A recent study provides more evidence that body image suffers when young women view photos of attractive peers on social media.

York University researchers in Toronto found that young women aged 18–27 who actively engaged with pictures of attractive female peers felt more negative about themselves afterward, even if they felt bad about themselves before the study. Study author Jennifer Mills, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, said, “We really need to educate young people on how social media use could be making them feel about themselves and how this could be linked to stringent dieting, eating disorders or excessive exercise. There are people who may be triggered by social media who are especially vulnerable.”

Lead study author Jacqueline Hogue, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, says fitness professionals can help clients by sharing with them the message that “comparing yourself to social media images is likely going to make you feel at least slightly worse about your body afterwards. Arm clients with this knowledge so they can pay attention to their own momentary reactions and feelings if they choose to engage with such images.”

Limitations of the study included its small sample size—just 118 students—and the fact that the sample was drawn from one university. The YU researchers recommended that future studies look at the impact of active social media engagement on young men’s body image and whether certain individuals are more affected than others. The study appeared in Body Image (2018; doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.11.002).

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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