Facebook use, disordered eating and body image among college women in the United States

Paasch, Ellen and Eckler, Petya and Kalyango Jr, Yusuf (2013) Facebook use, disordered eating and body image among college women in the United States. In: IAMCR 2013 International Association of Media and Communication Research, 2013-06-25 - 2013-06-29. (Unpublished)

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American women are constantly bombarded with images of how their bodies should look. As women internalize these messages, they yearn to adjust their bodies. Body dissatisfaction occurs as body image becomes more critical and negative (Kilbourne, 1994), which often leads to disordered eating and increases the risk of being overweight or developing an eating disorder (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2011). The focus on the body is compounded by college women’s extensive use of Facebook. Young women share more photos on Facebook than older women or men (Stefanone, Lackaff, & Rosen, 2011). Women are 3.5 times more likely to make a Facebook post about their weight than men (Kolpa & Moreno, 2011). Thus, Facebook may propagate body image dissatisfaction. Theoretical framework: This study uses Social Comparison Theory (SCT) and Objectification Theory. According to SCT, people evaluate themselves by comparing to others in print, film, or real life. With constant status updates and photos, Facebook allows analyzing friends and comparing to them. According to Objectification Theory, women are often sexually objectified. When perception of one’s body falls short of the societal standard, body shame develops (Tylka & Hill, 2004), which can incentivize women to change through disordered eating habits (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Research objectives: This study examines: 1) how college women feel about their bodies; 2) how often they use Facebook to discuss weight, body image or exercise; 3) the relationship between time spent on Facebook and body image. Methodology: It is based on a survey of 650 to 700 undergraduate college women (ages 18-25) at two large public universities in the United States. A snapshot pilot survey among 31 college freshman women is reported below as a justification for the large analysis, which will be presented at the 2013 IAMCR Convention. Findings: The pilot survey shows that only 17% of respondents felt satisfied with their body. Yet, 80% had a healthy weight. Further, 16% had an ideal weight that is unhealthy by medical standards. Almost all women (94%) had considered dieting to control their weight since arrival to college and 72% were skipping meals on purpose. But 89% considered their eating habits normal. The largest group (42%) reported spending 1-2 hours daily on Facebook. Most did not post about their weight, body image, or exercise habits. When using Facebook, 77% spend most time analyzing pages of friends, and 77% have felt negatively about themselves after looking at a friend’s page. Furthermore, 61% are using Facebook to develop ideologies of how to act and dress. Interpretations of the larger survey will be based on multivariate statistical analyses and will primarily report predictors we established in the snapshot data. Conclusion: Facebook seems to play some role in the way college women perceive their bodies. The relationships between Facebook use and body image are expected to strengthen as the sample size of the study increases.


Paasch, Ellen, Eckler, Petya ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5734-8089 and Kalyango Jr, Yusuf;