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Since the Internet was created in 1900, it’s growth has been exponential. The Internet has become a universal source of information for millions of people (Murphy & Roser, 2017). While body dissatisfaction has been shown to mediate the relationship between traditional media exposure (TV and magazines) and eating disorders (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, & Shaw, 1994), little research had been conducted to measure the relationship between internet use and disordered eating symptomatology. Some studies have provided initial evidence of the relationship between Internet use and disordered eating behaviors, mediated by body dissatisfaction (Tiggemann &Slater, 2014). These results are in line with the sociocultural theory, which posits that Western society promotes the thin-ideal, and that this is portrayed in the media, family members, and peers (Thompson & Heinberg, 1999). Attempting to look like the models from the media, and achieve this ultra-thin physique, may lead women to body dissatisfaction, dieting, and finally, to disordered eating (Rodgers, Chabrol & Paxton, 2011).
As mentioned earlier, objectification theory suggests that women are told by society to view themselves as an object and internalize society’s objectifying gaze (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). The media portrays objectifying content and promotes self-objectification in individuals, and research has shown that traditional media is associated with an increase in self-objectification (Harper & Tiggemann, 2007). Self-objectification is a predictor for disordered eating symptoms (Noll & Fredrickson, 1998), and the use of networking sites have been associated with self-objectification (De Vries, & Peter, 2013).
Individuals try to present a desirable image of themselves, they do this by selectively presenting certain aspects of themselves to others, this is suggested by the impression management theory (Leary, 1992). This theory hypothesizes that individuals with a higher level of body-image avoidance and disordered eating will favor social interactions, as they have greater control over their self-presentations (Caplan, 2007). Additionally, body-image avoidance has been associated with disordered eating behaviors, and experiential avoidance of body-image has been found to mediate the relationship body-dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptoms (Timko et. al., 2014).
These three theories were tested in a study conducted by Melioli, Rodgers, Rodrigues & Chabrol (2015), where they explored the relationship between internet use and bulimic symptoms within these theoretical frameworks, and found that the use of the internet and of social media, in particular, tempts individuals to become active users by constantly being connected to their social circle, by regularly posting pictures and new statuses on different networks. The thought of having one’s virtual image examined and assessed by others may increase the feelings of self-objectification. Additionally, the possibility to control one’s presentation online, and selectively present the most positive aspects of the self, may lead to a gradual creation of an “online-self”, which may be closer to the social or media ideals than the individual really is. Furthermore, this study found that body-shame and body image avoidance represent two mechanisms that may account for the association between internet use and bulimic symptoms. Of the three frameworks, impression management and self-objectifications are the ones that should be considered as more useful to explore the relationships between Internet use and disordered eating symptoms (Melioli et. al., 2015).
Adolescents and young adults often use social media sites keep social ties, and form new ones, as well as to seek out information about others, and this is a form of “social grooming” (Tufeckci, 2008). These social interactions can increase the opportunities to view the idealized versions of themselves that other users of social media post on their profiles, and this, in turn, may lead to a greater tendency to compare themselves to the pictures they see of others. Therefore, according to social-comparison theory (Festinger, 1954), it is reasonable to assume that engaging in this behaviour and process of social grooming may be strongly associated with body image dissatisfaction. The results of an experimental study conducted by Haferkamp and Krämer (2011) propose that social media sites are often used as a basis for upward social comparison. Their results show that both male and female individuals who viewed physically attractive images on a profile reported an increase in body-dissatisfaction and a decrease in positive emotional states about their own image than the participants who viewed pictures of unattractive users (Haferkamp & Krämer, 2011).
A study conducted by Jones (2001) found that peers on social media are more frequent targets of appearance-related social comparison than the model portrayed by the mass media, and that the association between this comparison and body image dissatisfaction is the same whether young adults compare themselves to media models or to their peers on social media. These results may be due to the fact that the pictures that are uploaded to profiles on social media networks such as Facebook or Instagram are images that convey idealized versions of social peers (Kim & Chock, 2015). According to this idea, other studies have found that users of social media try to enhance their physical attractiveness by selecting profile photographs in which they feel most attractive and edit them digitally to bring their appearance closer to that of the sociocultural ideal (Manago, Graham, Greenfield, & Salimkhan, 2008). Manago et. al. (2008) also found that individuals feel pressured to develop desirable impressions of themselves.
Kim & Chock (2015) studied the association between social engagement behaviors (“social grooming”) on Facebook and body image concerns and found that higher levels of social grooming behaviors on Facebook were correlated with an increased drive for thinness and appearance comparison. In general, researchers have found that higher levels of exposure to peer profiles of Facebook was positively associated with higher levels of body-dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin-ideal, body surveillance and drive for thinness, compared to individuals who spent more time on other types of Internet sites (Tiggemann & Slater, 2013).
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