Is Instagram Inherently Self-Objectifying?: An Interview with Dr. Tiggemann

This and much more will be elaborated in this exclusive interview with Marika Tiggemann, PhD FASSA, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Emeritus Professor. She will talk about her study on the effect of ‘Instagram vs reality’ images on women’s social comparison and body image.

Dr. Tiggemann / Photo: From the Archive of Dr. Tiggemann
Dr. Tiggemann / Photo: From the Archive of Dr. Tiggemann

The role of various social media platforms in our mental well-being, self-esteem and human to human relationships is undoubtedly a far-reaching concern, a topic we here at Youth Time have discussed from different angles, several times. YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens. Taking this into account, several studies have been conducted on elaborating this usage on youngsters’ emotional health.

Social media is not real: The effect of ‘Instagram vs reality’ images on women’s social comparison and body image is a study by Marika Tiggemann and Isabella Anderberg, which highlights the existing link between social media and body image.

It acknowledges that the negative effects of social media, like traditional media have generally been attributed to the process of social comparison.

It has been argued (e.g. Tiggemann et al., 2018) that social comparison is particularly pertinent to social media because comparison targets are largely peers, in contrast to the models appearing in fashion magazines.

Speaking to Youth Time, Tiggemann initially explains the key findings from this study. She also discusses about the recently proposed law in the United Kingdom (UK), which would make it mandatory for celebrities to declare heavily edited photos and could face a ban on secretly air-brushing Instagram snaps that are creating a ‘warped view’ of beauty.

 

Social Comparison

Beginning by a part of this study’s title which states that social media is not real, does this mean that social media usage is mainly linked to an ideal, non-existent image and to a variety of body image concerns, including body dissatisfaction and self-objectification, especially among women?

Tiggemann answers this by saying: “It means that much of the imagery is selected, curated, filtered, edited and so is not real.

“Accordingly, it does not present realistic images for women to compare with etc. Because of social comparison, the end result is that women feel that their own bodies do not match up and so body dissatisfaction is increased.

“The main finding is that viewing ‘Instagram vs reality’ images preserve women’s’ body satisfaction, in a way viewing idealized images does not.” she says.

According to her, something like Instagram is an inherently self-objectifying medium, in that women put up pictures of themselves precisely to be looked at, evaluated (‘liked’) etc.”

The overall aim of this study was to investigate the effect on women’s body image of exposure to ‘Instagram vs reality’ images, a social media trend.

As Tiggemann predicted, it was found that exposure to paired ideal-real images, as well as to real images, resulted in lower body dissatisfaction than did viewing idealized Instagram images. She speaks regarding how worrisome and far-reaching is this.

“What’s worrisome is that looking at ‘ordinary’ (i.e. idealised) images on Instagram results in body dissatisfaction. And there are a lot of images out there and you can look at a lot in a very short period of time.”

 

A law that only reinforces the importance of attractiveness

Instagram post

Recently, we have witnessed a new proposed law in the UK which would make it mandatory for celebrities to declare heavily edited photos and face a ban on secretly air-brushing Instagram snaps that are creating a ‘warped view’ of beauty.

Dr. Luke Evans, Member of Parliament, said that edited photos on social media were “fuelling a mental health crisis”.

How Tiggemann sees this and is it necessary to have legal implications on this matter? She shares her point of view on this, saying that most likely such a strategy won’t actually work, in that the images are still there.

“In some ways, it just reinforces the importance of attractiveness. Even the celebrities have to edit etc.” she explains.

At this point of discussion, we bring in another study of Tiggemann, with corresponding author Zoe Brown; A picture is worth a 1,000 words: The effect of viewing celebrity Instagram images with disclaimer and body positive captions on women’s body image.

Here it is mentioned that although Instagram consists of photos of peers and celebrities, the top followed Instagram accounts are held by thin and attractive female celebrities.

This study aimed to experimentally investigate whether two forms of Instagram caption could mitigate the detrimental effect of celebrity images on women’s body image.

Participants were 256 female undergraduate students who were assigned to view a set of celebrity images with no caption, a disclaimer caption, or a body positive caption, or a control set of travel images.

Results showed that exposure to celebrity images, in comparison to travel images, increased body dissatisfaction and decreased body appreciation. However, there was no significant effect of either form of caption.

The effect of celebrity images was mediated by state appearance comparison and moderated by trait appearance comparison. It was concluded that the addition of disclaimer or body positive captions by attractive celebrities does not serve to improve women’s body image.

 

What does proper usage of social media look like?

We all understand that the world we live in today is almost unimaginable without social media- it is being used for various purposes, starting from fun to work and education opportunities.

Accordingly, she shares the following advice about how one can manage a proper use of social media and stay digitally aware, by saying that above all we all have to learn not to compare ourselves with others.

  • One can follow body positive posts or people who make you feel good about yourself and your body
  • One can follow/be interested in things not to do with appearance, e.g., knitting, travel, nature. One can unfollow influencers and others who make you feel bad.
  • One can separate one’s self-esteem from your reception on Instagram, i.e. do not put up photos to count the number of likes.
  • One can remember all the selecting, editing etc. that goes on.

While there may be a lot of issues to further discuss on this issue, definitely, you and I often find ourselves spending a lot of time on social media, for numerous purposes. But, does this necessarily mean that we are addicted to the internet?

Photos: From the Archive of Dr. Tiggemann; Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney


Enrique Dans, Ph.D., Professor of Innovation at IE Business School does not think so. Speaking to Youth Time, he brought very interesting arguments about Internet addiction, and why it does not exist in the first place. Here you can read the full interview with him.

There Is No ‘Internet Addiction’: An Interview with Professor Dans

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