Recent research confirms women rarely compare themselves to others’ appearing in magazines or billboards, but commonly do on social media platforms, such as Instagram.
Most of us can relate to the feeling of scrolling through Instagram, perhaps going on a few deep dives, and then throwing our phones at the walls because we feel shit about ourselves.
OK, maybe every Instagram scroll doesn’t end that dramatically, but it’s common knowledge that social media has the ability to make us feel worse about ourselves because everyone else seems to be having a better life.
The study was based on survey answers from 150 female undergraduate students. Each student answered online surveys five times a day over the course of five days.
Each time, they would report whether they’d compared their appearance with someone else’s and whether it was done on social media, traditional media or in person.
They followed up by answering whether they thought the person looked better, the same or worse than them. After that, they rated their own body image, mood and thoughts of dieting and exercising.
Women mostly thought others looked better than them on social media. Researchers chalked this up to the fact that images posted to social media are often curated and enhanced.
The respondents reported being in the worst mood after social media comparisons, compared to comparisons with traditional media and in person.
Many were unhappier with their appearance and were motivated to start unhealthy weight-loss activities.
Researchers believe the effects may differ, depending on the social media platform. Those that rely on images, such as Instagram and Snapchat, give people greater opportunity to make appearance comparisons and may be more harmful to women’s body image and mood.
So, what can be done to reduce the impact?
Recommendations such as unfollowing people who post highly edited, idealised images of themselves, was one of them. Another was to follow accounts which actively try to deconstruct retouched photos.
Another method is to think critically about how staged images might be when you’re browsing social media.
In other words: Don’t believe everything you see online.