Impact of Instagram use in young women

Impact of Instagram use in young women

What was the aim of this research?

Instagram is one of the most popular and fastest growing social media platforms, particularly among young women. Being an image-based platform, Instagram has the potential to influence women’s appearance-related concerns and beliefs. People tend to present the best and most attractive version of themselves on social media, and may edit images using Instagram filters and other apps before posting them online. Because the images on Instagram are highly selective, they are likely to promote the societal beauty ideal (e.g., thin and toned ideal for women) and result in users thinking others look more attractive than them on this platform, both of which have been linked with greater body dissatisfaction and self-objectification (i.e., the extent to which people value their appearance over other aspects of themselves). There is also a trend to view fitspiration images on Instagram, which are images of thin and toned women designed to motivate people to exercise and eat healthily, and viewing these images may also be linked with greater appearance-concerns. In our study, we examined the relationship between overall Instagram usage and viewing fitspiration images on Instagram and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification, and tested whether internalization of the beauty ideal, appearance comparison tendency in general, or comparisons to specific people on Instagram (e.g., friends, acquaintances, celebrities) accounted for any relationships found.

How did we do it?

In our study, 276 18-25 year old women in both Australia and the United States completed online questionnaires assessing their Instagram usage, frequency of viewing fitspiration images on Instagram, appearance comparisons to specific women on Instagram, tendency to compare their appearance to others in general, internalization of the beauty ideal, body image concerns, and self-objectification. 

What did we find?

Spending more time on Instagram was associated with greater self-objectification, and this relationship was mediated (or accounted for) by the extent to which women accepted (or internalised) the beauty ideal (e.g., they believed it is attractive to be thin and toned) and by making appearance comparisons to celebrities on Instagram. We also found that more frequently viewing fitspiration images on Instagram was associated with greater body image concerns among young women, and this relationship was mediated by internalisation of the beauty ideal, appearance comparison tendency in general, and appearance comparisons to women in fitspiration images.

What does this mean in practice?

These results suggest that Instagram use may negatively impact women’s appearance-related concerns and beliefs, particularly if they have internalised the beauty ideal and if they make appearance comparisons to others on Instagram. Given that female Instagram users report spending around 30 minutes per day on the site and given that Instagram usage is growing in popularity among female adolescents, it is important to examine ways to reduce any negative effect of this image-based social media platform. Media literacy programs are needed to educate young people about the idealised (and often edited) nature of images posted on social media. In addition, based on the results of this study, Instagram users could be encouraged to not follow or view images of celebrities or fitspiration images on Instagram and to follow more Instagram accounts that post nonappearance-related images (e.g. images of landscapes or animals that do not include people) to reduce the appearance focus of their Instagram newsfeed.

Reference: Fardouly, J., Willburger, B.K., Vartanian, L.R. (2017) Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways, Media & Society

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