ArticlePDF Available

Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research


Abstract and Figures

Although there is a voluminous literature on mass media effects on body image concerns of young adult women in the U.S., there has been relatively little theoretically-driven research on processes and effects of social media on young women’s body image and self-perceptions. Yet given the heavy online presence of young adults, particularly women, and their reliance on social media, it is important to appreciate ways that social media can influence perceptions of body image and body image disturbance. Drawing on communication and social psychological theories, the present article articulates a series of ideas and a framework to guide research on social media effects on body image concerns of young adult women. The interactive format and content features of social media, such as the strong peer presence and exchange of a multitude of visual images, suggest that social media, working via negative social comparisons, transportation, and peer normative processes, can significantly influence body image concerns. A model is proposed that emphasizes the impact of predisposing individual vulnerability characteristics, social media uses, and mediating psychological processes on body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Research-based ideas about social media effects on male body image, intersections with ethnicity, and ameliorative strategies are also discussed.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Social Media Effects on Young Womens Body Image Concerns:
Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research
Richard M. Perloff
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Abstract Although there is a voluminous literature on mass
media effects on body image concerns of young adult women
in the U.S., there has been relatively little theoretically-driven
research on processes and effects of social media on young
womens body image and self-perceptions. Yet given the
heavy online presence of young adults, particularly women,
and their reliance on social media, it is important to appreciate
ways that social media can influence perceptions of body
image and body image disturbance. Drawing on communica-
tion and social psychological theories, the present article
articulates a series of ideas and a framework to guide research
on social media effects on body image concerns of young
adult women. The interactive format and content features of
social media, such as the strong peer presence and exchange
of a multitude of visual images, suggest that social media,
working via negative social comparisons, transportation, and
peer normative processes, can significantly influence body
image concerns. A model is proposed that emphasizes the
impact of predisposing individual vulnerability characteris-
tics, social media uses, and mediating psychological processes
on body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Research-based
ideas about social media effects on male body image, inter-
sections with ethnicity, and ameliorative strategies are also
Keywords Body dissatisfaction
Eating disorders
Transactional media effects
Social media
Mass media
The mass media play an outsized role in the communication of
cultural stereotypes about the aesthetics of body image.
Banduras(2009) social cognitive theory, the mass
communication-focused cultivation model (Morgan et al.
2009), and the sociocultural p erspective on body image
(Thompson et al. 1999; Tiggemann 2011) assign central im-
portance to media, emphasizing that exposure to media mes-
sages can impart unrealistic images of female beauty. Inter-
nalization of these distorted images is of concern because it
can lead to body dissatisfaction, a key predictor of disordered
eating (Smolak and Thompson 2009).
Research, primarily conducted in the U.S., UK, and Aus-
tralia, has obtained considerable evidence for media effects on
thinness ideals and body dissatisfaction (see Bell and Dittmar
2011 for a study conducted in the UK). Scores of experiments
have demonstrated that exposure to thin-ideal media images
increases womens dissatisfaction with their bodies, as well as
negative affect (for example, see Homan et al. 2012 for a study
in the U.S. and Tiggemann et al. 2009 for a study in Australia).
Many cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys have found
that media exposure predicts body dissatisfaction, thin body
ideals, and eating disorder symptomatology among preado-
lescent girls and young women (see Botta 1999; Harrison and
Hefner 2006; and Stice et al. 1994 for studies in the U.S.).
Careful literature reviews (Levine and Harrison 2009;
Scharrer 2013) and meta-analyses of research (Groesz et al.
2002; Grabe et al. 2008) indicate that media portrayals of the
thin-ideal body exert an impact on body image concerns. As
always, with media impact, the question is the strength of the
effect, and meta-analytic studies indicate the effects are small
to modest; they likely to operate in concert with individual
differences in the internalization of gender-related attributes
(Levine and Chapman 2011). Studies show that media expo-
sure is consistently linked with womens body dissatisfaction,
R. M. Perloff (*)
School of Communication, Cleveland State University, 2121 Euclid
Ave, Cleveland, OH 44115, USA
Sex Roles
DOI 10.1007/s11199-014-0384-6
internalization of the thin ideal, and eating behaviors (e.g.,
Grabe et al. 2008, though see Holmstrom 2004 and Knobloch-
Westerwick and Crane 2012 for exceptions to these findings).
Importantly, the general pattern of results attesting to media
effects on body dissatisfaction, noted recently by Tiggemann
(2014), has emerged from research conducted in primarily
Westernized societies using mainly White samples, frequently
from the U.S., UK, and Australia, which share the same
unrealistically thin body perfect ideal of female beauty
(Bell and Dittmar 2011). Increasingly, however, researchers
have begun exploring media effects on body images of young
women from different racial and ethnic groups. There is
evidence that some groups (e.g., Latinas) report body dissat-
isfaction at comparable rates to White young women (e.g.,
Schooler and Lowry 2011), as well as reports of few differ-
ences in ratings of ideal or physically attractive female figures
across diverse regions of the world (Tiggemann 2011).
Although empirical studies have been theoretically ground-
ed and heavily focused on measurement precision, the re-
search, as will be discussed below, has been limited in an
important respect. Studies have overwhelmingly focused on
effects of conventional mass mediamagazine depictions,
television ads, TV e ntertainment programs, even music
videos. But these are not the media that primarily attract
adolescent and young adult women. There have been steep
declines in magazine readership, and television viewing has
dropped sharply, particularly among teenagers and young
adults. U.S. residents aged 12 to 34 still watch television,
but are increasingly engaged in time-shifted television view-
ing, or watch shows on iPads or mobile devices (Stelter 2012).
More than 80 % of 1829 year olds in the U.S. are wireless
Internet users, and 72 % of the online 1829 year-old cohort
uses social networking sites (Lenhart et al. 2010). A national
survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that in
the U.S., 1829 year-olds who use the Internet are the most
likely of any demographic group to use a social networking
site; importantly, women are more likely than men to tune into
these sites (Duggan and Brenner 2013).
The present paper attempts to redress the imbalance in the
research literature by offering a theoretically-grounded agenda
for scholarship on social media effects on body image percep-
tions. The paper has four purposes. First, it presents a sche-
matic model of social media effects on body image dynamics
that can guide scholarship. Second, it seeks to stimulate re-
search by offering a number of theoretically-grounded predic-
tions about social media influences on young womensbody
image concerns. Third, the paper seeks to bridge social psy-
chological and communication research terrains, integrating
theoretical areas, such as norms, social compariso ns, and
media influences. In this way, it identifies collaborative path-
ways for social scientific scholarship on gender roles. Fourth,
given the sociocultural role that media play in the develop-
ment of body image and eating disorders, an in-depth focus on
contemporary social media effects can shed light on some of
the underlying dynamics of body image concerns, a persistent
issue in gender role research. Research generated by the
present perspective can enhance understanding of the ways
that unrealistic body image ideals, as well as social compari-
sons and appearance-based schematic processing, are ac-
quired and internalized (e.g., Cash 2011; Thompson et al.
1999; Tylka and Calogero 2011). A theme of the paper is that
the causal determinants of body image perceptions are com-
plex, and media influences on body dissatisfaction and eating
disorders are a function of a host of interrelated psychological
and normative processes. Accordingly, this paper argues that
media-based interventions to ameliorate dysfunctional body
image perceptions must take these exquisite complexities into
account if they are to nudge individuals into changing their
attitudes and behaviors.
Given the time-honored concerns about media effects on
womens body image and self-concept (e.g., Grabe et al. 2008;
Levine and Harrison 2004), the focus of this paper is on
adolescent girls and young adult women. The reader should
note that all cited studies thatfollowarebasedonU.S.
samples, unless otherwise indicated.
Internalization of thin-idealized female beauty is a key
element in a culturally stereotyped standard of beauty that is
ubiquitously communicated in contemporary media through-
out Westernized societies (Levine and Chapman 2011). This
restrictive view of a desirable body type parallels continued
social constraints on gender roles, as well as over-time con-
sistencies in gender stereotypes, despite decades-long social
activism designed to increase gender equality (Berk 2000). As
a result of traditional gender role socialization processes, girls
and women learn to self-objectify, internalizing societal em-
phases on attending to outward appearance rather than inner
qualities; they also come to assign more importance to phys-
ical appearance than do boys, and are more attuned to appear-
ance management to conform to stereotyped physical attrac-
tiveness ideals (Dion et al. 1990; Fredrickson and Roberts
1997). While there are individual differences among women
in their adoption of these beliefs, and more untoward effects
on some young women than others, they occupy a prominent
part of sex-typed socialization in contemporary Western soci-
eties, with girls as young as 35 years old ascribing positive
characteristics to thinner targets (Harriger et al. 2010).
As scholarship over the past two decades has amply dem-
onstrated, a core component of idealized female beauty in
Westernized societies is a thin body size, curvaceously slen-
der, physically appealing, and unrealistically thin (Tiggemann
2011). Internalization of the thin ideal for females has its roots
in a host of social and cultural forces, including pressures to
conform to socially-defined ideals of physical attractiveness,
peer influence, media depictions, same-sex interpersonal
modeling, and symbolic, cultural, even ideological, represen-
tations of female beauty (Bandura 2009; Maccoby 1966;
Sex Roles
Thompson et al. 1999). Another important social learning
factor is self-objectification, the process by which girls and
women come to view their bodies as objects to be looked at,
much as an observer would (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997).
This psychological internalization of an observersperspec-
tive toward ones body can lead to body surveillance, which in
turn can produce body image disturbances, an experience so
common it has been famously termed normative discontent
(Rodin et al. 1985, p. 267; see also Erchull et al. 2013).
Internalization of body perfect ideals and body size ste-
reotypes begin when girls in Western societies are as young as
3 years-old (Dittmar et al. 2006). Mass media have been
implicated as an especially significant source of influence of
these perceptions (Dittmar 2009). Beginning with young girls
exposure to mass communicated images of the Barbie doll
the cultural icon of female beauty (Dittmar et al. 2006,p.
283)moving developmentally to viewing of television ad-
vertisements and programs that celebrate ultra-thin models,
and culminating in adolescence and early adulthood with
appearance-foc used Facebo ok conversation s, picture-
sharing, and fashion-focused tweets (Chrisler et al. 2013),
contemporary mass and social media exert a potent impact
on the development of thinness ideals and body dissatisfac-
tion. It is the latterthe provocative, but relatively unex-
plored, effects of social media that are the focus of the
present paper.
The paper is divided into three sections, which draw from a
common core of communication and social psychological
concepts. The first portion describes the distinctive commu-
nicative attributes of contemporary interactive media and their
applications to appearance-focused social media features. This
section introduces the particular facets of contemporary online
media that make them potent sources of influence on body
image concerns. Building on this, the second section inte-
grates social psychological and communication perspectives,
introducing a model of social media influences on body image
and eating disorders, and articulating potential impacts of
social media on perceptions and affect. A number of specific
ideas and predictions about the impact of social media on
body image concerns are described. Particular attention is paid
to the hypothesized effects of the Internet and social media on
eating disorders, and the processes by which this occurs.
Drawing on concepts discussed throughout the paper, the final
section takes a broader approach, theorizing about potential
social media effects on men and on women from different
ethnic groups. It ends on a positive note, proposing ways to
harness social media to help young women adopt healthier
attitudes toward their bodies.
Three caveats are offered at the outset. First, this paper
focuses on potential social media influences on adolescent girls
and young adult women. Media can strongly influence boys
and young mens body image concerns (Ricciardelli et al. 2009).
But because the bulk of research has documented influences of
mass media portrayals on womens body dissatisfaction, and
young women have a more negative, distorted body image than
young men (Helgeson 2009), a focus on women seemed to
provide a more appropriate focus for this, a pioneering probe
designed to generate research on social media effects.
Second, it is important to consider the cultural context in
which research has taken place. The overwhelming majority
of studies have been conducted in Western countries, fre-
quently in the U.S., and with a focus on predominantly Cau-
casian women (Fitzsimmons-Craft and Bardone-Cone 2012;
Forbes et al. 2012;Melloretal.2013). There is a persistent
question about whether these findings apply to individuals of
different racial and ethnic groups. African-American women
are less prone to be dissatisfied with their bodies than White
women (Botta 2000; Fitzsimmons-Craft and Bardone-Cone
2012; Franko and Roehrig 2011; Gillen and Lefkowitz 2012),
in light of different subcultural norms.
Yet the global diffusion of sex-typed ultra-thin images of
women seems to have left an imprint on other ethnic groups,
as thinness ideals can be found across the world. For example,
Argentine, Malaysian Chinese, and Fiji women have displayed
considerable body dissatisfaction or Western-style desires for
thinness (Forbes et al. 2012;Frankoetal.2012; Mellor et al.
2013; see Anderson-Fye 201 1 for a review). However , there are
complexities, as women rejected Western-style thinness ideals in
Belize, where body shape is more highly valued than body size;
more generally , as Anderson-Fye notes, Western individualistic
notions of body image are not universal (p. 250). Thus, the
ways culture and media interact to influence body disturbances
is a complex issue, beyond the scope of this paper .
Third, when discussing theoretically-based social media
effects, the focus is on body image concerns. Body image is
a multidimensional concept, with cognitive, affective, and
behavioral aspects (Wertheim et al. 2009), one that has been
reliably assessed in a variety of ways (Yanover and Thompson
2009). Clearly, body dissatisfaction can influence eating dis-
orders (Smolak and Thompson 2009), but impacts on eating
behaviors are complex, contingent on a host of psychological
and contextual factors, and a detailed discussion is beyond the
focus of this paper. However, the intersection between social
medi a and eating disorders is worthy of attention and is
discussed later in the paper.
Distinctive Attributes of Social Media
Contemporary media technologies encompass the Internet,
Websites, and an array of so cial media sitesFacebook,
Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterestthat allow for the
rapid creation and sharing of user-generated messages, as well
as instantaneous communication with other uses on a plethora
of hand-held devices (Sundar and Limperos 2013). Collec-
tively, these technologies differ from the conventional mass
Sex Roles
media, which have been the focus of research on body image
effects, in several ways.
A key feature that distinguishes contemporary social media
technologies from conventional mass media is interactivity
(Eveland 2003). Users are sources, as well as receivers, some-
times virtually simultaneously. Second, by affording users of
digital communicative technologies the capacity to shape,
customize and direct online interactions, contemporary media
transform formerly-passive mass media receivers into full-
fledged communicators, enhancing autonomy, self-efficacy,
and personal agency (Sundar et al. 2013).
Third, social media are immensely more personal outlets
than conventional impersonal mass media. People can bond
with technology, and content can revolve around the self,
illustrated by the contemporary parlance (Facebook personal
profiles, YouTube, selfies or digitized self-portraits, and, more
broadly, the i-phone). Self-disclosure has long played a prom-
inent role in computer-mediated communication (Joinson and
Paine 2007). This manifests itself in the multitude of blogs,
personalized customization of sites, and digitized pictures that
depict the self, friends, or strangers an individual personally
admires, available on Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, with
its visual story application (Wortham and Goel 2013).
Fourth, in a related fashion, social media are interperson-
ally rich modalities that offer graphic apps, videos, animation,
and transformative multimedia cues that lend a feeling of
presence, offering the potential to transport individuals to
psychologically involving domains that can encourage sus-
pension of belief and attitude change (Barak 2007; Green et al.
2004). Finally, unlike mass media, which cultivate a large
heterogeneous audience, social media sites cater to communi-
ties of like-minded individuals, offering easy and frequent
access to similar others (Amichai-Hamburger 2007). They
are fundamentally media of onespeers.
These differences between conventional and social media
have important implications for social media effects on body
image concerns. Social media are filled with pictures of an
individual, her online friends, and multitudes of thin-idealized
images that an adolescent girl or young woman may have
located and pinned to a page. Social networking sites are
available for viewing, content-creating, and editing 24/7, on
mobile devices, anywhere, anytime, allowing for exponential-
ly more opportunities for social comparison and dysfunctional
surveillance of pictures of disliked body parts than were ever
available with the conventional mass media.
Even as society has come to recognize the health risks
posed by ultra-thin images of feminine beauty (Hartocollis
2013), pictures of thin, sometimes photo-shopped, compari-
son others are widely available on social networking sites;
sleek, slender images of female beauty dominate
Thinspiration on Tumblr (sometimes with weight in pounds
listed, along with before and after weight-loss images); pro-
anorexia sites promote thinness thematically in a variety of
empirically-documented ways (Norris et al. 2006); and adver-
tisements on teen Websites continue to promote stereotyped
thin beauty ideals (Slater et al. 2012). And, as noted above, in
contrast to mass media, social media are the domain of similar
others, a veritable electronic nation peopled by peers. This has
important implications. The conventional mass media are
saturated with depictions of thin women (Holmstrom 2004,
p. 210); these images have become so commonplace (and
even lampooned) that they may not exert the effects they once
did. Social media, with their emphasis on attractive peers
and not exclusively ultra-thin modelsmay elide persuasion
defense mechanisms, leading to a host of potentially signifi-
cant effects on body image-related attitudes.
A Model of Social Media and Body Image Concerns
Review of Recent Research
Only a handful of studies have examined the content of
Internet eating disorder sites and effects of the Internet and
social media on body dissatisfaction (e.g., Bardone-Cone and
Cass 2006, 2007;Chrisleretal.2013; Tiggemann and Slater
2013; see also Yom-Tov and Boyd 2014). Turning to content,
there has been a proliferation of pro-anorexia or pro-ana and
pro-bulimia (pro-mia) Websites (approximately 400) that un-
abashedly promote anorexic and bulimic lifestyles (Levine
and Chapman 2011). More content analytic and effects re-
search has focused on the pro-ana sites.
The sadly iconic Kate Moss aphorism—“Nothing tastes as
good as skinny feels”—exemplifies the electronic world of the
pro-ana sites. Many Websites are devoted to promoting pro-
anorexic ideals (see Bardone-Cone and Cass 2007). These
contain positive depictions of an anorexic lifestyle;
religiously-based metaphors; and some 10 core themes, such
as perfection (cultural norms linking thinness with perfection);
transformation (eating disorders can help transform an indi-
vidual from the hated ugly and fat to the desired thin and
beautiful); and success (association of success with strength
and ability to keep the weight off; see Norris et al. 2006).
Healthy Living blogs also emphasize thin appearance values
and disordered nutritional messages, while also containing
self-objectifying messages about women (Boepple a nd
Thompson 2013).
Two experiments with female undergraduates have ex-
amined the impact of pro-ana Websites, indicating that
exposure to th ese site s exerts a number of sho rt-term
negative influences, such as lower self-esteem, negative
affect, and decrease d perceived attractiveness (e.g.,
Bardone-Cone an d Cass 2 006, 2007). Pro-bulimia or
pro-mia Websites may also exert harmful effects on young
women (Levine and Chapman 2011).
Sex Roles
Intriguing and suggestive as these results are, the studies
suffer from the typical limitations in experimental media
research on psychological issues, such as a focus on short-
term effects and undue appreciation of the real-world contexts
in which media influences occur. We do not know whether the
sites are actually accessed by most adolescent girls or young
adult women, who might be susceptible to thinness appeals.
Indeed, it is likely that young women who frequent the sites
have higher levels of eating disorders and body image con-
cerns, as a correlational study suggests (Harper et al. 2008), in
line with the time-honored tradition of mass communication
research that documents the pervasiveness of selective expo-
sure to mass communication materials (Knobloch-Westerwick
et al. 2013). In a similar fashion, research demonstrating a
correlation between Internet exposure and thin-ideal internal-
ization (Tiggemann and Slater 2013) understates the bi-
directional nature of media influences, as well as the role that
individual susceptibility characteristics play in the media ef-
fects process (Valkenburg and Peter 2013a). A more nuanced
approach that reflects the transactional, dynamic effects of
media is needed.
A Model of Social Media Influences
Social media influences are complex. Given the multifaceted,
multiply-determined nature of body image disturbance, it is
unrealistic to expect that exposure to social media will exert a
simple, direct impact on body disturbance, and a number of
studies have failed to find clear-cut effects of media exposure
on body dissatisfaction or thin ideals (see Botta 1999 and Bell
and Dittmar 2011 for a study in the U.K.). Simple exposure to
social media or to Facebook-instigated social comparisons
with thin attractive friends will not lead to body dissatisfaction
in many adolescent girls or adult women. In and of them-
selves, social media uses and gratifications are not likely to
cause eating disorders, and may even exert positive impacts,
such as enhanced companionship (Ferguson et al. 2011).
Nonetheless, the foregoing review of relevant theory and
research suggests that media thinness portrayals can exert
deleterious influences, ones with potentially serious psycho-
logical implications, in combination with certain individual
difference factors, a point acknowledged even by scholars
who doubt the pervasiveness of media effects (Ferguson
et al. 2011).
Contemporary theoretical perspectives emphasize that me-
dia effects in volve a complex transaction between media
content and what the individual brings to media, in terms of
needs, personality factors, and social situational constraints
(Slater 2007; Valkenburg and Peter 2013a, b). As Valkenburg
and Peter (2013b) helpfully observe, only by formulating
clear hypotheses about which individuals are particularly sus-
ceptible to the effects of media are we able to specify the
boundary conditions for media effects (p. 203). Levine and
Harrison (2009) emphasize that media effects involve recip-
rocal transactions between the nature and context of the me-
dium and the psychology of the perceiver, person/media
intersections that can sadly lay the foundations for self-
defeating but self-perpetuating cycles of media engagement
for adolescents and adults (p. 506).
Figure 1 lays out a model of social media impact, providing
a framework for the hypotheses. There are a number of social
and individual difference factors that can place young women
at risk for body image disturbances. Based on theory and
research on the role individual difference variables play in
body image dynamics, one can reasonably argue that the
following should place adolescent girls and young women at
risk for body image problems: low self-esteem, depression,
perfectionism, internalization of the thinness ideal, and cen-
trality of appearance to self-worth. Data-based evidence for
the effects of these particular factors on body image concerns,
as well as reviews offering empirically-derived and
conceptually-based arguments for the impact these character-
istics should exert on body image dynamics, can be found in
Crowther and Williams 2011; Levine and Chapman 2011;
Mischner et al. 2013
; Mitchell et al. 2012; Murray et al.
2013; Myers et al. 2012; Noser and Zeigler-Hill 2014; Paxton
et al. 2006; Sinton and Birch 2006; Stice et al. 1994; Wertheim
et al. 2004, 2009.
Importantly, given that that self-worth can be domain-
specific (Crocker et al. 2003), low self-esteem, depression,
and perfectionism should primarily influence body image
perceptions when they occur in concert with appearance-
related concerns, such as internalization of the thinness ideal
and centrality of appearance to self-esteem (e.g., My sense of
self-worth suffers w henever I think I dont look good;
Crocker et al. 2003, p. 899). Thus, low self-esteem should
mainly influence body image perceptions when women are
high in thin-ideal internalization or when appearance is a
major aspect of self-esteem. Research findings do not as
yet allow a determination of which of these factors is most
important, nor whether each factor has to be present for social
media effects to occur. There have not been enough studies
comparing the relative impact of these variables on body
dissatisfaction at this time. Nonetheless, the model offers
fruitful suggestions about the role that individual difference
factors can play in body image dynamics.
Predisposing individual characteristics are important. Me-
dia rarely exert simple main effects or occur in isolation, but
interact with context and differential-susceptibility variables
(Valkenburg and Peter 2013a, p. 226). Social media uses and
gratifications are presumed to intervene between predisposing
individual difference factors and attitudinal and behavioral
outcomes, as thoughtful perspectives on media effects suggest
(Slater 2007). Psychological processes, such as social com-
parisons, should mediate the impact of social media uses on
body image concerns.
Sex Roles
Thus, women with the aforementioned individual suscep-
tibility characteristics should gravitate to appearance-focused
social media content, seeking particular gratifications, such as
reassurance and validation. These gratifications should propel
them to spend considerable time with social media, which will
set in motion a host of psychological processes, such as social
comparisons. As will be discussed, social media use leads to
increased body dissatisfaction and negative affective reac-
tions. A feedback loop ensues. Motivated all the more to
alleviate the resultant negative affect and seeking even more
validation, these young women selectively expose themselves
to social media yet again, peruse pictures of attractive and less
attractive others on a host of social networking sites, engage in
upward and downward comparisons, ruminate about parts of
their bodies that make them look bad, and in some cases end
up feeling unhappy about their bodies once again. A mutu-
ally reinforcing relationship between exposure and effects on
body image concerns ensues, leading to reinforcing spirals
of influence that strengthen and exacerbate deleterious im-
pacts (Slater 2007, pp. 284285).
Young women with the previously-described vulnerability
characteristics, preexisting body image disturbances, and eat-
ing disorder symptomatologies should be particularly likely to
seek out pro-eating disorder sites, as transactional perspectives
suggest (e.g., Valkenburg and Peter 2013a). Exposure should
in turn set in motion social comparisons, as well as transpor-
tation, identification, and online normative influences, which
may increase body dissatisfaction and negative affective reac-
tions. These can then lead to increases in eating disorder
pathologies. This is represented by a dotted line in the figure
to emphasize that body dissatisfaction effects on eating disor-
ders are complex; increases in body dissatisfaction do not
necessarily cause eating disorder problems. Instead eating
disorders and disordered eating attitudes are a function of a
host of complex social, emotional and personality processes
(e.g., Arroyo and Segrin 2013;CrowtherandWilliams2011;
Delinsky 2011).
Using the model as a roadmap, lets look at the ways that
social media can influence body dissatisfaction and eating
disorders. Note that the model focuses on potential effects of
different media modalities, such as Facebook, the ubiquitous
message-exchanging social networking service; Pinterest, an
online site that allows for uploading, saving, and sharing
visual images known as pins; and Instagram, a video- and
photo-sharing social media site. The model also focuses on
specific content that can appear on social media and the
Internet, such as on Thinspiration, the umbrella term for a
variety of thinness-inspiring Internet-based blogs and images,
and on Web sites that specifically promote eating disorders
like anorexia and bulimia. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest
are social media formats that allow for the creation and ex-
change of messages on particular body image-related content,
exemplified by Thinspiration blogs and pro-eating disorder
material. Collectively, these modalities interactive features
differentiate them from earlier media forms, raising possibil-
ities of a host of cognitive and attitudinal effects.
With this in mind, our first step is to explore the motiva-
tions individuals with the aforementioned constellation of
vulnerability characteristics have for turning to social media.
As we will see, these motivations can set in motion a veritable
web of media effects.
Gratification-Seeking from Social Media
A classic mass communication perspectiveuses and gratifi-
cationsemphasizes that people are not passive and submis-
sive when it comes to media use. Instead, the uses and grat-
ifications approach stipulates that individuals are active par-
ticipants who use media to satisfy needs, seeking particular
gratifications to fulfill motives and deriving g ratifications
from media use that can be either psychologically functional
or dysfunctional (e.g., Blumler and Katz 1974; Rubin 2009).
Applied to social media and body image, the uses and grati-
fications approach suggests that individuals who are vulnera-
ble to body image disturbances will seek different gratifica-
tions from social media than their less vulnerable counterparts.
We know that personal distress influences gratifications
sought from media (Rubin 2009). Moreover, in findings ger-
mane to this paper, college womens reading of beauty and
fashion magazines was strongly predicted by their motive to
improve themselvesi.e., to
make myself a more interesting
person, and to lift my spirits and make me feel happy
Fig. 1 Transactional model of
social media and body image
Sex Roles
(Thomsen et al. 2002, p. 124). As suggested above, young
adult women who are low in self-esteem and high in thin-ideal
internalization, or high in perfectionism and appearance-based
self-worth, should turn to social media to satisfy gratifications,
such as reassurance and validation regarding physical and
social attractiveness, as well as escape from appearance-
related personal distress. They may satisfy reassurance needs
by compulsively checking their Facebook profile pictures,
validate their self-concepts by spending considerable time
comparing their Instagram pictures to those of less attractive
friends, and try to ritualistically escape personal problems by
tweeting celebrity role models. In these ways, they will try to
satisfy psychological appearance-gratifying needs and con-
vince themselves they measure up to idealized others. But
because ultimate satisfaction of these needs typically cannot
come externally, but internally, young women can end up
feeling disappointed and hurt.
In sum, one would expect that individuals with these per-
to turn to social media to validate their self-concepts, satisfy
personal reassurance needs, and convince themselves they
measure up to thinness ideals. Once they are on social media,
they will encounter a host of actual and perceived pressures
that may aggravate body disturbances.
Mediating Role Played by Social Comparison Processes
Research on sociocultural factors and body image has empha-
sized the role that social comparisons play in explaining media
effects on body image concerns (Botta 1999;Thompsonetal.
1999). Social comparison theory, in its original version
(Festinger 1954) and revised iterations (Suls and Wheeler
2000), states that people find it diagnostic and functional to
compare themselves to others, particularly those who are
similar on attributes that are central to their definition of self
(Wood and Taylor 1991).
This has interesting implications for social media effects.
Social media are the domain of peers, and peer comparisons
are highly salient to adolescents (Steinberg 2008). Intriguing-
ly, upward social comparisons with attractive peers can actu-
ally lead to more negative self-attractiveness ratings than
comparisons with attractive advertising models, who are per-
ceived as less similar and therefore a less diagnostic compar-
ison group (Cash et al. 1983). The online environment is filled
with pictures of peers and opportunities for social compari-
sons. Negative comparisons can (theoretically) be particularly
likely when young women compare their online pictures with
peers, not knowing their peers have digitally altered the pho-
tographs (Tiggemann et al. 2014).
Social media-triggered social comparisons should have
particularly problematic effects on body dissatisfaction when
certain social and individual difference factors are operative.
One factor that makes negative comparisons especially likely,
suggested by both social comparison perspectives and the
media/body image research (e.g., Myers et al. 2012), is inter-
nalization of the thinness ideal. Social comparison theory
stipulates that comparisons on d imensions that are self-
relevant have greater impact than comparisons that do not
bear on the self-concept (Wood and Taylor 1991). Self-
relevant comparisons should be processed more deeply,
accessed more easily, connect with self-relevant nodes, and
touch on more affective domains that bear on the self, causing
them to exert a stronger psychological impact. Thus social
media-trigge red appe arance -focuse d compari sons sho uld
have a greater effect on body image disturbance when a thin
body image is an important part of womensself-concept.
Specifically, we would expect that appearance-focused social
comparisons made on social media sites will lead to more
online and offline body dissatisfaction and negative affect
among women for whom appearance is a major dimension
of self-worth, or are high in thin-ideal internalization, partic-
ularly when these women are depressed or low in self-esteem.
Theoretical accounts (e.g., Swallow and Kuiper 1988,
1993; Major et al. 1991) suggest that individuals who are
depressed, due to negative affect or lack of perceived control,
and are low in self-esteem frequently lack the buffers that
protect the self from the threatening impacts of stressful life
events. Swallow and Kuiper (1993) found that depressed
individuals who performed poorly on a task were less likely
than their no n-depressed counterparts to invoke a self-
protective strategy of downward comparisons, preferring in-
stead to focus on similar, not worse-off, comparison targets.
In a similar fashion, low self-esteem individuals may avoid
self-protective social comparisons after failure. Research in-
dicates that people with low self-esteem are less motivated
than their high self-esteem counterparts to repair negative
moods after a failure event, in part because they may be more
acclimated to negative moods and accept them with greater
resignation (Heimpel et al. 2002). Self-esteem also has been
found to play a role in body image effects. Research indicates
that low self-esteem is associated with body dissatisfaction in
middle-school girls (Mitchell et al. 2012), and self-esteem
mediates the impact of stress on body satisfaction among
Australian adolescents (Murray et al. 2013). College women
in the Netherlands who are low, but not high, in self-esteem
are negatively influenced by sexually objectifying facets of
media fare (Mischner et al. 2013).
The foregoing theoretical perspectives and research have
interesting implications for social media effects on body im-
age. They suggest that the aforementioned individual vulner-
ability factors should instigate social comparisons made on
social media, which in turn should have affective impacts,
such as producing dissatisfaction with ones own body (see
Myers and Crowther 2009). Swallow and Kuipersresearch,
in concert with the studies of self-esteem, suggest that nega-
tive social comparisons can lead to time spent ruminating
Sex Roles
online and offline about social media-triggered appearance
issues. For example, in a prosaic, but subjectively important,
fashion, young adult women who are depressed or low in self-
esteem, and higher in thin-ideal internalization, should expe-
rience more negative affect than their counterparts after dis-
covering that changes they made in their personal profile
pictures elicited fewer likes than did those of comparison
others, or when looking at the online photos of thinner, more
attractive comparison others. One might also expect that thin
ideal-consumed young adult women who are depressed, low
in self-esteem or high in dispositional perfectionism will be
less likely than their counterparts to invoke the self-protective
strategy of engaging in downward appearance-based compar-
isons with online comparison others. They should also spend
more time ruminating about appearance-focused online com-
parisons. The resultant feelings of failure to compare favor-
ably with online comparison others will generate more (a)
online and offline body dissatisfaction; (b) envy (Nabi and
Keblusek 2014); and (c) negative affect for depressed, perfec-
tionist, and low self-esteem individuals, who are high in
thinness ideals, than for comparable controls.
Social Media Effects on Eating Disorders: Mediating Roles
Played by Transportation, Identification, and Perceived
The previous section outlined ways that social compari-
sons mediat e social networking site effects. This section
articulates the hypoth esized impacts of t ransportation
(Green et al. 2004), identification (Moyer-Gusé 2008),
and normative considerationssetinmotionbypresumed
media influence (Gunther and Storey 2003). The focus is
on how social media, in concert with predisposing indi-
vidual difference characteristics, can instigate changes in
disordered eating patterns.
As noted earlier, a disturbing number of pro-ana and pro-
mia Websites and blogs promote anorexic and bulimic life-
styles (e.g., Norris et al. 2006). But this content will not exert
simple main effects on most young women, for the simple
reason that selective exposure processes (Knobloch-
Westerwick et al. 2013) are likely to be operative. Young
women who are highly dissatisfied with their bodies, have
disordered attitudes toward eating, and possess the previously-
described constellation of vulner ability charac teristics are
probably most apt to click onto these Websites and related
social media materials. Individuals frequently selectively ex-
pose themselves to supportive media materials, gravitating to
content they already agree with, find appealing, or on which
they have come to rely because the content is in sync with
their attitudes or personality-based preferences (Slater 2007;
Valkenburg and Peter 2013b). This suggests that young adult
women who are low in self-esteem or depressed, and for
whom th in ideals or appearance -based self-wo rth are
important, are dissatisfied with their bodies (Delinsky 2011),
and even suffer from anorexia will be particularly likely to
frequent pro-ana sites and similar social media fare. Young
women with perfectionist dispositional tendencies (Crowther
and Williams 2011), are highly dissatisfied with their bodies,
and suffer from bulimia nervosa should be especially inclined
to spend time on pro-mia sites.
As noted above, the scholarly consensus is that media
effects are transactional and reciprocal, with psychological
characteristics predisposing individuals to tune into particular
media fare, and the content instigating self-defeating cycles of
intersections between media and personality-based suscepti-
bility characteristics (Levine and Harrison 2009). If, as pre-
dicted, heavy users of pro-ana and pro-mia sites are young
women who already have significant body image and eating
disorder problems, then a transactional approach suggests they
should be influenced by what they see. But how? Research
suggests two pathways: narrative-induced transpo rta tion
(Green and Dill 2013) and normative influences (Gunther
and Storey 2003).
A narrative is a symbolic exposition of a series of events
a coherent story with a setting, characters, and conflict that
offers resolution to a social problem (e.g., Bilandzic and
Busselle 2013 ). Narrative can be fictional or nonfictional
and can occur in different content genres and in a host of
media, from print to interactive. Pro-ana, as well as
Thinspiration, sites can be viewed as narratives, offering a
setting (a site featuring a homey, sometimes-cult-like devotion
to thinness ideals); characters (the many young women who
blog, post pictures, offer confessionals, and share religiously-
tinged messages about skinniness as salvation); conflict (in-
ternal psychological conflict and struggles with a society that
does not understand their needs); and resolution (the
celebration of weight control and skinny girls who do not
have an ounce of fat and serve as role models for troubled
women; see Norris et al. 2006).
The transportation model stipulates that nar ratives can
transport individuals into narrative worlds, where travelers
become immersed in the journey, transfixed by the narrators
vision, and psychologically open to the world-view presented
in the story (Green et al. 2004; Green and Dill 2013). Trans-
portation is more likely the more that narratives feature char-
acters with whom individuals can identify, a plot that can be
mentally imagined, and events that can actually happen (van
Laer et al. 2014). Transportation in turn can lead to adoption of
story-congenial beliefs and attitudes (van Laer et al. 2014).
These findings, in conjunction wit h and other r esearch
(Moyer-Gusé 2008), suggest that the more that eating disorder
sites and related social media content (a) promote identifica-
tion, (b) are perceived as realistic, (c) contain rich imagery,
and (d) elicit perceptions of receiver-source similarity, the
greater the likelihood they will increase body dissatisfaction
and subsequent negative affects among the young women
Sex Roles
with body image and eating disturbances who tune into these
Social media effects can also be amplified through norma-
tive processes. Increasingly, researchers are finding that ef-
fects can be indirect, a subtle function of perceptions of
significant others beliefs. Perceptions of peers normative
concerns can, of course, exert direct impacts, as exemplified
by evidence that Australian girls who believed that their
friends wanted a slimmer ideal figure desired a slimmer figure
themselves (Dohnt and Tiggemann 2006). More complexly,
social beliefs can also develop from individuals meta-beliefs
about how others are influenced by what they see and hear in
media (Perloff 2009). By directing the gaze of media users
outward, onto the audience, media can instigate heuristically-
based presumptions of broad media impact, and these pre-
sumptions of media effects can themselves influence percep-
tions and attitudes.
The presumed influence of the media thinness ideal
(Gunther and Storey 2003)shouldbeparticularlyimpactful
among individuals who frequent pro-ana sites, pro-mia sites,
and Thinspiration blogs. These individuals already live in an
electronic world populated by thin others, can be expected to
accept the normative ideal of thinness, and should perceive
that the norm is staunchly reinforced by exposure to the sites.
Theory and research (e.g., Park 2005) suggest that time spent
on eating disorder Websites or with similar social media
content should bolster descriptive beliefs in the prevalence
of thinness norms directly, as well as indirectly through the
presumed influence heuristic. In the latter case, exposure to
thin-idealized images on social media sites may lead to infer-
ences that these images are highly prevalent, which in turn can
produce a belief that others are influenced by these prevalent
images, as a result of learned assumptions of powerful media
effects. Perceiving that the thin female ideal influences others
can enhance perceived impact of the thin ideal on the self, due
to pressures to follow perceived peer norms. Perceived social
media influence on the self can strengthen womensdesireto
be thin (see Park 2005).
Feedback Loop to Gratifications Sought from Social Media
Social media and Web-based effectsworking through trans-
portation, norms, and social comparisonscan lead to self-
perpetuating cycles of influence. Motivated all the more to
reduce negative affect that occurs via the mediating
mechanisms discussed above, young women struggling with
body image disturbances and eating disorders may turn to
Websites and social media anew, hoping to derive
reassurance and validation gratifications. This may instigate
more nega tive social comparisons, transportation, and
normative influences, thereby reinforcing the embrace of
unrealistic, dysfunctional body image ideals. This can lead
to even greater body image disturbance, which in turn can
exacerbate disordered eating, measurable with the battery of
instruments described by Stewart and Williamson (2004)and
Anderson and Paulosky (2004).
Broader Perspectives: Males, Ethnicity, and Ameliorative
Although the focus of the present article has been on social
media effects on young White women from Westernized
countries, notably the U.S., social media have global reach
and their influences on body image extend to a variety of other
groups. It is useful to sketch out some possible impacts, with
an eye toward stimulating empirical investigations.
Adult men have also reported dissatisfaction with their
bodies, and sociocultural factors (including media depictions)
can influence body image concerns (e.g., Galioto and
Crowther 2013). The male body ideal, although more variable
than the idealized female image, contains several stock fea-
tures: thinness, leanness, strong (ripped)muscularity,and
height. Although much less is known about media effects on
male body satisfaction, research has reported positive correla-
tions betw een consumption of media, such as magazines
emphasizing health and fitness, and both body dissatisfaction
and use of muscle-enhancing supplements (Levine and
Chapman 2011). Experiments have uncovered the familiar
negative contrast effect, with exposure to muscular media
images causing male undergraduate participants to report less
satisfaction with their bodies (Galioto and Crowther 2013),
though not always (see McCreary
2011). As with research on
media effects on young adult women (and mass communica-
tion studies in general), many of the studies, particularly on
males drive for muscularity, have been conducted with
White, North American university students ( McCreary
2011). Media effects are likely to interact with concerns with
thinness and internalization of a muscular body ideal
(Fernandez and Pritchard 2012).
Based on th e framework ar ticulated in this paper, one
would expect that social media can form and strengthen male
body perfect norms that emphasize thinness and muscular-
ity. Participation in social media conversations on appearance
issues should enhance perceptions that the male body ideal is a
lean, tall, and muscular look both directly, and indirectly, via
conformity-inducing perceptions that peers will be influenced
by appearance-focused posts. The model articulated in this
paper emphasizes that particular vulnerability characteristics
will predispose men to turn to appearance-based content,
producing social comparison and perceived norm-mediated
Social media should exert an especially significant impact
on some mens body image concerns, in view of social me-
dias ability to access social comparisons through pictures
Sex Roles
Given stereotypes about male expression of emotions
(Helgeson 2009), some men may find the more protected
social media environment a welcome outlet to disclose wishes
and fears, enhancing social networking effects. Upward social
comparisons to muscular models or celebrity athletes could
instigate negative contrast effects, with men harboring a
strong drive for musculature (Rodgers et al. 2012) especially
likely to be influenced.
At the same time, social media research on body image
concerns should also focus on populations that vary in age and
ethnicity. Interestingly, middle-aged and older women report
dissatisfaction with their weight and body shape (see Grogan
2011 for a review). With social media diffusing across age
groups, it is likely that Facebook, Instagram, and other sites
could induce older women for whom appearance or thin ideals
are central to self-esteem to make social comparisons, perhaps
upward comparisons with more physically appealing peers.
Alternatively, age brings maturity, suggesting both that social
media effects will be less affectively-toned as women get
older and, more generally, that lifespan-developmental studies
of changes in social media effects on body image would be an
interesting contribution to the literature.
In a similar fashion, research is needed to explore
processes and effects of social media on women from a
variety of ethnic groups. Given that family members can
influence body image attitudes of African-Americans
(Franko and Roehrig 2011), studies should explore ways
that family members body ima ge at titudes intersect wi th
social media to influence the attitudes of young Black
women. In light of evidence that greater acculturation of
Latinas into mainstream Caucasian culture is linked with
higher rates o f disordered eating (Schooler and Lowry
2011), it would be useful to explore the degree to which
acculturation works in concert with social media content
to influence body dissatisfaction. In this vein, recent re-
search has found that ethnic identity can serve as a buffer,
protecting Latina young women from t he harmful influ-
ences of exposure to thin-ideal media images of White
women (Schooler an d Daniels 2014). Research should
pinpoint the conditions under which ethnic identity exerts
a buffering, rather than mainstreaming, impact on Latina
The proliferating effects of social media world-wide sug-
gest that Facebook and other sites can penetrate cultures and
nationalities previously immune from Western-style body im-
age ideals. Just as the introduction of television in Fiji caused
women to view their bodies as changeable and to adopt
slender Western-style ideals of female beauty (Anderson-Fye
2011), social media may convince young women (and men)
from non-Western cultures to rethink their attitudes toward
their bodies, in light of what they perceive to be media-relayed
social norms and titillating pressures to share thin, attractive
pictures. The intersections between time-honored cultural be-
liefs and social media represent an intriguing area for future
On a more conceptual level, research should also explore
the ways that factors other than individual differencesfor
example, sociocultural factors like family interactions (Arroyo
and S egrin 2013) and acute stressors like sexual abuse
(Wertheim et al 2004)predispose individuals to seek out
social media, with the expected constellation of effects. And
researchers should also be open to the possibility, broadly
suggested by positive psychology perspectives (Seligman
2002), that individuals strengths may buffer them against
the impact of thinness messages; social media can, under
some circumstances, exert salutary effects on body image-
related attitudes, perhaps when body ideals are depicted as
attainable (Knobloch-Westerwick and Romero 2011); and
these effects and mitigating variables frequently work com-
plexly in concert with the web of negative influences articu-
lated above.
Social Media Campaigns
The final issue is ameliorative. How can social media be
harnessed to help young people, particularly those with pre-
disposing vulnerability characteristics, to adopt healthier body
images and resist pressures to engage in dysfunctional habits
of disordered eating? Research has documented that a variety
of media interventions and persuasive regimen can have pos-
itive effects in reducing unhealthy appearance-based percep-
tions and eating disorder symptoms (e.g., Levine and Harrison
2009; Stice et al. 2006). Online interventions are playing an
increasingly critical role in health campaigns designed to
reach young adults, and campaigns are more likely to change
attitudes if they take into account relevant theories, understand
the audience, and tailor the message to particular audience
characteristics (Rice and Atkin 2009). Social media cam-
paigns harnessing the interactive strengths of Facebook, Twit-
ter, and other networking sites have potential to influence
beliefs and attitudes.
Research on the knowledge bias provides a helpful starting
point. The knowledge bias is the perception that a communi-
cator harbors a biased view of an issue, as a result of his or her
gender, ethnicity, religion, age, or other background factors
(Eagly et al. 1978). When audiences assume a communicator
harbors a knowledge bias on an issue, they conclude that the
speaker lacks credibility. However, when a communicator is
believed to have violated the knowledge bias, as when a
former alcoholic embraces stricter penalties for drunk driving
or makes statements that cannot be easily attributed to a
demographic background factor that predisposes the commu-
nicator to a biased position, the speaker is perceived through a
different, more credible set of eyes. The communicator is
perceived to be a credible source on the issue, having both
Sex Roles
overcome his or her biases and recognized the wisdom of an
alternative view. This suggests that campaigns directed at
young adult women will be more effective if they chose as
spokespersons women who suffered from eating disorders,
but have overcome their problems, than if they selected health
experts or other demographically similar young women who
do not have these credentials. Online technologies, with their
ability to provide easily-accessible video displays of campaign
spokespersons and in vivo apps, can enhance credibility as-
sessments. Indeed, the trappings of technology can trigger
cognitive heuristics, peripheral cues that bolster the believ-
ability of the communicator (Sundar 2008).
A second way to nudge adolescents into questioning thin-
ness ideals is by harnessing social norm-based approaches.
These perspectives call on the psychology of normswhat
we think important others are doing or believe significant
others think we should do (Fishbein and Ajzen 2010). Per-
suaders thus attempt to convince targeted individuals that they
hold mistaken ideas about the frequency with which peers
engage in certain unhealthy behavior. The theory is that once
young adults understand that they hold erroneous impressions
about the commonality of particular behaviors, the motivation
to hold accurate attitudes and to fit into peer norms will propel
them to alter their behaviors in ways that congeal with social
norms. As a result, the theoretical approach suggests, individ-
uals will reduce their endorsement of unhealthy social prac-
tices, curbing their performance of behaviors that can have
negative consequences for their health, and embracing healthy
behaviors that have the imprimatur of a majority of their peers
(Lapinski et al. 2013).
Campaigns emphasizing creation of new social norms have
been employed on the issue of binge drinking, with commu-
nications suggesting that binge drinking is much less common
than students assumed. These campaigns have had some
success in curtailing binge drinking and reducing peer en-
dorsement of alcohol use (Godbold and Pfau 2000;
Schroeder and Prentice 1998). If communications suggested
that thinness is not a universally-shared ideal and t hat a
growing number of women are rejecting this belief, then
young women might feel less social pressure to adopt ultra-
thin ideals. Social media, with its rapid-fire ability to convey
multiple, simultaneous conversations, could be especially
helpful. By transmitting a plethora of thinness-rejecting posts
from many different users, enhanced by selfies encouraging
perceptions of source-receiver similarity, the message could
gain credibility by triggering a strength of numbers, band-
wagon heuristic.
Finally, campaigns, using the rich technological repertories
inherent in social media, should borrow from the positive
psychology manual (e.g., Seligman 2002), encouraging ado-
lescent girls to appreciate their body shape and image. Re-
search has found that a positive body image can serve as a
psychological buffer, protecting female university students in
the U.K. from accepting thin-idealized media images
(Hall iwell 2013). Consistent with this approach, a recent
campaign in New York City depicted girls of different sizes
and races, playing sports, with a robust 12-year-old girl say-
ing, Im a girl. Im funny, playful, daring, strong, curious,
smart, brave, healthy, friendly and caring. The ads end with
the campaign tagline, Im beautiful the way I am
(Hartocollis 2013,p.A17).
Message strategies like these are particularly important
because they ad dress the domain-specific nature of self-
esteem, wherein appearance is an important dimension of
self-worth for many young women (Crocker et al. 2003).
Interventions should start early, attempting to dissuade pre-
adolescent girls from adopting an appearance-centered defini-
tion of self, perhaps by calling attention to the untoward
aspects of appearance-contingent self-worth, such as exces-
sive body surveillance and feelings of body shame (Noser and
Zeigler-Hill 2014). This campaign strategy could be usefully
adapted to mass media, and also to popular social media sites,
employing standard health campaign pre-testing and forma-
tive evaluation.
Social media and contemporary digital technologies are the
playing field of todays youth, places where lessons are learned,
attitudes are formed, and body image concerns can be cultivated
and metastasized into convictions. Research, guided by the mod-
el presented in this paper , is needed to illuminate the processes
and effects of social media on adolescent girls and young adult
women. Theoretically-based studies can offer insights into the
subtle, striking effects that new media exert on young adult
women, while also generating strategies to help women and
men of a variety of ethnic groups adopt healthier attitudes toward
their bodies. The insights of researchers in the media and body
image arenas should be harnessed to generate new empirical
studies. As the venerable theorist of self and others, Hillel,
opined, If not now , when?
Acknowledgments The author gratefully acknowledges the journals
anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions on how to improve
the paper, as well as the journals editor, Dr. Irene H. Frieze, and manag-
ing editor, Susan Dittrich, for their extremely helpful recommendations.
In addition, I appreciate the insights contributed by Cleveland eating
disorder experts Ann Hull, Dr. Tara Tozzi, and Dr. Lucene Wisniewski.
Thanks are also due to Jennie A. Ford and Jessica Newell for their incisive
insights on the effects of contemporary social media on young women. I
also thank Dr. Patricia Burant, Jim Bagwell, Peggy Giavroutas, Crystal
Prizner, Chelsea Reynolds, and Dr. Julia A. Krevans for their perceptive
thoughts and ideas.
Amichai-Hamburger, Y. (2007). Personality, individual differences and
Internet use. In A. N. Joinson, K. Y. A. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U.-
Sex Roles
D. Reips (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of Internet psychology (pp.
187204). New York: Oxford University Press.
Anderson, D. A., & Paulosky, C. A. (2004). Psychological assessment of
eating disorders and related features. In J. K. Thompson (Ed.),
Handbook of eating diso rders and o besity (pp. 112129 ).
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Anderson-Fye, E. P. (2011). Body images in non-Western cultures. In T.
F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science,
practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 244252). New York:
Guilford Press.
Arroyo, A., & Segrin, C. (2013). Family interactions and disordered
eating attitudes: The mediating roles of social competence and
psychological distress. Communication Monographs, 80,399424.
Bandura, A. (2009). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J.
Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and
research (3rd ed., pp. 94124). New York: Routledge.
Barak, A. (2007). Phantom emotions: Psychological determinants of
emotional experiences on the Internet. In A. N. Joinson, K. Y. A.
McKenna, T. Postmes, & U.-D. Reips (Eds.), The Oxford handbook
of Internet psychology (pp. 303329). New York: Oxford University
Bardone-Cone, A. M., & Cass, K. M. (2006). Investigating the impact of
pro-anorexia websites: A pilot study. European Eating Disorders
Review , 14,256262. doi:10.1002/erv.714.
Bardone-Cone, A. M., & Cass, K. M. (2007). What does viewing a pro-
anorexia website do? An experimental examination of website ex-
posure and moderating effects. International Journal of Eating
Disorders, 40,537548. doi:10.1002/eat.
Bell, B. T., & Dittmar, H. (2011). Does media type matter? The role of
identification in adolescent girls media consumption and the impact
of different thin-ideal media on body image. Sex Roles, 65,478
490. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9964-x.
Berk, L. E. (2000). Child development (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Bilandzic, H., & Busselle, R. (2013). Narrative persuasion. In J. P. Dillard &
L. Shen (Eds.), The Sage handbook of persuasion: Developments in
theory and practice (2nd ed., pp. 200219). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Blumler, J. G., & Katz, E. (Eds.). (1974). The uses of mass communica-
tion: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Beverly Hills:
Boepple, L., & Thompson, J. K. (2013). A content analysis of healthy
living blogs: Evidence of content thematically consistent with dys-
functional eating attitudes and behaviors. International Journal of
Eating Disor ders, 47,362367. doi:10.1002/eat.22244.
Botta, R. A. (1999). Television images and adolescent girls body image
disturbance. Journal of Communication, 49(2), 2241. doi:10.1111/
Botta, R. A. (2000). The mirror of television: A comparison of Black and
White adolescents body image. Journal of Communication, 50(3),
144159. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2000.tb02857.x.
Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive-behavioral perspectives on body image. In
T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science,
practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 3947). New York: Guilford
Cash, T. F., Cash, D. W., & Butters, J. W. (1983). Mirror, mirror, on the
wall?: Contrast effects and self-evaluations of physical attrac-
tiveness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9,351358.
Chrisler, J. C., Fung, K. T., Lopez, A. M., & Gorman, J. A. (2013).
Suffering by comparison: Twitter users reactions to the Victorias
Secret Fashion Show. Body Image, 10, 648652. doi:10.1016/j.
Crocker, J., Luhtanen, R. K., Cooper, M. L., & Bouvrette, A. (2003).
Contingencies of self-worth in college students: Theory and mea-
surement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 85,894
908. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.5.894.
Crowther, J. H., & Williams, N. M. (2011). Body image and bulimia
nervosa. In T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook
of science, practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 288295). New
York: Guilford Press.
Delinsky, S. S. (2011). Body image and anorexia nervosa. In T. F.
Cash & L. Smol ak (Eds.), Body image: A h andb ook of science,
practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 279287). New York:
Guilford Press.
Dion, K. L., Dion, K. K., & Keelan, P. (1990). Appearance anxiety as a
dimension of social-evaluative anxiety: Exploring the ugly-duckling
syndrome. Contemporary Social Psychology, 14,220224.
Dittmar, H. (2009). How do body perfect ideals in the media have a
negative impact on body image and behaviors? Factors and process-
es related t o self and identity. Journal of Social and Clinical
Psychology, 28,18. doi:
Dittmar, H., Halliwell, E., & Ive, S. (2006). Does Barbie make girls want
to be thin?: The effect of experimental exposure to images of dolls
on the body image of 5- to 8-year-old girls. Developmental
Psychology, 42,283292. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.2.283.
Dohnt, H. K., & Tiggemann, M. (2006). Body image concerns in young
girls: The role of peers and media prior to adolescence. Journal of
Youth and Adolescence, 35, 135145. doi:10.1007/s10964-005-
Duggan, M., & Brenner, J. (2013). The demographics of social media
users2012. Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life
Project. Retrieved from
Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Chaiken, S. (1978). Causal inferences about
communicators and their effect on opinion change. Journal of
Personalit y and S ocial Psychology, 36,424435. doi:10.1037/
Erchull, M. J., Liss, M., & Lichiello, S. (2013). Extending the negative
consequences of media internalization and self-objectification to
dissociation and self-harm. Sex Roles, 69,583593. doi:10.1007/
s11 199-013-0326-8.
