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Social Media: Effect on Body Image and Teenage Girls


It is often debated whether the media influence teenage girls’ views of their body image. 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 has 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 and girls’ views of body image. Therefore, our team’s research problem is “How does social media contribute to teenage girls’ views of body image?”

Literature Review

Body Image and Media

Television, magazines, and advertisements are the media that is most viewed by teenage girls before social media became popular. 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.” From the study, 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 social comparison theory was initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. The theory explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others. 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.

New Media- Facebook Use

In a study conducted by Tiggemann and Miller (2010), they examined the extent to which American high school girls consumed specific magazine, television, and Internet sources emphasizing appearance. The results of the study indicate that “internet appearance exposure, particularly during use of social networking sites, was more highly correlated with internalization of the thin ideal, drive for thinness, and weight dissatisfaction than was television and magazine appearance exposure.” Similarly, in a 2013 study conducted by Tiggemann and Slater, results indicate that internet exposure was positively correlated with internalization of the thin ideal. In Tiggemann and Slater’s study, 1,084 high school girls reported using Facebook for an average of 1.5 hours per day.

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. Eighty-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.

From the reviews of the articles, there are findings that indicate social media has an influence on teenage girls. As teenage girls are exposed to media like television, magazines, advertisements, and social media, they tend to make comparisons between themselves and the thin females they see on the media. However, Facebook is the most popular social media site among teenagers. Therefore, it offers more opportunities for teenage girls to make upward or downward comparisons. Our team’s research question is “How does social media like Facebook influence girl’s views of their body image?” We chose to focus on Facebook because it is the most frequently used social media site by teenagers. We hypothesize that if teenage girls check Facebook more than the average number of times each day, then they will report to wanting an ideal body size that is smaller than their current size.

Ethical Considerations

The participants in our study will be informed about the purpose of the research. They may opt out any time after the research has begun. The participants will know that there are no consequences for not participating. Since our site of study is a high school, the participants will know that there are no consequences from the principal or teachers for not participating in the research. Our team will ask for approval from the school principal and teachers to work with the students. They are the students gatekeepers at the school; therefore we need their approval to work with the students. Our team will ensure that students are actively consenting to participate in the research. The randomly selected students may choose to not participate even if they are selected. The names of participants will not be mentioned in the results or data collected. Only the researchers will know the identity and responses of the participants. The identity and responses from the participants will be kept in encrypted files.

Data Collection Methodology

The method we will use for data collection is correlation analysis which is a quantitative method. Correlation is a technique for investigating the relationship between two variables. In our research, we are studying the relationship between Facebook use and teenage girls wanting a smaller body size.

Data Sources

Our population of interest is teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 18. Our site of study is a high school because it is the place that contains teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 18. Our team will ask for approval from the principal and teachers to access the school building and work with the students. We will use a participatory approach to collect data. Although the girls will be selected through random sampling, it is important that they are willing participants in the experiment. We do not wish to force any teenage girls to be a part of the experiment. In our sample, there will be different categories of people. The categories include teenagers that check Facebook 1-10 times a day (Group 1), teenagers that check Facebook 11-15 times a day (Group 2) and teenagers who check Facebook more than 15 times a day (Group 3). The average number of times teenagers check Facebook is 13.8 times a day; therefore the groups are teenage girls that check Facebook below the average number of times, average, and above the average number of times. From the three groups, we will select a total 90 girls to be in the sample group. Each category will have 30 participants. We will use cluster sampling because we will create a sample group through identifying the clusters or groups in the population based on Facebook usage and then randomly select participants for each category.

Collection and Measurement

After we are allowed access to the school by the principal, we will request that all the female students in grades 9-12 report on a piece of paper the number of times they check Facebook each day. The paper will include the girl’s name and official class. Then, we will separate all the girls from grades 9-12 into three categories based on their reports of Facebook usage. The three categories are teenage girls that check Facebook 1-10 times a day (Group 1), 11-15 times a day (Group 2), and those who check more than 15 times a day (Group 3). From the three categories, we will randomly select 30 females from each category to be our sample. Therefore, from the entire female population in the high school, only 90 girls will be a part of our experiment. The 90 participants will be shown a figure rating scale with figures 1-9 from extreme thinness to extreme obesity. The participants will be asked to choose the figure that matches their current body size and to choose a figure that is their ideal body. The number of participants from each category that have reported to want an ideal body size smaller, same, or bigger than their current body size is counted. The data will be graphed on a histogram.


To ensure that the data is reliable, our team selects participants through random sampling to attempt to eliminate bias. The study will also be repeated to ensure that any correlations identified in the research can happen again with different participants.

Data Analysis Plan

The data will be analyzed from the histogram. We will analyze the results for each group of 30 participants first. We will analyze to see how many participants from each group reported to want an ideal body size that is smaller than their current size. Then we can analyze the data based on the whole sample of 90 participants and determine how many wish for a smaller body size. We will look for correlations between Facebook use and teenage girls wanting a thinner body. The validity of the study will be determined by looking for any internal or external threats to validity. A source of error that could affect our research is that we cannot account for the effects of television, magazines, and advertisements on our participants before they participated in the study. They may already have internalized the thin ideal because of other media and Facebook may not have affected their want to become thinner.


The outcome of the study would be to find a positive correlation between Facebook usage and teenage girls wanting to become thinner. We hypothesize that the female students who check Facebook more than the average number of times each day will report to wanting an ideal body size that is smaller than their current size. We also hypothesize that in Group 3 (those who check Facebook more than the average amount each day) the number of girls who want a body figure smaller than their current size will be more than those reported in Group 1 and Group 2.

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