Adolescent girls are typically insecure when it comes to personal appearance. A study took a look at how viewing pictures posted on social media might negatively affect young girls’ self-image, possibly heading them in the direction of an eating disorder.
The study was conducted by Evelyn P. Meier, M.A and James Gray, Ph.D. Meier and Gray developed a questionnaire measuring adolescent girls’ Facebook usage along with their self-esteem and self-satisfaction. Participants from New York middle and high schools were asked to take the half hour survey, with 103 girls agreeing.
The questionnaire asked the girls: how much time they spent on Facebook; which aspects of the site they used most often; how they felt about their personal weight; how driven they were to be thin; how much being thin has to do with being beautiful; how they compared themselves to others; and measures for self-objectification.
As Self-Objectification Rises So Does Eating Disorder Risk
Media often presents women as sexual objects, and many girls take these messages to heart, sometimes reflecting this in the kinds of pictures of themselves that they post online. Research shows that as self-objectification rises so does body shame and the risk for eating disorders.
The questions were mostly used to determine not only how much time the girls spent on Facebook, but how much of their time was spent in photo-related activity with a quotient devised from this ratio. There were eight questions about weight satisfaction, seven questions based on a scale of one to five on drive for thinness and 10 relating to self-objectification. Taken together the survey responses were used to develop an “appearance exposure” score.
What The Facebook / Body Image Research Found
The researchers found that girls ages 12-18 were vulnerable to lowered self-esteem after spending more time with photo-rich Facebook activities. The problem was particularly acute for young girls who showed that they already struggled with accepting their own appearance. Most often, girls who were dissatisfied with their body image expressed a desire to be thinner.
Facebook doesn’t just have the option to post pictures but invites others to “Like” the photos and comment on them. This has led to a heightened worry among young ladies about whether posted pictures make them look fat, whether lots of people will click “Like” or what sort of comments may show up, and that kind of preoccupation can form the roots of an eating disorder.
A separate Center for Eating Disorders public survey asked 16-40 year olds who were active on Facebook to comment on how using the social site had affected their feelings about their body and decisions related to their body. More than 50 percent of those surveyed said that seeing pictures of themselves on Facebook made them feel more self-conscious about their weight and appearance. Close to 50 percent admitted that they often wished they looked like someone else when they were viewing pictures on the site.
Meier and Gray say that higher Internet “appearance exposure” is linked to a higher risk of negative body image problems for young girls and that, in turn, is a known risk factor for eating disorders. Prior research shows that girls are more sensitive to media images than boys.
A lot of the prior research has examined the impact of images found in television and magazines. Those studies revealed that it was not merely how much media was consumed but how image-driven the media was that had the greatest impact. This new study reaches the same conclusion but also identifies a specific site feature that contributes to the problem.