Social Media Influences Your Body Image

When you follow celebrities online, you're constantly exposed to both their lifestyles and their bodies. Do you think this affects you? Read this article, which explains how social media tends to affect your own body image.
Social Media Influences Your Body Image
María Vélez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Vélez.

Last update: 09 May, 2023

Millions of people all over the world use social media on a daily basis. The most popular platforms are Facebook and Instagram. On average, each user spends about two hours a day on these platforms. Being exposed to networks where you’re constantly bombarded with images has huge effects. For this reason, one of the most talked-about topics is how social media influences your body image.

Social media platforms like Instagram are great sources of entertainment. However, they’re also spaces where you both express and represent yourself.

Self-representation is defined as any behavior aimed at creating, modifying, or maintaining an impression of yourself for others. For example, in an app like Instagram, you generate your self-presentation with photos of yourself. Therefore, your physical appearance becomes extremely important.

A woman using her phone.

Body image

Body image is defined as the representation each person has of their own body. It’s also based on the feelings and attitudes you have towards that representation. In fact, you “make” your body image by comparing your actual image with your ideal image.

You have a positive body image if you have a clear and real perception of yourself and you’re comfortable with it. Furthermore, you don’t associate your personal worth with your physical image.

On the other hand, when you value and perceive your body in a very biased way, you have a negative body image. In fact, you feel anxious and ashamed of your own body. Furthermore, you tend to think that only others are attractive.

You change the way in which you create and project your body image throughout your life. However, it does fundamentally tend to form around adolescence. There are two basic elements that influence your “ideal self”: history and the present moment.

The historical element concerns the way in which your culture sees beauty. Whereas the present element concerns how beauty is currently defined. Indeed, what you consider to be beautiful today will is very different from how beauty was perceived years ago.

Social networks

Most Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 34. Furthermore, it’s the favorite app for children under the age of 18. The idea of Instagram is that you upload visual content (photos or stories) and people like or follow them.

It’s a space to promote yourself. In fact, you measure your success by the number of people that like your photos or follow you. Experts estimate that around one million selfies are uploaded to Instagram per day. Of these, 14 percent have had some form of digital retouching. In reality, the likes you get tend to reinforce the image you’ve projected. However, a lack of likes may well encourage you to change it.

These tweaks you make are based on societal stereotypes. In fact, one study suggested that selfies on Instagram are even more stereotypical than magazine adverts. This means that you often unfavorably compare yourself to others. Furthermore, you’re also judged by others on the same basis.

Social media influences your body image

Several theories explain how the use of social media like Instagram affects your body image.

Theory of social comparison

Leon Festinger proposes that you compare yourself with your peers to establish your position and/or your self-assessment. If you place yourself in a higher position (downward comparison), your self-esteem increases. However, if you place yourself in a lower position (upward comparison), your self-esteem decreases.

They’ve discovered that the comparisons you make on social media tend to be related to body dissatisfaction. This might involve comparing yourself with either celebrities or strangers.

Objectification theory

Fredrickson and Roberts suggest that the ideal image of the female body is socially constructed with the purpose of being seen and evaluated. This means that women and girls tend to base their body image on that of a viewer. In other words, instead of having their own internal appraisal and perception of their body, they construct their image based on other people’s thoughts and expectations.

This perspective, as well as being biased, means you have to constantly monitor your body. You might feel ashamed and anxious if it doesn’t conform to the accepted beauty standards. This can cause a number of mental health issues.

A woman using her phone.

Other aspects to take into account

It’s difficult to avoid the influence of social media in this day and age. However, certain factors can mitigate its influence on your body image.

For example, the way in which Instagram affects your body schema and the comparisons you tend to make with others depends on your self-esteem. Therefore, if you have good self-esteem, you’ll be less vulnerable to any negative effects.

Feminist ideology can help with body objectification. This is because women with feminist ideas tend to pay far less attention to the impact of the images they share.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bra Folgar, A.L. (2019). Corporalidad online-offline: Revisión sistemática de la influencia de Instagram en la imagen corporal de las adolescentes. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.