Appearance comparisons in women

Appearance comparisons in women

What was the aim of this research?

Research shows that women often compare their appearance to other women. Comparisons to women judged to be more attractive than oneself can make women unhappy with their own appearance and put them in a low or bad mood. Most research on appearance comparisons has focused on comparisons to models in magazines, on billboards, or on TV. But comparisons can also be made in other contexts, such as on social media or in person. In our study, we wanted to examine how often women actually compare their appearance to others in these different contexts (e.g., traditional media, social media, in person) and what impact those comparisons have on their body image and mood.

How did we do it?

In our study, 146 female undergraduate students answered online surveys five times per day for five days. For each survey, they reported if they had made an appearance comparison, whether the comparison was made on social media, traditional media, or in person, and whether they thought the person looked better, the same, or worse than them. They then rated their body image, mood, and thoughts of dieting and exercising.

What did we find?

We found that social media comparisons are much more common in women’s everyday lives than are comparisons in more traditional media. In fact, we found that women rarely compare their appearance to others in magazines or on billboards. 

When the comparisons were made on social media or traditional media, women mostly thought that others looked better than them. Women reported being in the worst mood after social media comparisons relative to other comparisons. When women made social media comparisons, they also reported being unhappier with their appearance and more motivated to engage in unhealthy weight-loss activities than when they made comparisons in person.

What does this mean in practice?

Comparisons made to attractive others on social media may be particularly harmful for young women. We need to find ways to reduce the number and impact of appearance comparisons made on social media. Suggestions include unfollowing or avoiding people that post highly edited, idealised images of themselves on social media. People could also detox from social media if they notice that it is making them feel badly about themselves or their body.

It is important to think critically about the content on social media, and to stop and think about the motivation behind each post and question how realistic each image is. However, research is needed to determine what techniques are effective at reducing the impact of social media comparisons.

Citation: Fardouly, J., Pinkus. R. T., Vartaniana, Lenny R. (2016) The impact of appearance comparisons made through social media, traditional media, and in person in women’s everyday lives, Body Image

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