Social Media & Body Image


Lightening Talk Video

Research Problem

My research consists of how a communication platform that is based on primarily visuals within social media can positively or negatively impact one’s self esteem, alter mood and thoughts affecting their mental health as a whole.

The topic chosen examines how Instagram uses a variety of visuals as a way of communicating to its users. Themes found include body dissatisfaction, social comparison, being motivated, influenced, inspired and addicted.

These reoccurring themes found within literature and data results contributes to the proposed hypothesis of how a social media platform that is purely based on visual communication can affect self-esteem, mood and thoughts affecting mental health and the idea of beauty in our society.

Research Questions

These research questions are aimed to be answered from research results through data collection of both survey and interviews.

1. Does social media help define or alter the idea of beauty?

2. Does Instagram positively or negatively influence choices, alter behaviours or shift an individual’s attitudes/moods?

3. Does social media play a role in eliciting symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders?


The methods used includes both qualitative/quantitative experimental methods. A quantitative method such as a survey was conducted as it helped gain a perspective of participants beliefs, attitudes and opinions due to the types of questions that were asked. The results were translated into statistical data through the quantitative approach such as graphs and percentages.

The majority of my research consists of qualitative methods such as interviewing a small sample group was conducted. Interviews provided an understanding of the participants perspective on how social media affects their mental health. Conducting qualitative interviews served a range of different attitudes, perspectives or outlooks through verbal and non-verbal communication from participants. This data was audio recorded and later transcribed to gather information and categorize and code themes in a meaningful way after analyzing interviews.

Lastly, the qualitative interview will be using a phenomenological approach as it resulted in mutual feelings of a lived experience that individuals share within a certain group. This approach aids in narrowing down a common phenomenon interviewing participants who can share these lived experiences to collect data. Qualitative phenomenological interviews consist of open-ended questions to allow participants to share their stories and perspectives about a common lived experience using a visual communication platform. Themes from interviews were synthesized to contribute to understanding the research problem.

Subjects for Study

Subjects of study includes women participants between the ages of 18-26 that were interviewed and surveyed. The age range and sex help in understanding the reoccurring demographics that were found in the literature review seeing as most of the results had to do with women within a certain age frame. In addition, the chosen age range is appropriate to the study as it consists of both millennials and Generation Z whom are primary users of social media (Viens, 2019). The subjects consist of Ryerson University students as well as a random sample population including family and friends within the acquired demographics. A total of 50 surveys were completed and four participants offered to partake in a phenomenological interview.

Data from Survey

Some highlights from survey results:

Did you ever change something about your physical image or self in general due to something you saw on social media that may have altered your thoughts?

Figure 1

If answered yes, what platforms do you think affects body image the most?

Figure 2

On a scale of 1-5 how influential is social media in your life?

Figure 3

Do you ever compare yourself to people you follow on social media?

Figure 4

Do you think specific social media platforms may affect your sense of body image?

Figure 5

Do you think social media can lead to eating disorders and mental illnesses?

Figure 6

Data from Interviews

Describe to me what you feel when you are using Instagram, tell me what you normally see, how it makes you feel, what you like to follow?

"Updated, insecure, envious, and even distracted. At times, I feel so addicted and feel the need to continuously consume content in order to be aware of whats happening on social media. I follow a lot of meme accounts and fitness models. I have to actively remember to unfollow and stay away from pages on Instagram that make me feel bad about how I feel in my own skin. I enjoy following things that make me feel motivated but these visuals could also make us feel bad about ourselves by comparing lives. Sometimes we just need to take a break from it." -Anonymous

"To stay updated on the news and current trends for my work in PR as well as for pleasure, I follow a lot of news and magazine outlets for fashion, beauty and lifestyle content. Regardless of what accounts I follow, I am always bombarded with an influx of photos of women who embody the western beauty ideal. Even when I clean up my following to accounts I associate with more positive content, photos of influencers and models are always at the top of my explore page and seem unescapable."-Anonymous

Depending on what people follow, why do you think we allow ourselves to experience thoughts that could alter the way we perceive the world and ourselves during this phenomenon?

"I think that many of the thoughts we experience are part of a viscous pattern that have become engrained in our brains and have been for years. Being twenty-two, I am one of the last generations to remember a fragment of my life without social media. Even with getting Instagram in grade 11, I realize that I have formed what could be considered a very compulsive and addictive habit of scrolling. For myself, these habits stem from the constant feeling of needing to stay connected virtually and maintain an online presence that makes your followers feel a certain way about you as a person. I have actually noticed that social media has affected my mental health in such negative ways that I am actively trying to be more conscious of my consumption." -Anonymous

"We always want what we don't have. I just feel like people are always wanting to be in the know by following accounts that are popular even if they make us feel bad mentally and emotionally. The content that is made available to us consumers influences us in so many different ways. I have literally went out and bought an outfit just because I saw a girl on Instagram wearing it and she looked so good in it. I think this all comes down to the fear of missing out." -Anonymous


After conducting qualitative interviews and surveys allowed to collect a wide range of data from participants. The purpose of the survey helped gain a perspective of participants beliefs, attitudes, characteristics and opinions due to the types of questions that were asked and scales were used to measure data. The results were then translated into statistical data and illustrated in graphs to show case findings. The qualitative phenomenological interviews were audio recorded and then transcribed in order to easily gather information and categorize themes in a meaningful way to measure concepts.

Survey results show that 89% of participants say that Instagram affects body image the most out of all social media platforms. 88% of participants agreed to comparing themselves to people they follow on social media. 90% of participants agreed to how certain social media platforms may affect your sense of body image. 82% agreed to how possible eating disorders and other mental illnesses can be caused by social media. The results can be showcased by analyzing that when comparing all social media platforms, Instagram predominately affects an individuals self-esteem as its main form of communication is through images. Therefore utilizing images that creates a social comparison among users can lead to body dissatisfaction and a feeling of insecurity.

After coding keywords from interviews, results show a variety of reoccurring themes that include participants feeling:

  • Updated
  • Motivated
  • Envious
  • Insecure
  • Addicted
  • Instagram vs. reality
  • Western beauty ideals
  • Experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • Inspired by influencers
  • Seeing fit individuals daily

The pre-existing literature that was reviewed compares to the overall research topic. For example, A journal from ScienceDirect written in 2019 by Anixiadis, Wertheim, Rodgers and Caruana argue how the effects of images showing thin or athletic idealized women that are typically posted on Instagram has a potential negative effect on women. These negative effects include how being exposed to these types of pictures can alter an individual’s mood and increase body dissatisfaction through constant body comparisons.

Another perspective found within literature explored how an individual can experience negative emotional effects and further can increase in social comparisons when viewing a certain type of post on Instagram. It examines how an individual can tend to socially compare themselves to others via Instagram even when viewing a complete stranger’s post (Vries, Möller, Wiering, Eigenraam, and Hamelink, 2017). However, it can be dependent on the type of post that is being viewed seeing as people tend to perceive things differently. Along with this idea, in Magner’s article, it covers the same idea with how social media platforms creates space for social comparisons, validation which can lead to having psychological negative effects on mental health. This article is more focused on adolescents as they can be easily influenced with what is exposed to them and are more vulnerable to being affected by their peers in order to conform to the social norm.

In Sherlock’s and Wagstaff’s article, it discussed mental health effects of social networking. They conducted two experiments in order to show the link between Instagram use and how it has psychological impacts upon women specifically (Sherlock & Wagstaff, 2019). The results show that Instagram use is correlated with symptoms of depression thus can further negatively affect self-esteem due to chronic use. Lastly, another article shows how adolescents have an overall increased addiction to social media platforms (Magner, 2018). This encompasses the idea of having constant addiction and the need to continuously check a platform like Instagram. Users tend to become addicted in order to continuously stay in ‘the know’ and refrain from the fear of missing out.

Most of the findings showcased contribute to pre-existing research. Results from both interviews and survey show that Instagram prominently influences behaviour and can shift an individual’s moods more negatively than positively. This is due to the types of visuals shown defining and altering the idea of beauty impacting self-esteem as a result. However, to bridge the gap of eliminating the negative detriments of Instagram is still undetermined and actions are necessary to mitigate the affects as a whole. This can include to reduce social media usage or finding way to change thought patterns that make us compare ourselves constantly to unrealistic ideals.

Researcher Bio

Omaima Mogdadi —A fourth year student majoring in Professional Communication at Ryerson University.

Omaima will be graduating from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Arts. She majored in Professional Communication and minored in Public Relations.

Social media and body image was a topic that she always had interest in throughout her undergrad. She is a millennial and experienced the introduction and transformation of social media that evolved through time. Conducting this research study allowed to create an understanding on how to gather data in relation to which platform significantly affects self-esteem, alters thoughts and lead to mental disorders of individuals. This topic relates to Professional Communication as social media platforms play a role in visual communication and how images can convey a variety messages altering how users perceive these visual representations.

After graduation, Omaima will continue to use her creativity and communication skills in hopes to create meaningful content to share among the world.


Created By
Omaima M