A study by the University of Córdoba shows how use of the social media by young people adversely affects their self-perception of body image, and links this phenomenon to eating disorders
The social media are part of our everyday lives, enabling new methods of communication, improved access to information and even the development of new working strategies, in a range of fields including education. Yet the use – or abuse – of social media has also given rise to a number of problems, particularly among the most exposed sectors of the population.
Among young people, the adverse effects of social-media advertising on the self-perception of body image and the resulting decline in self-esteem are directly proportional to the time spent on these media and on the degree of exposure to them. In addition to these findings, the University of Córdoba research team – comprising Pilar Aparicio, María del Pilar Martínez, Alberto Pereaand Manuel Vaquero – also found that these adverse effects were more marked among women.
This three-stage study first explored the frequency of published videos and images reposted on social media such as Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and Facebook, with a view to determining their repercussion on users’ daily lives.In qualitative terms, these products were found to promote a stereotyped perception of beauty, and especially of female beauty.
For the next stage, self-evaluation surveys on body image were given to a sample of University of Córdoba students aged between 18 and 25.
Although the women surveyed felt that the female image promoted in advertising pictures and videos was extremely stereotyped, and tended to favour excessive slimness, when asked which image they would most like to resemble, they indicated an image fairly close to the stereotype. Although it was found that men also sought to achieve the muscular image purveyed by media advertising, their desire to attain that “ideal” was less significant.
The difference is apparently due to the fact that women started out with lower self-esteem; this was exacerbated by constant exposure to images in the social media, which increased their perception of the need to modify their body image.
Finally, the study examined the link between low self-esteem and eating disorders resulting from the desire to change body image through purging and other unhealthy habits; for this purpose health and nursing professionals were consulted with regard to the current status of these disorders. They warned that the prevalence of eating disorders was increasing, and assessed advertising as a significant risk factor, scoring 4.60 on a scale of up to 5.
The research pointed to a clear need for educational programmes aimed at promoting a healthier attitude to eating and at strengthening self-esteem, so that young people can enjoy the advantages of the social media without them becoming a risk factor.
Aparicio-Martinez, P; Perea-Moreno, AJ; Martinez-Jimenez, MP; Varo, ISV; Vaquero-Abellan, M. Social networks' unnoticed influence on body image in Spanish university students. TELEMATICS AND INFORMATICS DOI: 10.1016/j.tele.2017.08.001
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