‘The Selfie Generation’ Study Explores The Effects Of Social Media On Adolescent Body Image

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Social media has revolutionized the way we communicate, exchange and digest information, but it seems to have also forever changed the way we perceive ourselves and our bodies, according to a new University of Kentucky study.

Published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Early Adolescence, authored by Ilyssa Salomon, doctoral student, and Christia Spears Brown, professor of psychology, at the University of Kentucky, “The Selfie Generation: Examining the Relationship Between Social Media Use and Early Adolescent Body Image” provides insight into how social media is shaping the minds of an entire generation.

What has become a common form of communication does not come without its downsides. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have made it possible for teens to find a sense of belonging online. However, University of Kentucky researchers note, we are still unsure of the effects this has on the development of adolescents.

In a press release published by Phys.org, Spears Brown said the following.

“If you walk by any group of teenagers, you will notice that most of them are intently staring at their phone. Almost all of them, regardless of social class, race or gender, are on social media. Social media has become ubiquitous among teens, even prominent in the lives of teens too young to get their own account. The problem is that researchers are still unsure of the effects of social media use on teens’ development.”

Evaluating how people look might be associated with how teenagers feel about their own bodies, researchers wrote, adding that previous studies have shown that the majority of girls in middle school are unhappy with their bodies. In order to examine and explore the potentially damaging effects of social media exposure among adolescents, University of Kentucky researchers conducted a cross-sectional study.

Three social media platforms were examined: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

One hundred and forty-two middle schoolers participated in the study. Forty-five percent of participants were white, 22 Latino, 19 percent black, and 13 percent multiracial. Ninety-four percent of the focus group was either 12 or 13 years old. The youngest participants were 11, and the oldest 14 years of age.

Nearly 80 percent of adolescents who participated in this study, aged 13 and younger, have at least one social media account and spend approximately five hours online on social media, posting pictures, interacting with others, scrolling through feeds.

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In short, taking and posting selfies lead to either a confidence boost or a lowering of self-esteem. Although previous research has indicated that adolescent girls show the strongest link between social media and body image, this study shows boys and girls are the same in that regard. In other words, adolescent boys are equally unhappy about their bodies.

Salomon and Brown discovered taking and posting selfies can be associated with a negative self-image. According to the study, the more images a teenager posts on social media, the more aware they are of their appearance. Consequently, the more aware they are of their appearance, the greater the risk of developing a negative body image.

In conclusion, there seems to be a link between time spent on social media; editing, uploading, choosing photos, and body image. On average, the more time a teenager spends on social media, the more dissatisfied they are with their bodies. This, however, differs from person to person. Teenagers who are high in self-monitoring, particularly focused on seeking approval from their peers, are more dissatisfied with their bodies than those who are not.

More focused on the opinions of their peers than ever before, adolescents today are at greater risk for developing negative body image and eating disorders, researchers claim.

Salomon and Brown hope their findings will inspire an important and much-needed conversation between adolescents and their parents.

“Parents should have conversations with their teens about body image and the risks associated with certain types of social media use,” University of Kentucky researchers concluded.