University of Kentucky Psychologists Examine How Social Media Impacts Girls’ Body Image

A new study by researchers at the University of Kentucky examines how the social media culture among teenagers affects their body image.

The study found that nearly 80 percent of teens, by age 13, have at least one social media account. Most of them spend approximately five hours a week on their account; scrolling through feeds, posting pictures and interacting with other users. Perhaps even more interesting, according to the study, teens who reported posting more pictures on social media had a heightened awareness of their appearance, which was related to feeling more negative about their body.

Visual platforms deliver the tools that allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others. For some, especially girls, what starts as a fun way to document and share experiences can turn into an obsession. And this obsession can have damaging effects.

Christia Spears Brown, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky and a co-author of the study, explains that “adolescents are especially vulnerable because they are undergoing a lot of physical, social and psychological changes that are a normal part of growing up. With puberty, adolescents’ bodies are changing in many different ways. They are more focused on the opinions of their peers than ever before. All of these developmental changes place early adolescents at greater risk for developing negative body image, and in the worst-case scenario, subsequently eating disorders.”

“Some teens may be more at risk than others for some negative effects of social media — specifically, for adolescents who are particularly focused on others for approval, and for adolescent girls who are already facing societal pressures to have an ideal body. Spending a lot of time on social media taking and posting selfies is associated with thinking about their bodies more frequently and thinking more negatively about their bodies,” Professor Brown added.

Ilyssa Salomon, a doctoral student in psychology at the university and the lead author of the study, notes that “it is really teens who are focused on others for approval and try to adapt their behavior to fit in, as well as adolescent girls, who seem to show the strongest links between social media and body image.”

The study, “The Selfie Generation: Examining the Relationship Between Social Media Use and Early Adolescent Body Image,” was published on the website of the Journal of Early Adolescence. It may be accessed here.

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