How Does Internet Use Affect Girls’ and Women’s Body Esteem?

Kiera B., Project Manager on July 25, 2017

The way we engage with each other is changing, or perhaps it is safe to say that it has changed. Social media and internet use is a large part of western culture and there is no going back. We are bombarded daily by images, posts, and tweets from our social network. We know more about friends’ daily lives than ever before. Is all this information a good thing? What is it doing to our sense of self, self-esteem and body satisfaction?

When I scroll through Facebook or Instagram (which I do almost daily), more often than not I regret the time I spend looking at others’ posts and photos. I often end up feeling like somehow I do not quite measure up.  In particular, I have a difficult time with fitspiration posts. I have my fair share of friends who constantly post selfies of themselves at the gym or working out. Although “fitspiration” (images that encourage weight loss, dieting and exercise) may seem to promote healthy lifestyles, are these images actually helpful or do they have harmful unintended consequences? I know what my experience is, but I wanted to know if there is any research on this subject to validate my feelings.

Luckily for me, I have a friend who has conducted research on this very subject. PhD candidate Allison Carter conducted a study which examined internet use and body dissatisfaction among young females. Using Statistics Canada data she found that women in Canada aged 12-29 who have higher rates of internet use are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction. Women who spend 20 hours online per week (outside of work or school) were three times more likely to report body dissatisfaction compared to women spending less than an hour online each week.

Similarly, another study conducted in Australia showed that women who looked at fitspiration images on Instagram had greater body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem than women who looked at travel images. The researchers suggested that fitspiration may be especially harmful to body image because it involves comparing oneself to peers rather than models.

Carter has some important ideas about how we can change these statistics. She says that reducing screen time is a start, but the conversation about women’s bodies also needs to change. “I think the bigger issue that we need to be talking about is what defines female worth – we need to move beyond what appears on the outside and reclaim what defines who we are as women.”

For me, reading evidence about how internet and social media use can affect body image is eye opening. Before I would have scrolled through my news feeds with no real purpose, simply to see what is going on in my social network. I did this regularly even though I felt the activity chipping away at my self-esteem. Now, I am going to challenge myself to engage less with social media and focus more on what makes me happy.

If you or someone you know is experiencing challenges with body image/disordered eating visit the Jessie's Legacy website.  

Read more about the Canadian study here.







*photo by flickr user Simon Blackley see original and license here


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