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PhD Student, University of Technology Sydney


Examining the role of social media photo-based activities in body image concerns amongst young women

There are alarmingly high rates of body image concerns amongst young women, with almost 90% of women aged 18-30 desiring to weigh less despite being within a normal healthy weight range. An extensive research literature has established that depictions of thin-ideal women in traditional media (e.g., magazines and television) can have a negative effect on body image and eating disturbances. However, much less research has investigated the relationship between social media, or social networking sites (SNS), and body image concerns, despite its increasing popularity amongst young women.

Facebook has two billion users and Instagram has over 500 million users, with users sharing more than 80 million photos a day on Instagram alone. Emerging research suggests that time spent on SNS, particularly Facebook, is significantly related to body image concerns in young women. However, this usage has largely been considered as homogenous and therefore the specific features of SNS use involved in body image require further exploration and clarification.

To date, my research has examined the relationship between SNS photo activities and body-related and eating concerns in young adult women. Study 1 found that SNS ‘selfie’ activities, rather than general SNS usage (operationalised as time), were associated with body-related and eating concerns. Study 2 found that greater engagement in photo activities on Facebook (e.g. viewing friends’ photos) and following of appearance-related accounts (i.e., celebrities and ‘health and fitness’) on Instagram was associated with body image outcomes rather than general Facebook use or following appearance-neutral accounts on Instagram.

Taken together, my research findings emphasise the utility of measuring specific SNS user activity in providing greater insight into the relationship between SNS use and body image disturbances. Secondly, they highlight that particular types of SNS use, such as engaging in photo-based activities on Facebook and following appearance-related content on Instagram, may relate to body image disturbances. And finally, it suggests that previous recommendations to limit overall SNS use may not only be impractical but also unnecessary in preventing body image concerns in young women. Rather, SNS photo activities and appearance-related content may be more relevant to body image concerns and thus should be the focus of targeted interventions and practical suggestions for young women vulnerable to body image issues.


Photoshopping the selfie: Self photo editing and photo investment are associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls.

Abstract: Social media engagement by adolescent girls is high. Despite its appeal, there are potential negative consequences for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating from social media use. This study aimed to examine, in a cross-sectional design, the relationship between social media use in general, and social media activities related to taking "selfies" and sharing specifically, with overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, and dietary restraint.Participants were 101 grade seven girls (M(age)  = 13.1, SD = 0.3), who completed self-report questionnaires of social media use and body-related and eating concerns measures.Results showed that girls who regularly shared self-images on social media, relative to those who did not, reported significantly higher overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint, and internalization of the thin ideal. In addition, among girls who shared photos of themselves on social media, higher engagement in manipulation of and investment in these photos, but not higher media exposure, were associated with greater body-related and eating concerns, including after accounting for media use and internalization of the thin ideal.Although cross-sectional, these findings suggest the importance of social media activities for body-related and eating concerns as well as potential avenues for targeted social-media-based intervention.

Pub.: 28 Aug '15, Pinned: 29 Aug '17

Comparative effects of Facebook and conventional media on body image dissatisfaction.

Abstract: Appearance comparison has consistently been shown to engender body image dissatisfaction. To date, most studies have demonstrated this relationship between appearance comparison and body image dissatisfaction in the context of conventional media images depicting the thin-ideal. Social comparison theory posits that people are more likely to compare themselves to similar others. Since social media forums such as Facebook involve one's peers, the current study aimed to determine whether the relationship between appearance comparison and body image dissatisfaction would be stronger for those exposed to social media images, compared to conventional media images.A sample of 193 female first year university students were randomly allocated to view a series of either Facebook or conventional media thin-ideal images. Participants completed questionnaires assessing pre- and post- image exposure measures of thin-ideal internalisation, appearance comparison, self-esteem, Facebook use and eating disorder risk.Type of exposure was not found to moderate the relationship between appearance comparison and changes in body image dissatisfaction. When analysed according to exposure type, appearance comparison only significantly predicted body image dissatisfaction change for those exposed to Facebook, but not conventional media. Facebook use was found to predict higher baseline body image dissatisfaction and was associated with higher eating disorder risk.The findings suggest the importance of extending the body image dissatisfaction literature by taking into account emerging social media formats. It is recommended that interventions for body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders consider appearance comparison processes elicited by thin-ideal content on social media forums, such as Facebook, in addition to conventional media.

Pub.: 04 Jul '15, Pinned: 21 Aug '17

The Relationship Between Body Image Concerns, Eating Disorders and Internet Use, Part II: An Integrated Theoretical Model

Abstract: The last decade has seen a huge rise in Internet use, including social media, particularly among youth, and preliminary evidence of a relationship between Internet use and increased body image concerns and eating pathology has emerged. However, to date, considerations of theoretical perspectives that might guide this direction of research are lacking. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to provide an analysis of the different theoretical contexts in which Internet use may be studied, and propose an integrative framework for research among adolescents. It reviews five important theoretical models of the development of body image concerns and eating pathology and discusses their usefulness as frameworks within which to explore the relationships between Internet and social media use and body image concerns and eating pathology. Specifically, it critically evaluates sociocultural theory, feminist and self-objectification theory, impression management theory, social identity theory, and gratification theory. Finally, drawing on these five theories, it presents an integrated model and proposes a framework within which to ground research focusing on the relationships between Internet and social media use, and body image concerns and eating pathology. It ends with suggestions for future research among adolescents within the proposed framework.

Pub.: 07 Oct '15, Pinned: 21 Aug '17