This week we talked about the selfie. Generally, the idea of the selfie was positive. We talked about selfies and the relationships they have with empowerment, the ability to brand ourselves online and the rise of the micro-celebrity, but I think there are certain pitfalls associated.
In looking at Kim Kardashian’s naked selfie, my tutorial cohort labelled it as empowering and great for body-positivity. Now, before we go any further I want to make something very clear. I don’t believe we should chastise her for posting this selfie. It was her choice to make and I wholly respect that. Also, the fact that she is confident in her body is great, and she should not be ashamed of that. However, in labeling this a win for body positivity and body image, I don’t believe we are benefiting anyone. So, do I think selfies can have a negative affect on body image? Yes.
Studies have found direct correlations between the taking and viewing of selfies with lowered body image and self-esteem (Briggs 2014; McLean et al. 2015; Wagner et al. 2016). This doesn’t just include the selfies of celebrities either, the images of friends can be equally, if not more, damaging to an individual’s body image (Briggs 2014). One of the leading causes in reduced body image is the phenomenon of social comparison (Wagner et al. 2016; Perloff 2014; Vogel et al. 2014; Krayer et al. 2008). Social comparison theory, in its most basic form, believes that individuals will compare themselves to others and in adolescents it is usually in the form of body comparison (Krayer et al. 2008). So, given the many links between body image and the selfies of celebrities and peers found in the previous references, I believe it is hard to refute at least the possibility for a problem to arise. Has social media provided a platform where young girls and (increasingly) boys (Krayer et al. 2008) are doomed to have poor body image? Or is everyone falling into a moral panic?
Perhaps ironically, Wagner et al. found that females who displayed poorer body image tended to take more selfies on a monthly basis (2016). They loosely attribute that to the need to take the perfect selfie, and that may involve the struggle to find the perfect light and/or angle (Wagner et al. 2016). Another interesting finding is that those who regularly post selfies to social media are more likely to be unhappy with their bodies in terms of weight, size, shape and even dietary restraint (McLean et al. 2015). Additional research also states that the problem of body image is particularly pertinent to those regularly viewing and uploading selfies (Holland & Tiggemann 2016). I don’t believe these findings are particularly surprising. I believe social media has created an environment where most people feel the need to be only the best versions of themselves. This is fair enough, no one wants to present themselves poorly, but when does that stop?
Perhaps this is where certain trends and hashtags become problematic. Simmons looks at the rise of trends encouraging potentially damaging attitudes and/or lifestyles (2016). One that is referenced in particular is the ‘thinspiration’ trend, or even the more accepted ‘fitspiration’, often presented in the form of selfies on sites like Instagram (Simmons 2016). She notes, “both contained strong language inducing guilt about weight or the body, and promoted dieting, restraint and fat and weight stigmatization” (Simmons 2016).
Is this all Kim Kardashian’s fault? Definitely not. But, I do believe she represents a small piece in a much larger problem. We unconsciously partake in social comparisons regularly, so perhaps a small change we can make to stop ourselves falling into the body image trap is to pull ourselves up on it. Acknowledge that it is a reflex and not necessarily an accurate reflection of the truth.
So yes, Kim Kardashian had every right to post that picture and good on her for feeling confident in her body, but please don’t call it empowering for the body image of women all over the world. It just isn’t.
Briggs, H 2014, ”Selfie’ body image warning issued’, BBC, 10 April, <http://www.bbc.com/news/health-26952394>.
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, vol. 17, pp. 100 – 110.
Krayer, A, Ingledew, D.K. & Iphofen, R 2008, ‘Social comparison and body image in adolescence: a grounded theory approach’, Health Education Research, vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 892 – 903.
McLean, S.A., Paxton, S.J., Wertheim, E.H. & Masters J 2015, ‘Selfies and social media: relationships between self-image editing and photo-investment and body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint’, Journal of Eating Disorders, vol. 3, no. 1.
Perloff, R.M. 2014, ‘Social media effects on young women’s body image concerns: theoretical perspectives and an agenda for research’, Sex Roles, vol. 71, no. 11-12, pp. 363 – 377.
Simmons, R 2016, ‘How social media is a toxic mirror’, TIME, 20 August, <http://time.com/4459153/social-media-body-image/>.
Vogel, E.A., Rose, J.P., Roberts, L.R. & Eckles, K 2014, ‘Social comparison, social media and self-esteem’, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 206 – 222.
Wagner, C, Aguirre, E and Summer, E.M. 2016, ‘The relationship between Instagram selfies and body image in young adult women’, First Monday, vol. 21, no. 9, <http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6390/5620#author>.