Instagram is often criticized for creating unrealistic body ideals, but a new study suggests our loved ones are more to blame than celebrities.
In experiments, participants reported a degree of satisfaction with their appearance when they saw other people’s social media posts throughout the day.
Researchers found interacting with posts from friends and family more “harmful” than interacting with content from celebrities and influencers.
A desired body image of a famous person may be considered less attainable, so we worry less about it than if it were a friend or family member.
New research has found that social media use is associated with lower appearance satisfaction, and interacting with posts from friends and family is more than twice as harmful as watching content posted by celebrities (file photo)
USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA LINKED TO IMAGE OF BODY IMAGE
Social media use has been linked to body image concerns and a higher risk of young adults developing eating problems, a 2016 study found.
Experts from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that all demographics were equally affected by the link between social media and concerns about food and body image.
Lead author Jaime E. Sidani said, “Social media combines many of the visual aspects of traditional media with the ability for social media users to communicate and spread stereotypes that can lead to concerns about food and body image.”
The experts used questionnaires asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms of the time – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.
The study was led by academics from Anglia Ruskin University in East Anglia and the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria, and was published today in the journal body image.
“Image-focused social media platforms give users unlimited opportunities to make negative comparisons and internalize outward ideals, which in turn leads to more negative body image outcomes,” said study author Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University.
“Our research found that using social media decreases appearance satisfaction regardless of who posts the content.
“Most interestingly, watching content posted by friends and family has a significantly stronger negative impact on appearance satisfaction compared to content posted by celebrities and influencers.”
Social media use is increasingly associated with negative body image, but most research to date has involved lab tests or surveys, rather than measuring people’s social media experiences as they occur.
So the researchers recruited 50 adults from Austria and Germany with an average age of 23, who gave feedback every day for a period of two weeks.
To capture the real-time impact of social media activity, participants had to wear a wearable device on their wrist.
This allowed them to indicate how satisfied they were with their own appearance each time they engaged with social media content during the two weeks.
Participants reported using social media ‘actively’ (e.g., creating Facebook posts, writing Tweets, and sending WhatsApp messages) and ‘passive’ using social media (e.g., reading Facebook posts). messages and viewing Snapchat photos).
Image shows rating points for a single participant during the study period and over time of day. Participants indicated that they were satisfied with their appearance when they saw a famous person (eg a friend) on social media and when they saw an unknown person (eg a celebrity) on social media. They also reported satisfaction with appearance at any two times a day (“reference rating”)
Participants were instructed to press a button on the wearable once to see content from friends or family members, and twice for someone they didn’t know personally, such as a celebrity or influencer.
However, participants did not indicate which specific social media app they were using at any given time.
On average, the participants used social media ‘actively’ for 73 minutes per day and 90 minutes per day ‘passively’ on social media.
The study also found that any social media engagement was significantly associated with lower appearance satisfaction.
Surprisingly, engaging with content posted by people the participants knew was more than twice as harmful as it was with content posted by strangers, such as influencers or celebrities.
Use of social media apps such as Instagram is increasingly linked to negative body image (file photo)
“One possible explanation is that people consider a message with appearance to be much more achievable if it comes from someone they know, which adds an extra expectation or pressure to the person exercising the message,” said Professor Swami.
‘At the same time, people may be more critically involved in posts from, for example, models and celebrities, so that they experience the images they share as more unrealistic.’
The authors say their results support a growing body of evidence indicating that social media use is strongly associated with “negative body image outcomes.”
“Given these findings, practitioners may find it helpful to consider the extent of social media involvement in improving body satisfaction in individuals and populations,” they conclude in their paper.
The study follows other research published this week by the University of Glasgow, which found that women don’t look at Instagram images that “reflect their own areas of insecurity.”
The Glasgow researchers examined the participants’ eye movements as they viewed a series of Instagram images of other women’s faces and bodies, varying in size.
Participants paid more attention to other women’s bodies than their faces, preferring depictions of underweight and average women, rather than overweight women.
WE Spend ALMOST ONE THIRD OF OUR WAKE TIME ON OUR SMARTPHONE, RESEARCH SHOWS
Research shows that last year people spent as much as 4.8 hours a day, or nearly a third of their waking hours, on their mobile phones.
App Annie’s “State of Mobile” report shows that by 2021, consumers worldwide will spend a record 3.8 trillion hours on mobile devices.
In the UK, the average amount of time spent on phones per day was four hours in 2021, less than the global average of 4.8 hours for the year.
But mobile usage in the UK has increased from three hours a day in 2019 to 3.7 hours a day in 2020.
Overall, 2021 was “record-breaking” as consumers continue to embrace a mobile lifestyle and move away from big screens, the company said.
In particular, use of the Chinese video sharing app TikTok saw a 90 percent increase worldwide excluding China, compared to 2020.