Effects of Social Media on Body Image

It is crucial to note some of the ways that social media influence the perception of body image considering the high rate of online presence of young adults, especially women and their dependency on social media. Media exposure on Cosmetic surgery, where the surgery features in advertising and reality TV shows, play an outsized role in influencing young adults particularly, adolescent girls. Exposure to such shows has resulted in many girls being dissatisfied with their physical appearance and self-perception, making them have the urge to change how they look.

Impact of Cosmetic Surgery

The American and British Associations for Plastic Surgery conveyed concerns about the nature of such coverage, due to the impact the coverage has on adolescents (ASPS, 2004; BAAPS, 2004). A research design was used to study the responses of teenage girls to cosmetic surgery TV shows.Research has been performed on girls between the ages of 15 to 18 years where they are randomly earmarked to one of three conditions on a cosmetic surgery TV show, namely; mentioning dangers associated with surgery, the dangers are not mentioned, or the control condition, a home makeover show.

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The study shows that their responses to cosmetic surgery show varied from the extent that they derived self-worth from their appearance and their materialistic values. Cosmetic surgery reality TV shows can do more harm than good on the body image and social perceptions of adolescent girls thus the need to educate them on the factors to consider when responding to such shows (Ashikali, Dittmar& Ayers, 2014).

Modeling body size requirement

The extreme thinness of the models on media is another contributing factor of the body image being affected by social media. With all the applications now available, this idealor perfect body is often generated through image editing. There are tools used to manipulate photos and they are widely available and easier to use.

A Professional retoucher manipulated unretouched photos to generate unretouched and retouched image conditions. A study was carried out where 393 adolescents, average age of 15.43 were casually selected and delegated to one of the conditions, and they completed a questionnaire following exposure. In the retouched-aware condition, body consciousness increased while the physical self-esteem decreased among male and female adolescents.

The photo editing has led to negative effects on adolescents’ self-image because social media has made them believe that such body thinness is real while in the real sense, one can only have such body with the help of photo editing software. While some youths are aware that those pictures of online models are photoshopped and edited, they still want to look like them. In fact, many adolescents’ girls use photo editing applications to manipulate their photos.

It makes them more comfortable and confident when the pictures they upload on social media sites look flawless even though they know it’s fake. Body image is something young adults have struggled with, and it would be difficult to not struggle with it considering we live in an era of a media-heavy society (Harrison & Hefner, 2014).

There is a major interrelationship between genre-related television exposure, perceptions of the body image and dissatisfaction of the body. A study was carried out where 417 female undergraduates finished measures of thin-ideal reality TV viewing, peer and parental views and attitudes towards thinness, social value perceptions of thinness, as well as the attribute of the thin ideal and body discontentment measures.

Results showed that thin ideal reality TV viewing and some social values like the peer and parental attitudes are directly connected to how the social value of thinness is perceived. However, thin-ideal reality TV exposure was indirectly related to the internalization of the thin ideal and body discontentment. Many TV shows feature very small numbers of people of average or above average weight. Women who are above average weight tend to draw very negative comments from other characters about their looks.

This has made many adolescents believe that one’s outward look and beauty is more important than what is inside. It has also led to low self-esteem on those people whose weight is above average. Television characters with unrealistic bodies have resulted in many young adults going for plastic surgery and using chemicals so as to have that perfect body. (Kinnally &Vonderen, 2014).

Channels of influence

It is not just television shows, advertisements, and magazines anymore. Other social sites such as Instagram, that specifically focuses on uploads of personal pictures, also have a great effect on body image. A study was conducted where 144 girls between the ages of fourteen to eighteen years old were randomly subjected to either the actual original or edited Instagram photos.

The results indicated that exposure to edited Instagram photos directly led to lower self-esteem as well as lower body image. Girls with higher social comparison ways were negatively affected by exposure to the edited photos. Interestingly, the edited pictures were highly rated than the original ones. It was noted that girls in both conditions found the pictures realistic.

The recent societal view on the effects of manipulated photos on social media might be justified, mostly on adolescent girls with a higher social comparison ways (Kleemans, Daalmans, Carbaat& Anschutz 2016). Instagram is one of the culprits behind the growing trend of body discontentment among adolescent girls. Adolescent girls are more likely to develop body image issues because of comparing themselves to social norms of beauty as portrayed in the social media representations.

Social media is more interactive and thus provides users with more agencies to personalize and control their experiences. A study that was carried out on US women projected that people who follow fitness boards on online media specifically Pinterest are more likely to engage in intense weight loss behaviors. Many individuals fail to comprehend is that the way people present themselves online is not always similar to their real lives because people hardly share the bad things about their lives on social media (Lewallen&Behm-Morawitz, 2016).

Reasons behind the change in body size

Increased body image displeasure in adolescent girls has been caused by great exposure to thin-ideal media. Appearance comparison, peer norms, and control were the set of experimental tools used to evaluate the effects of exposure to thin-ideal media. Early adolescents’ girls finished baseline measures and one week later viewed thin-ideal media images, before and after which they rated their state body contentment. The findings provide facts to support the development of media literacy based body image interventions (Mclean, Paxton & Wertheim 2016).

In addition to social media, it is vital to note the importance of various concepts on body image such as culture, social comparison, thin-ideal, active use of social media such as posting and commenting. The research on those areas will help broaden the scope of research on body image. (Prieler& Choi, 2014). Media promoted unrealistic thin-ideals are associated with major effects on women and girls body image, eating patterns and moods (Tiggermann, 2014). Studies the US and Australia show that social media are the main form of mass media being used by the young adults today (Williams & Ricciardelli, 2014).


Research on how the thin exposure models influence body displeasure shows that participants exposed to thin-idealized model images demonstrated greater body discontentment and lower advertising effectiveness than those exposed to non-idealized model images. Therefore, the use of non-idealized model images is suggested (Yu 2014).


Ashikali, E., Dittmar, H., & Ayers, S. (2014). The effect of cosmetic surgery reality tv shows on adolescent girls’ body image. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
Harrison, K., & Hefner, V. (2014). Virtually Perfect: Image Retouching and Adolescent Body Image. Media Psychology.
Kinnally, W., &Vonderen, K. E. (2014). Body Image and the Role of Television. Journal of Creative Communications.
Kleemans, M., Daalmans, S., Carbaat, I., &Anschütz, D. (2016). Picture Perfect: The Direct Effect of Manipulated Instagram Photos on Body Image in Adolescent Girls. Media Psychology.
Lewallen, J., &Behm-Morawitz, E. (2016). Pinterest or Thinterest? Social Comparison and Body Image on Social Media. Social Media Society.
Mclean, S. A., Paxton, S. J., & Wertheim, E. H. (2016). Does Media Literacy MitigateRisk for Reduced Body Satisfaction Following Exposure to Thin-Ideal Media? Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
Prieler, M., & Choi, J. (2014). Broadening the Scope of Social Media Effect Research on Body Image Concerns. Sex Roles.
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Yu, U. (2014). Deconstructing College Students’ Perceptions of Thin-Idealized Versus Non-idealized Media Images on Body Dissatisfaction and Advertising Effectiveness. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal.