'Body positive' social media content can lift body image and mood, new study finds

Media Relations Team, 12 March 2019

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A mobile phone screen with the Instagram icon central.

Viewing social media content aimed at challenging mainstream beauty ideals can boost body confidence among young women, a new study has revealed.

Participants in the experimental research who were shown 'body positive' content on Instagram experienced improvements in body satisfaction, body appreciation and positive mood. Those in the same study shown 'thin ideal' images and neutral images did not report an equivalent improvement.

A new trend on social media, body positivity (or BoPo), aims to challenge narrow societal ideals of female beauty in favour of a broader acceptance and appreciation of all body types, shapes, sizes and colours. Social media accounts promoting body positive content include: 

The study was conducted by PhD student Rachel Cohen from the University of the Technology Sydney, and supervised by Dr Amy Slater of the Centre for Appearance Research, at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

In the experiment, 195 women aged 18 to 30 years were randomly allocated to view either 20 body positive, thin-ideal, or appearance-neutral Instagram posts. The women were asked to answer questions relating to their body image and mood immediately before and after viewing the posts.

In addition to showing improved body image and positive mood in response to body positive material, the participants also showed favourable attitudes towards body positive accounts, with the majority reporting being willing to follow them in future. Those exposed to 'thin-ideal' content experienced decreases in body satisfaction, body appreciation and positive mood.

The researchers said: “To the best of our knowledge, the study is the first to demonstrate that viewing 'body positive' content on Instagram may improve positive mood, body satisfaction, and body appreciation.

“The results suggest that perhaps, as an initial step, simply encouraging women to follow more body positive accounts may help to counterbalance the many idealised messages typical of many women's social media feeds.”

Body-positive content has become increasingly popular on social media platforms, particularly Instagram. A search of the hashtag #bodypositive executed by researchers elicited more than 6,000,000 posts (Instagram, June 2018). Similar hashtags #bodypositivity and #bopo elicited 1,880,753 and 671,063 posts respectively (Instagram, June 2018). These posts included a variety of quotes, images, and captions, ranging from selfies of women displaying their larger bodies, before and after photos of 'real' bodies encouraging awareness of the use of digital alteration in mainstream media, and positive quotes such as 'you are more than a body, go show the world more'.

The academics continued: “The study demonstrates novel and promising initial findings regarding the effects of viewing 'body positive' content on Instagram on women's mood and body image. They significantly extend previous research into 'new' media and body image, as well as contribute to the emerging research into positive body image.”

Access the full research paper.

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