32 Exposure of friend’s comments on Facebook profile pictures that support society’s body ideals negatively affect user’s body satisfaction

Sample Facebook page
As the most popular social network worldwide, Facebook has approximately 1.8 billion users as of the third quarter of 2016. Due to the growing use of social network sites like Facebook, more and more user's body image satisfaction are affected.

A new study indicates individuals with low body image satisfaction were more likely to see those levels reduced after exposure of images of peers and comments supporting society's body standards.

Researchers find that users manipulate their online profiles to meet societal beauty ideals and appear more popular. This study is the first to explore the role verbal support of society's body ideal in the form of friend's comments on Facebook. Also, this study will take into account an individual's body satisfaction before experimentation, or predispositional body satisfaction (PBS).

Due to Facebook use, women with eating disorder risk factors assigned great importance of 'likes' and 'comments' to self image

For many years, research has shown the media plays a huge role in an individual's body image. The portrayal of just one type of body ideal as the beauty standard in tv, film, and advertisements influences whether one an individual considers themselves beautiful. With the rise of social media, a new way to impose society's expectation of what you should look like. Social networking sites like Facebook are interactive, thus users can post images of themselves, and others can 'like' the photo or 'comment' with their own thoughts.

In a 2014 study, Dr. Pamela Keel examined whether Facebook use causes a change in eating disorder risk factors among women. The results showed that participants with disordered eating habits highly valued the importance of receiving comments and likes on their statuses and photos. Dr. Keel states that "typical Facebook use may contribute to maintenance of weight/shape concerns and state anxiety which are established risk factors for eating disorders." 

She raises concerns that these effects could be discerned after only 20 minutes of Facebook use, for individuals who use the site throughout the day, the impact is alerting. One Facebook users describes her experience with the social network site and how it has affected her self image below. 

By manipulating profile pictures and user's comments to support society's body standards you can influence group norm
On social networking sites, users post images and text that concede to society's norms of attractiveness and beauty. Self comparison to others has always been a factor of low self esteem. Since conventional media already plays a role in portraying society's expectations with famous actors, celebrities, and models. In contrast, social comparison theory states that people are more likely to compare themselves to similar others. 

In 2015, Rachel Cohen conducted a study to determine whether body image dissatisfaction would be stronger for those exposed to social media images of peers, compared to conventional media images. The results indicate, along with the study mentioned above, Facebook use was found to predict higher body image dissatisfaction and higher eating disorder risk.

In order to influence the group norm, the study by Dr. Mark Flynn manipulated the type of Facebook page participants viewed. By changing what was seen on Facebook, participants were exposed to either pages that reflect society's expectations and the rise of self comparison to peers, or the complete opposite. 

Participants viewed five profile pictures, four of which supported society's body ideal, while the fifth was scenery/landscape. To examine the effects of body ideal comments, two of the four Facebook profiles posted statuses that focused on some aspect of obtaining the ideal body shape. Dr. Flynn then manipulated whether participants viewed three comments by "friends" that either validated support of society's standards, or dissuaded them by promoting body acceptance. Afterwards, participants were asked to make one comment on the mock Facebook pages.

Participants exposed to comments supporting society's standards were significantly more likely to do the same
The main result of the study show that participants with low PBS levels reduced significantly after exposure to profile pictures that supported society's body ideal. It was surprising to discover that upon comparing predispositional body satisfaction, 52.1% of women were considered to have low PBS, compared to the 40.1% of males. Due to the high pressure for women in society to look a certain way, and both conventional and social media portraying the ideal body, a lot of women have a poor self image of themselves. 

The results indicate the influence social network sites and the role peer's comments play on user's body satisfaction levels. Those exposed to profile pictures that depicted society's body ideal and left norm conforming comments was 70.6%, compared to the 29.4% who left comments that did not support the body ideal. In contrast, participants who were exposed to norm conforming comments on statuses, 93.3% continued with the trend and left comments that supported society's body standards. Adherence to the group norm is an unexplored component, yet important to understand the relationship between one's presentation online and their peers on social networking sites.

Individuals tend to pay more attention to one's group identity than their personal identity on Facebook
The study finds that those who identify with a group that strongly adheres to the body ideal norm may be more likely to adhere to the group norm when using social networking sites. 
There are theories that support this claim, both social identity theory and self categorization theory. They are defined as one's identity consisting of both social and personal selves, or social identity theory, and when there is a principal social category in a group, individuals tend to pay attention to their group identity than their personal identity. 

Self-categorization theory can guide future research on body image in social network sites like Facebook. Participants were more likely to conform to the body ideal norm through comments than those who weren't exposed to nonconforming comments. This supports recent findings on one's social identity combined with widespread societal norms, and the impact it has on behavior on social networking sites. 

For more information on this study click here.

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