Having studied Web Science for the past 3 years, one of the areas of the internet that I find really interesting is social media. More specifically social media and it’s effect on mental health.
Last year I had to do my first piece of qualitative primary research for a University Module. I chose to look at the effect of social media, on females over the age of 18’s perception on their body image.
Before carrying out my interviews I quickly noticed that previous research had only really looked at the effect of traditional media – such as tabloids, magazines and television – and their effect on females perception of their body image. Much less looked at social medias effect. Prior research tended to look at stand alone social media outlets, such as Facebook and Instagram, but not social media as a whole.
Although only a very small scale research project – I only interviewed four people – the findings were pretty shocking and you could see clear differences in age groups and their perceptions on their body image.
- Younger people spend more time on Instagram and older women spend more time on Facebook. Instagram’s content is mostly pictures and younger females are following a number of people they don’t know but idolise (celebrities, fitness/health Instagramers, and ‘influencers’) – therefore they are constantly exposed to extreme ‘ideal’ body types which then become normalised as a result of how frequently young users see it.
- Older females aspire more to be fit and healthy than to look a certain type of way, whereas younger females aim to achieve a certain body aesthetic from what they have seen online. Older females tend to follow fitness pages such as ‘ThisGirlCan’, rather than fitness pages that strive for an ideal body type (GraceFitUK, Kayla Itsines).
- All participants agreed that pictures of people with non-idolised, ‘normal’ body images are posted much less frequently
- One participant believed that she see’s a lot of people with ‘normal’ body types online, but because so many people spend so long looking at extreme versions of beauty, people that have normal bodies are quite often shamed of ridiculed.
- Older females, those not born in ‘generation Z’, are much less influenced by social media with their perceptions of body image. This could be due to a number of different things, two highlighted in my findings are the length of time spent online each day, and the people that they follow online.
Doing my own research was very rewarding and I loved doing it. I found the results really shocking and wish that I could have had the chance to do it again on a larger scale.