Popular social media platforms among adolescents, like Instagram and TikTok (Pew Research Center, 2022), are widely recognized for their visual and "appearance-focused" nature. A substantial portion of content on these platforms showcases images of idealized appearances, including extremely slim or muscular bodies, digitally altered images, and seemingly flawless selfies. However, adhering to these appearance standards set by social media can prove challenging for most adolescents, and it is no surprise that the use of social media has been associated with body dissatisfaction and behaviors related to eating disorders, such as dieting, preoccupation with weight, and shape (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016).
Nonetheless, there is a notable lack of research regarding the role of positive appearance comments that endorse appearance standards on social media. In an effort to address this gap, we conducted a study examining the role of positive appearance comments on social media on adolescents' body dissatisfaction. Our study encompassed 613 adolescents (52% of whom were girls) aged 13-18.
Remarkably, our findings revealed that positive appearance comments praising attractive bodies only contributed to increased body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls, not boys. One potential explanation is that boys tend to perceive these comments on social media as less weighty and somewhat humorous, making them more resilient to the adverse effect on body dissatisfaction (Paddock & Bell, 2021). Additionally, we observed that positive appearance comments had a more significant impact on adolescents who perceived the featured bodies as highly attractive. This initial finding suggests that certain adolescents may not consider the stereotypical thin and muscular bodies portrayed on social media as exceptionally attractive, thereby potentially shielding them from body dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, further investigation of this matter is warranted.
Conversely, positive appearance comments appeared to result in similar levels of body dissatisfaction regardless of adolescents' tendency to adhere to attractive appearance standards propagated by social media, prioritize physical appearance in their lives, or embrace their bodies despite perceived "imperfections". This unexpected finding emphasizes the need for further exploration into the psychological characteristics that determine the influence of positive appearance comments on body dissatisfaction through social media.
In summary, our research indicates that positive appearance comments on social media may intensify body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls, highlighting the subjectively perceived attractiveness of idealized appearance as a key aspect to address in preventive efforts against the negative impact of social media on body image. In the case of boys, future research should delve deeper into how and why positive appearance comments on social media do or do not affect their body dissatisfaction.
Pew Research Center (2022, August 10). Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2022/08/10/teens-social-media-and-technology-2022/
Holland, G., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image, 17, 100–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.02.008
Paddock, D. L., & Bell, B. T. (2021). “It’s Better Saying I Look Fat Instead of Saying You Look Fat”: A Qualitative Study of U.K. Adolescents’ Understanding of Appearance-Related Interactions on Social Media. Journal of Adolescent Research, 1, 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/07435584211034875