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1 May 2017

Why You Should Not Compare Yourself With Others On Instagram

Keywords: body image, internet, North America, happiness, health, media, personality, personality characteristics, social media, young adults, youth communication,

Social networking sites, such as Instagram, are increasingly popular among young adults. However, a study in Computers in Human Behavior shows that using Instagram can be related to a negative body-image for young women who compare themselves with others.

Take aways

  • Instagram use could be harmful for young women who compare their appearance with others on Instagram, because this can create a negative body-image.
  • Young and single women compare their appearance more often with others on Instagram than older women and women in a relationship.
  • Young women who feel like they are in competition with other women in finding and keeping a partner, are also more likely to compare themselves with others on Instagram. 
  • For young adults it is important to know that comparing themselves with others on social network sites can be related to how they feel about themselves.

Study information

  • The question?

    What is the relation between appearance-related comparisons made on Instagram and college women’s body image? And what is the role of intrasexual competitiveness for potential partners in these appearance-related comparisons?

  • Who?

    185 female undergraduate students with an existing Instagram account (mean age = 21 years). The majority (66,3%) identified themselves as Caucasian, 16.8% as Hispanic/Latino, 7.6% as African American, 4.9% as Mixed race, 2.2% as Asian and 2.2% did not identify with any specific ethnic group. Most female students were single (51.4%), 44.3% were in a romantic relationship and 4.3% were married.

  • Where?

    United States

  • How?

    All participants filled out an online questionnaire. This questionnaire included questions regarding their age, ethnic background and relationship status. In addition, participants answered to what extent they were exposed to ideal images of others on Instagram (Instagram photo activity) and whether they compared their physical appearance with others on Instagram (appearance related comparisons).

    The questionnaire also included some questions regarding participants’ drive for thinness (e.g., “ I exaggerate or magnify the importance of my weight”), body dissatisfaction (e.g., “I think my stomach is too big”) and intrasexual competitiveness for mates (e.g., “When I buy clothes, I think about what men will find attractive”). 

Facts and findings

  • Younger students more often made appearance-related comparisons on Instagram than older students.
  • Single students more often made appearance-related comparisons than students in a relationship. 
  • Compared to all other ethnic groups, African American students reported less drive for thinness, less intersexual competitiveness for potential partners and were less likely to make appearance-related comparisons on Instagram. 
  • Students who engaged in more appearance-related comparisons on Instagram reported a higher drive towards thinness and lower body satisfaction. This means that exposure to the thin-ideal on Instagram negatively influenced their body image.
  • Women who saw finding and keeping a partner as a competition among women, were more likely to make comparisons on Instagram. In other words, women with high competitive traits were more likely to engage in appearance-related comparisons on Instagram. 
  • Critical note: We should interpret the results with caution as the direction of cause and effect is not clear. For example, it is possible that the drive to be thin causes individuals to engage in more appearance-related comparisons on Instagram.