The social comparison theory proposes that people have a drive to determine their progress and standing within life and as a result they often seek out standards to which they compare themselves (Festinger, 1954). With 69% of internet users having a social media profile and spending approximately 12. 5 hours per week on social media (Sensis, 2016), Fardouly and colleagues have presented their theories on the role of social media on the body image of young women, with reference to their own research studies, in relation to Festingers’ social comparison theory.
Fardouly and colleagues propose that when young women make appearance comparisons, they become more susceptible to the effects of social media (Fardouly et al. 2015). Due to social media becoming a platform designed for appearance comparison, young women are left feeling they are less attractive and reporting an overall decrease in mood and subsequent body image (Fardouly, Vartanian & Pinkus, 2016).
With the noted rise of social media, women are comparing themselves less to billboards, magazines and TV and more to the comparison provoking images on social media being more readily accessible due to mobile phones and other technological advancements (Fardouly, Pinkus & Vartanian, 2016). Social media also allows for young women to selectively choose which image of themselves they deem most attractive in order to elicit a higher sense of comparison by other women (Fardouly, Vartanian & Pinkus, 2016).
The authors reference their research noting that upward comparisons (Festinger, 1954) through social media were associated with more negative outcomes than those of comparisons made in person (Fardouly, Pinkus & Vartanian, 2016). They therefore determined that social media was the biggest contributor in experiencing more negative opinions towards their body image. This was due to the rise in accessibility of social media, which in turn led to a decrease in self-esteem and an increase risk of the development of eating disorders (Fardouly, Pinkus & Vartanian, 2016).
In regards to the effect that social comparison can have on young women, in the context of decreased body image perceptions and an increased risk of eating disorders, there is compelling evidence highlighting these effects. Similar to Fardouly and colleagues, evidence highlights that unfavourable social comparison on the basis of appearance leads to dissatisfaction with ones own appearance (Myers & Crowther, 2009). The effects of media on body perception are substantial during adolescence; recently there has been a universal increase in the extent of eating disorders, particularly among females (Eyal & Te’eni-Harari, 2013).
The effect that media has on body image is particularly evident in adolescence as the development of personal identity, increasing peer pressure desire for uniqueness all occur (Eyal & Te’eni-Harari, 2013). Adolescence is also a time of growth and change of body shape and mas and puberty and hormones (Steinberg & Morris, 2001), which unquestionably contributes to the impact that social media and body comparison can play on female youths body image perceptions (Polce- Lynch et al. 2001).
This is reinforced through approximately 50% of adolescent girls and young women being dissatisfied with their bodies as a consequence of the images on social media (Bearman, Presnell & Martinez, 2006). Currently the desire to look “perfect” and be “thin” is so dominant among adolescent girls that it can be described as a “normative discontent” within society (Rodin, Silberstein & Striegel-Moore, 1985; Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2006). This discontent can greatly impact on the social inclusion of young women and can result in withdrawing themselves from their everyday lives.
The impact of this form of body comparison is so threatening that it leads to 20% of females aged 12 – 30 having negative body image leading to disordered eating habits (Levine & Murnen, 2009). Although there is extremely strong evidence highlighting the impact that social comparison has on young female’s body image, there is a contrasting opinion as to the extent that social media plays. Although approximately 50% of women express some form of body dissatisfaction, contrasting research does suggest that there is a small relationship between social media exposure and body dissatisfaction (Ferguson, Winegard & Winegard, 2011).
It is noted that this relationship is so small that the effect is not of any practical significance (Ferguson, Winegard & Winegard, 2011) and could be even considered as a variable risk facto (Levine & Murnen, 2009) that affects different individuals in differing ways. The only following studies from this are those of Fardouly and colleagues that note those young women that spend more time on social media report being in a more negative mood in relation to body image and are more likely to be comparing themselves on social media than in other forms of media such as magazines or TV (Fardouly et.
AI, 2015; Fardouly, Pinkus & Vartanian, 2016). It is evident that the continuing rise of social media requires continuing research in this field. Despite contrasts in regards to social media’s effect on body image, all studies highlight the consequences of social comparison for young women through all forms of media and peer comparison. Evidently, it can be determined that properly educating young women on media literacy can aid in mitigating the impact of these images on body image, as well as minimizing the importance of attractiveness within society (Grabe & Ward, 2008).
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