The Impacts of Social Media on Young Adults' Body Images in the United States Open Access

Wang, Amy (Spring 2023)

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Traditionally, media has been treated as a form of communication to large audiences, and this communication was largely one-sided, from performer to audience. However, the rise of social media has changed the ways that media can reach and affect individuals, as social media creates a platform for users to interact with the content they consume and allows regular users to produce content as well. The prominence and use of social media has grown exponentially in the past decade, and these platforms include, but are not limited to, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter. As social media emerged, there have been multiple studies that relate young adults’ development of body image to their social media usage, although there lacks more holistic studies that investigate this relationship through the lens of the user. The goals of this study were to investigate how social media presented body images to young adults, how young adults consume and react to this content, and what sorts of implications this may bring about. In this study, the relationship between social media and body image was studied through digital ethnography, autoeathnography, and participant interviews. Through analyzing the interviews and ethnography data through the lens of theories such as Festinger’s social comparison theory and the social contagion theory, it was found that social media both amplifies external, pre-existing factors that can shape body image and creates new environments where individuals’ body images can be affected. This, in turn, can affect young adults’ body images through either reinforcing or diminishing pre-existing notions of body image issues. We can see these effects implemented through social media users’ real-life applications of social media content and their mental health states. With mental health issues on the rise and social media only becoming increasingly prevalent, these findings can be important to consider when introducing future generations to social media and teaching them how to more safely navigate the internet.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Social Media’s Presentation of Body Image

Chapter 2: How Users Consume and React to Online Content

Chapter 3: Implications of Social Media Usage


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