Instagram use and body dissatisfaction: a research portfolio
Aims: Similarly to traditional mass media, social media use has recently been identified as a potential risk factor in negative body image outcomes. Given its numerous uses and applications, it is important to investigate which specific aspects of social media and the way it is used influences body image. Social comparison has been identified as a possible mechanism by which the influence of exposure to social media impacts upon body image. Unprecedented twenty-four-hour access to photographs of others has led to increased opportunities for making social comparisons. Therefore, the aim of the first chapter of this research portfolio is to systematically collect and review research conducted thus far on the impact of using Instagram, a photo-based, social media platform on body image outcomes. The second aim, addressed through an empirical approach, investigates whether exposure to appearance-based Instagram content, impacts upon body dissatisfaction and negative mood in a group of adolescent females, a population at increased vulnerability to body image concerns, and who demonstrate increased social comparison. Method: A systematic review of the current literature was carried out to address the first aim of this project. This included a review of 13 quantitative studies which all examined the effects of Instagram on body image outcomes. To address the second aim, 225 female adolescents completed an online experiment, after being randomly allocated to one of three conditions; exposure to Instagram images of attractive female celebrities; exposure to Instagram images of attractive non-familiar peers; and exposure to non-appearance-based Instagram images of travel. Both prior to and post exposure, participants were asked to complete measures of state mood and body dissatisfaction. A measure of trait self-esteem was also taken to investigate whether this construct acts as a moderator in the relationship between exposure to the celebrity and peer images and body dissatisfaction. Results: The systematic review highlighted a significant relationship between certain elements of Instagram use and various body image outcomes. Findings from experimental studies suggest the type of images one is exposed to, particularly images of others, impacts negatively upon body image. However, there were some inconsistencies in findings across studies reviewed. Results also suggest that social comparison plays a moderating role between Instagram use, and appearance dissatisfaction with other individual characteristics, such as one’s appearance self-schema also implicated. Further research is recommended. Within the empirical project, multiple hierarchical regression revealed that adolescent females exposed to images of attractive celebrities and unfamiliar peers experience a significant increase in body and appearance dissatisfaction, and a significant increase in negative mood in comparison to those exposed to non-appearance-based images. There was no significant difference between the celebrity and peer image exposure groups. A moderation analysis revealed that self-esteem did not have a moderating effect between exposure to appearance centric social media images of celebrities or peers upon body dissatisfaction. Conclusion: There appears to be emerging evidence that Instagram use, an image centric social media platform, and exposure to certain aspects of its content is related to negative body image outcomes. There is also an indication that the strength of this relationship may depend upon the extent to which one engages in social comparison. Research is still in its infancy, and given the popularity of such applications, particularly amongst young people, further research is recommended in strengthening and extending the evidence available.