According to a research project I conducted in my undergraduate research methods class, repining and reblogging can influence how we feel about ourselves. In contrast to Facebook and Myspace, which primarily focus on connections with friends, websites such as Pinterest and Tumblr rely much more on photo content. Users on these websites can ”reblog” or ”repin” images that fit the content of their blog or board, which can be based on anything from cooking to fashion to fitness. We wondered if the popularity of spreading images throughout these websites could potentially influence social network users’ attitudes, especially when photos emphasize an idealized body shape and size. Our study investigated how ”fitspiration”, or “fitspo” images, can affect body image.
”Fitspo” images feature thin and fit women or men engaging in physical activity. These images often contain inspirational messages, presumably written to encourage viewers to become fit like the people featured in the images. Though past research shows that women endorse a significantly more negative body image after viewing images that endorsed the thin ideal, very little is known about the effects of viewing images of very fit women (Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2001). Thus, our study aimed to broaden the scope of body image research by investigating how young women and men felt after viewing the “fitspo” images that popular in this new type of social media channel.
To conduct our experiment, we obtained pre-test self-esteem and body dissatisfaction scores for all participants, after which half viewed ten fitspo images (of their respective gender) and half only viewed the ‘inspirational’ text messages taken from their respective gender’s fitspo images. We then measured post-test body dissatisfaction in all participants and compared change in body dissatisfaction between the experimental and control groups. We found that among females, there was a significant interaction between self-esteem status and experimental condition; in other words, the effect of viewing fitspo images differed between high and low self-esteem women. Of the women who viewed the fitspo images, low self-esteem status was associated with an increase in body dissatisfaction after viewing the images, while those with high self-esteem experienced a small decrease in body dissatisfaction after viewing the fitspo images. Women who viewed the control text messages experienced very little change in body dissatisfaction. We found no significant interaction between self-esteem status and experimental condition in male participants.
Our results may be interpreted by using Vohs and Heatherton’s (2004) finding that when individuals with low self-esteem perceive a threat (i.e., images of individuals fitter and/or more attractive than themselves), they tend to engage in more social comparisons and view themselves as less favorable than their peers. Women with low self-esteem may have focused more on ”fitspo” as an opportunity for social comparison and evaluated themselves as less desirable than the models in the images. Contrastingly, females with high self-esteem did not view “fitspo” as a threat and might have even viewed it as a source of inspiration or motivation. Though Vohs and Heatherton’s finding may explain the results for females, it may not extend to men, as our results found that male participants were not affected either way by viewing the ”fitspo” images.
It’s important to note that this study was conducted for an undergraduate class and has not been peer-reviewed: it still needs verification by future research. However, it left us wondering how social media influences how we spend our time and how we view ourselves. Until these results are replicated, we must realistically appraise how our social media usage affects us. Is repinning that picture of a fit runner going to inspire you to achieve health of body and mind, or is it just going to make you compare your own size and fitness level to a paid model? It doesn’t come naturally, but questioning how different forms of media can bring us down rather than boost us up is a challenge worth pursuing.
Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 1–16. doi: 10.1002/eat.10005
Vohs, K. D. & Heatherton, T. F. (2004). Ego threat elicits different social comparison processes among high and low self-esteem people: Implications for interpersonal perceptions. Social Cognition, 22, 168-191. doi: 10.1521/soco.126.96.36.199983
By: Camille Davis