Well-Being Mental Health

Social media engagement with friends, family linked with lower body image perception

Individuals who engaged with people they knew on social media tended to have worse body image perceptions compared with engagement with a celebrity or influencer.
Someone using an iphone.

Story at a glance

  • Numerous studies have detailed the negative relationship between social media and body image.

  • New research revealed engagement with friends, acquaintances or family members was more detrimental to appearance satisfaction than engagement with influencers or celebrities.

  • This could be due to the fact that individuals engaging with these posts see the appearance portrayed as more attainable. 

Social media has a damaging impact on individuals’ appearance satisfaction, according to a study released in the journal Body Image.

According to the study, engagement with posts from friends and family was more than twice as detrimental to body image compared with posts by strangers.

The findings were based on 50 participants living in Central Europe. 

“Image-focused social media platforms provide limitless opportunities for users to make negative comparisons and internalize appearance ideals, which in turn leads to more negative body image outcomes,” said study co-author Viren Swami in a release.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

“Our study found that engaging with social media reduces appearance satisfaction regardless of who is posting the content and, most interestingly, looking at content posted by friends and family had a significantly stronger negative impact on appearance satisfaction compared to content posted by the likes of celebrities and influencers.”

These results were consistent after controlling for demographic factors, active or passive social media use and body image-related factors. 

In the study, participants reported their body image satisfaction via a wearable device each time they actively engaged with social media content for two weeks. They also reported their body image satisfaction at two random time points each day.

Average participant age was 23, while individuals actively used social media (creating a post, writing a Tweet, etc) for 73 minutes each day. Participants passively consumed social media for an average of 90 minutes per day. The majority of participants were women. 

Researchers hypothesize the lower body image assessments associated with posts from friends or family could be due to individuals seeing these appearances as more attainable. This attainability perception could add a feeling of expectation or pressure on the person engaging with the post, they added.

“At the same time, people may be more critically engaged with posts by the likes of models and celebrities, and therefore perceive the images they share to be more unrealistic,” said Swami.

Based on the findings, “practitioners should consider the extent of social media use when working to improve body satisfaction in individuals and wider populations,” said lead study author Stefan Stieger. 

To do so, practitioners could recommend individuals follow different accounts or pages on social media and reduce the time spent online.

“Additionally, there may be value in promoting social media content that encourages positive body image,” Steiger said. 

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.