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Literature Review

Social Media’s Influence on Teenage Girls Becoming Anorexic

It is often debated whether the media influence teenage girls’ dissatisfactions with their bodies. Teenage girl’s dissatisfaction towards their bodies has been associated to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa can be caused by social, environmental, and psychological factors. Some researchers like Holmstrom (2004) state that factors such as personality traits and family environments are the causes for anorexia nervosa and not the media because the relationship between media and body dissatisfaction is not consistent. However, other researchers like Becker (2002) have proposed that media such as magazines and television contribute to teenage girls’ changing views of their bodies. Through television and magazines, the image of an “ideal girl” is created and girls want to adhere to those standards (Ferguson & Munoz, 2012). Today, teenage girls have access to social media such as Facebook and Instagram which were released in 2004 and 2010. According to the Pew Research Center, a survey conducted on February 10, 2015 through March 16,2015 showed that 71% of teens use more than one social network site. The survey surveyed 1,060 teens ages 13 to 17. According to the research, among the 22% of teens who only use one site, 66% use Facebook. Even though the use of Instagram and Snapchat have risen, Facebook remains as the dominant social media site that teens frequently visit. There is less research conducted that attempts to explain new social media’s influence on body dissatisfactions. Therefore, our focus question is “How does social media like Facebook contribute to teenage girls’ view of body image?” The following articles provide the results of studies that have researched the influence of media on teenage girls’ eating disorders.

Effects of television, advertisements, and magazines

According to research by Maria P McCabe and Linda Ricciardelli (2001), in “Parent, Peer, and Media Influences on Body Image and Strategies to Both Increase and Decrease Body Size Among Adolescent Boys and Girls”, teenage girls are more subjected to the media in which their beauty standards and beauty trends that they follow come from. The research that has been done from these two researchers in this article shows that adolescent teen girls are more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies and were more likely to adopt strategies in order to lose weight.  In order for us to understand the underlying problem and or cause for why adolescent teen girls are struggling with the media’s influence on their bodies, we must take into consideration that the media is a part of their daily lives and is what they are subjected to every time they turn on their television or every time they log on to their social media accounts.

Most researchers were interested in studying how magazines and televisions influence teenage girls’ changing views of their bodies. Research was conducted to study the effect of thin-ideal advertisements on increased body dissatisfaction. In the article, “Can the media affect us? Social comparison, self-discrepancy, and the thin ideal” (Bessenoff, 2006), research was conducted through a body image survey. One hundred and twelve female participants were recruited from a mid-sized northeastern university. In the survey participants were asked to make ratings based on the following: “the figure that best represents what you would like to look like” and “the figure that best represents your current appearance.” Researchers found that exposure to thin-ideal advertisements affected weight concerns, mood, self-esteem, and depression. Surveys also suggest that 83% of adolescent girls read fashion magazines for an average of 4.3 hours per week (Levine & Smolak, 1996). From the fashion magazines, teenage girls develop greater interest in messages about beauty and fitness.

Social Comparison

Teenage girls’ exposure to media such as television, magazines, and advertisements led to the development of the social comparison theory. The theory states that there are two major types of comparisons. Downward social comparison is comparison to others that we perceive to be less fortunate than ourselves and upward social comparison is comparison to others we perceive to be better than ourselves. In a study by Tiggemann and Polivy, participants were asked questions that encouraged them to compare with the models in images, either based on intelligence or beauty.  Results showed that there were increases in negative mood and body dissatisfactions when an “upward” social comparison was made.

Facebook Use

According to the article “Do you like my photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk” (Mabe & Forney & Keel, 2014) social media sites like Facebook merge media and peers. Teenage girls have access to traditional media like television, magazines, and advertisements where the thin ideal is already exposed to them. However, social media sites like Facebook further allow the thin ideal to be endorsed. On Facebook, users post and view images that adhere to the standards of an “ideal girl”. The kind of posts, “likes”, and comments that peers and friends provide for each other on Facebook allows for the reinforcement of unrealistic beauty standards. In the article, a study was conducted to identify connections between Facebook use and eating disorders. In the study, 960 women completed self-report surveys about Facebook use and disordered eating. Eight-four women were also assigned to an alternate internet site for 20 minutes. The results indicated that Facebook use is associated with concerns about weight and eating disorders.




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