Social media has become an integral part of most people’s everyday life. Though it can be useful for keeping in touch, it can also be detrimental to one’s mental health. New research published in Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that increased social media use is linked to body dissatisfaction.
Social media can be extremely harmful to people’s relationship with their body. Many influencers profit off of being skinny or fit and will edit their pictures to comport to that image. Due to this, people who are consuming social media may be comparing their bodies not only to celebrities and influencers, but also to bodies that are not real. This can be especially hazardous during adolescence when people are especially vulnerable to body dissatisfaction. Thin-ideal internalization has been shown to be especially relevant to girls, while muscular-ideal internalization is primarily relevant to boys.
Study author An T. Vuong and colleagues utilized a sample of 1,153 adolescents (11 to 17 years old) living in Australia who had a social media account and identified as male or female. Participants were asked to complete demographic information, and measures that assessed their social media use (Instagram, Snapchat), thin-ideal internalization, muscular-ideal internalization, and body dissatisfaction.
Results showed that while both boys and girls reported moderate social media use, thin and muscular-ideal internalization, and body dissatisfaction, girls used social media more, showed more thin-ideal internalization, and had higher rates of body dissatisfaction. Boys showed higher levels of muscular-ideal internalization.
Thin-ideal internalization was largely correlated with body dissatisfaction for girls. Social media use had a significant correlation with body dissatisfaction as well. Results showed that when boys had high muscular-ideal internalization, higher rates of social media use were related to body dissatisfaction, but for boys low in muscular-ideal internalization, there was no relationship between social media and body dissatisfaction.
This study sought to contribute to body of research that includes boys in studies about social media and body dissatisfaction. Despite this, there are limitations. One such limitation is that this study didn’t ask participants to specify behaviors of social media use, such as liking or commenting, that have been associated with body dissatisfaction in previous research. In addition, this study is cross-sectional, which means causality cannot be extrapolated from results. Future research could utilize an experimental design.