclyde.
“These comparisons are much more relevant and hit closer to home. Yet they may be just as unrealistic as the images we see on traditional media.”
This study points to the larger role social media plays in everyday lives and the influence it has over young people. Though difficult to resist the urge to compare, women should try to just be themselves on social media, said Sarah Maria.
“Learn how to see the beauty in yourself, and not compare. There is zero benefit in engaging in self-criticism, especially based on physical appearance,” she said.
Eckler agrees and says that Facebook and other social media sources should not be abandoned, but should be managed in a realistic way.
“Take the photos on Facebook with a grain of salt. Many women try to present their best selves there, not their real selves, and some photos are even doctored to achieve that,” Eckler said.
“Be the change you want to see in others and don’t focus so much on your weight or body in Facebook discussions. Instead, talk about these issues in positive terms… focus more on being healthy than on losing weight or changing your body.”
More from KnowMore.tv: