Consistent social media usage leading to lower self-esteem, say NIMHANS researchers

‘The ideal body portrayed in the images of social networking sites has affected young women more than men’

September 16, 2022 11:47 pm | Updated September 17, 2022 12:28 am IST - Bengaluru

To enable young people to follow more body positive profiles and have more body appreciation, researchers recommend social media literacy programmes for young people.

To enable young people to follow more body positive profiles and have more body appreciation, researchers recommend social media literacy programmes for young people. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The impact of sharing and viewing images on social media and its influence on body image has been highlighted in a review article by researchers from NIMHANS, which has said that upward comparison driven by social media sites causes negative self-evaluation and negative social perception attitudes, particularly among young individuals.

The review article titled “Making the body public: Implications of the new standards of body-image” has been recently published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.

More among women

“Usage of Social Networking Sites (SNS) is linked to body image problems among young women and men and this link may strengthen with time. Users with an obese body size tend to report body dissatisfaction due to exposure to SNS. The ideal body portrayed in the images of SNS has affected young women more than men in how they view their bodies. Studies also point to consistent social media usage leading to lower self-esteem and acting as an agent of manifesting social comparison. Heavy use of SNS can as well lead to negative self-esteem,” Manoj Kumar Sharma, Professor at the Department of Clinical Psychology, who also heads SHUT (Service for Healthy use of Technology) clinic at NIMHANS told The Hindu. He is the corresponding author of the review article.

Online behaviour

“Users with pre-existing psychological illnesses such as anxiety and eating disorders have been shown to be more affected by social media platforms. A person’s online behaviour might be connected to offline behaviour. Inappropriate actions such as body exposure in a public forum are replicated, repeated, accepted, and institutionalised. There is no physical threat as it is a technology-mediated dialogue,” he said.

Pointing out that the number of comments on a video's page represents how well these videos are received, Dr. Sharma said frequent use of social media may enhance body dissatisfaction and the desire for losing weight in young adults, making them more vulnerable to health issues.

To enable young people to follow more body positive profiles and have more body appreciation, the article has recommended social media literacy programmes for young people. The literacy programmes should be aimed at preventing social comparison to unrealistic photographs that idealise thinness, fitness, and aesthetic perfection, as well as their negative impact on body image.

Appearance-focussed

Shantharaju Siddegowda, faculty at the Department of Media Studies at Christ University in Bengaluru, who is part of the research team, said SNS, like traditional media, are typically appearance-focused, as users submit images of themselves that are good-looking and beautiful, enhanced by online editing tools.

“The habit of posting selfies or short videos itself seems to have served multiple purposes. If a person takes a selfie or records the self, it is mainly for internally focused motivations, including self-evaluation and other social comparisons. Subsequently, if the same has been done for public consumption, the user tends to be driven by external factors, including attention-seeking, gratification, and validation,” he said.

Idealised portrayals

“Histrionic personality tends to be positively associated with the need for social validation and desire to be in the public domain, leading to social media addiction. As a result, many of the photographs shared on social media platforms are idealised and overly attractive, leading to body dissatisfaction among other users. SNS use has been linked to body image problems and disordered eating, according to a growing body of evidence,” he added.

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