Eveland, W. P., Jr. (2003). A mix of attributes approach to the study of
media effects and new communication technologies. Journal of
Communication, 53, 395410. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2003.
Ferguson, C. J., Winegard, B., & Winegard, B. M. (2011). Who is the
fairest one of all? How evolution guides peer and media influences
on female body dissatisfaction. Review of General Psychology, 15,
1128. doi:10.1037/a0022607.
Fernandez, S., & Pritchard, M. (2012). Relationships between self-
esteem, media influence and drive for thinness. Eating Behaviors,
13,321325. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.05.004.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human
Relations, 7,117140. doi:10.1177/001872675400700202.
Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (2010). Predicting and changing behavior: The
reasoned action approach. New York: Psychology Press.
Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., & Bardone-Cone, A. M. (2012). Examining
prospective mediation models of body surveillance, trait anxiety,
and body dissatisfaction in African American and Caucasian college
Sex Roles, 67,187200. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0151-5.
Forbes, G. B., Jung, J., Vaamonde, J. D., Omar, A., Paris, L., & Formiga,
N. S. (2012). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in three
cultures: Argentina, Brazil, and the U.S. Sex Roles, 66,677694.
Franko, D. L., & Roehrig, J. P. (2011). African American body images. In
T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science,
practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 221228). New York:
Guilford Press.
Franko, D. L., Coen, E. J., Roehrig, J. P., Rodgers, R. F., Jenkins, A.,
Lovering, M. E., & Dela Cruz, S. (2012). Considering J.Lo and Ugly
Betty: A qualitative examination of risk factors and prevention
targets for body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and obesity in
Sex Roles
young Latina women. Body Image, 9, 381387. doi:10.1016/j.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward
understanding womens lived experiences and mental health risks.
Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21,173206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-
Galioto, R., & Crowther, J. H. (2013). The effects of exposure to slender
and muscular images on male body dissatisfaction. Body Image, 10,
566573. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.07.009.
Gillen, M. M., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2012). Gender and racial/ethnic
differences in body image development among college students.
Body Image, 9,126130. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2011.09.004.
Godbold, L. C., & Pfau, M. (2000). Conferring resistance to peer pressure
among adolescents: Using inoculation theory to discourage alcohol
use. Communication Research, 27,411437. doi:10.1177/
Grabe, S., Ward, L. M., & Hyde, J. S. (2008). The role of the media in
body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experi-
mental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134,460
476. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.134.3.460.
Green, M. C., & Dill, K. E. (2013). Engaging with stories and characters:
Learning, persuasion, and transportation into narrative worlds. In K.
E. Dill (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of media psychology (pp. 449
461). New York: Oxford University Press.
Green, M. C., Brock, T. C., & Kaufman, G. F. (2004). Understanding
media enjoyment: The role of transportation into narrative worlds.
Communication Theory, 14,311327. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.
Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002). The effect of
experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfac-
tion: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Eating
Disorders, 31,116. doi:10.1002/eat.10005.
Grogan, S. (2011). Body image development in adulthood. In T. F.
Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science,
practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 93100). New York:
Guilford Press.
Gunther, A. C., & Storey, J. D. (2003). The influence of presumed
influence. Journal of Communication, 53,199215. doi:10.1111/j.
Halliwell, E. (2013). The impact of thin idealized media images on body
satisfaction: Does body appreciation protect women from negative
effects? Body Image, 10
, 509514. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.07.004.
Harper, K., Sperry, S., & Thompson, J. K. (2008). Viewership of pro-
eating disorder websites: Association with body image and eating
disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 41,9295.
Harriger, J. A., Calogero, R. M., Witherington, D. C., & Smith, J. E.
(2010). Body size stereotyping and internalization of the thin ideal in
preschool girls. Sex Roles, 63,609620. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-
Harrison, K., & Hefner, V. (2006). Media exposure, current and future
body ideals, and disordered eating among preadolescent girls: A
longitudinal panel study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35,
146156. doi:10.1007/s10964-005-9008-3.
Hartocollis, A. (2013, October 1). City unveils a campaign to improve
girls self-esteem. The New York Times,A17.
Heimpel, S. A., Wood, J. V., Marshall, M. A., & Brown, J. D. (2002). Do
people with low self-esteem really want to feel better?: Self-esteem
differences in motivation to repair negative moods. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 128147. doi:10.1037//
Helgeson, V. S. (2009). The psychology of gender (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Holmstrom, A. J. (2004). The effects of the media on body image: A
meta-analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48,
196217. doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4802_3.
Homan, K., McHugh, E., Wells, D., Watson, C., & King, C. (2012). The
effect of viewing ultra-fit images on college womensbodydissat-
isfaction. Body Image, 9,5056. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2011.07.
Joinson, A. N., & Paine, C. B. (2007). Self-disclosure, privacy and the
Internet. In A. N. Joinson, K. Y. A. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U.-D.
Reips (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of Internet psychology (pp. 237
252). New York: Oxford University Press.
Knobloch-Westerwick, S., & Crane, J. (2012). A losing battle: Effects of
prolonged exposure to thin-ideal images on dieting and body satis-
faction. Communication Research, 39,79102. doi:10.1177/
Knobloch-Westerwick, S., & Romero, J. P. (2011). Body ideals in the
media: Perceived attainability and social comparison choices. Media
Psychology, 14,2748. doi:10.1080/15213269.2010.547833.
Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Johnson, B. K., & Westerwick, A. (2013). To
your health: Self-regulation of health behavior through selective
exposure to online health messages. Journal of Communication,
63,807829. doi:10.1111/jcom.12055.
Lapinski, M. K., Maloney, E. K., Braz, M., & Shulman, H. C. (2013).
Testing the effects of social norms and behavioral privacy on hand
washing: A field experiment. Human Communication Research, 39,
2146. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2012.01441.x.
Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social media
and young adults Pew Internet and Life Project. Pew Research
Center. Retrieved from
Levine, M. P., & Chapman, K. (2011). Media influences on body image.
In T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of
science, practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 101109). New York:
Guilford Press.
Levine, M. P., & Harrison, K. (2004). Medias role in the perpetuation and
prevention of negative body image and disordered eating. In J. K.
Thompson (Ed.), Handbook of eating disorders and obesity (pp.
695717). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Levine, M. P., & Harrison, K. (2009). Effects of media on eating disorders
and body image. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Media effects:
Advances in theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 490516). New York:
Maccoby, E. E. (Ed.). (1966). The development of sex differences.
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Major, B., Testa, M., & Bylsma, W. H. (1991). Responses to upward and
downward social comparisons: The impact of esteem-relevance and
perceived control. In J. Suls & T. A. Wills (Eds.), Social compari-
son: Contemporary theory and research (pp. 237260). Hillsdale,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
McCreary, D. R. (2011). Body image and muscularity. In T. F. Cash
&L.Smolak(Eds.),Body image: A handbook of science, prac-
tice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 198205). New York: Guilford
Mellor, D., Waterhouse, M., Mamat, N . H., Xu, X., Cochrane, J.,
McCabe, M., & Ricciardelli, L. (2013). Which body features are
associated with female adolescents body dissatisfaction? A cross-
cultural study in Australia, China and Malaysia. Body Image, 10,
5461. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.10.002.
Mischner, I. H. S., van Schie, H. T., Wigboldus, D. H. J., van Baaren, R.
B., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2013). Thinking big: The effect of
sexually objectifying music videos on bodily self-perception in
young women. Body Image, 10,2634. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.
Mitchell, S. H., Petrie, T. A., Greenleaf, C. A., & Martin, S. B. (2012).
Moderators of the internalization-body dissatisfaction relationship in
middle school girls. Body Image, 9, 431
440. doi:10.1016/j.
Morgan, M., Shanahan, J., & Signorielli, N. (2009). Growing up with
television: Cultivation processes. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.),
Sex Roles
Media effects: Advances in theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 3449).
New York: Routledge.
Moyer-Gusé, E. (2008). Toward a theory of entertainment persuasion:
Explaining the persuasive effects of entertainment-ed