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Body Image 13 (2015) 38–45

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Body Image

j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w . e l s e v i e r . c o m / l o c a t e / b o d y i m a g e

ocial comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young omen’s body image concerns and mood

asmine Fardouly a,∗, Phillippa C. Diedrichs b, Lenny R. Vartanian a, Emma Halliwell b

School of Psychology, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Coldhardour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QY, United Kingdom

r t i c l e i n f o

rticle history: eceived 4 July 2014 eceived in revised form 8 November 2014 ccepted 4 December 2014


a b s t r a c t

The present study experimentally investigated the effect of Facebook usage on women’s mood and body image, whether these effects differ from an online fashion magazine, and whether appearance compar- ison tendency moderates any of these effects. Female participants (N = 112) were randomly assigned to spend 10 min browsing their Facebook account, a magazine website, or an appearance-neutral control website before completing state measures of mood, body dissatisfaction, and appearance discrepancies (weight-related, and face, hair, and skin-related). Participants also completed a trait measure of appear-

acebook ocial media agazine

ppearance-related social comparison ody image concerns

ance comparison tendency. Participants who spent time on Facebook reported being in a more negative mood than those who spent time on the control website. Furthermore, women high in appearance com- parison tendency reported more facial, hair, and skin-related discrepancies after Facebook exposure than exposure to the control website. Given its popularity, more research is needed to better understand the impact that Facebook has on appearance concerns.



The use of social media is pervasive and growing rapidly world- ide. Facebook is the most popular social media platform, currently ith over 1.3 billion regular users (Facebook, 2014). Social media se is particularly popular among young women (Kimbrough, uadagno, Muscanell, & Dill, 2013; Muscanell & Guadagno, 2012),

demographic for which body dissatisfaction (i.e., dissatisfaction ith one’s current physical self) is also particularly problematic

Bearman, Martinez, Stice, & Presnell, 2006; Ricciardelli & McCabe, 001). Existing research has demonstrated a positive correlation etween Facebook usage and body dissatisfaction (Fardouly & artanian, 2015; Tiggemann & Miller, 2010; Tiggemann & Slater, 013, 2014), but there is currently no theoretically-driven experi- ental research examining Facebook’s impact on young women’s

ody image concerns. Social comparison theory proposes that people have a drive

o evaluate their progress and standing on various aspects of heir lives and, in the absence of objective standards, people com- are themselves to others to know where they stand (Festinger,

∗ Corresponding author at: School of Psychology, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW 052, Australia. Tel.: +61 2 9385 8758.

E-mail addresses: [email protected] (J. Fardouly), [email protected] (P.C. Diedrichs), [email protected] L.R. Vartanian), [email protected] (E. Halliwell).

ttp:// 740-1445/© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1954). According to sociocultural models of body image and dis- ordered eating, body dissatisfaction can develop when women repeatedly compare their own appearance to the appearance of others (Keery, van den Berg, & Thompson, 2004; van den Berg, Thompson, Obremski-Brandon, & Coovert, 2002; Vartanian & Dey, 2013). Indeed, research shows that women regularly evaluate their appearance by comparing themselves to others (Leahey, Crowther, & Mickelson, 2007), and that a greater tendency to engage in appearance comparisons is associated with a high level of body dis- satisfaction (Keery et al., 2004; Myers & Crowther, 2009; van den Berg, Thompson, Obremski-Brandon, & Coovert, 2002; Vartanian & Dey, 2013).

Given that 10 million new photographs are uploaded to Face- book every hour (Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier, 2013), Facebook provides women with a medium for frequently engaging in appearance-related social comparisons, and can therefore poten- tially contribute to body image concerns among young women. Thus, the present study experimentally investigated the impact of exposure to Facebook on young adult women’s body image and mood. We also tested whether women’s tendency to make appearance-related social comparisons moderates any effects of exposure.

Facebook Usage

The majority of experimental research in the body image and appearance-related social comparison literature has investigated

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he influence of exposure to idealized bodies in traditional forms f media, such as magazines, television, and music videos on oung women’s body dissatisfaction (Myers & Crowther, 2009). his research has found that exposure to the thin ideal is asso- iated with more negative body image among girls and women Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002). How- ver, more recent research suggests that the popularity of these edia types is being overtaken by the popularity and availabil-

ty of more interactive media such as the Internet, particularly mong adolescents (Bell & Dittmar, 2011; Tiggemann & Miller, 010). In the Australian 2013 student census, social networking ites, such as Facebook, were the most common use of the Inter- et for female high school students (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 013). In Australia, 87% of Internet users in the 15–24 years age roup report engaging in social networking (Australian Bureau of tatistics, 2011). Similarly, 90% of 16–24 year olds in the United ingdom (Office for National Statistics, 2013), and 90% of 18–29 ear olds in the United States (Pew Research, 2013a), use social etworking websites. Although there has been some suggestion hat Facebook usage is declining among young people, there is o publically available data to support these assertions. Facebook ontinues to be the most popular social media platform with a rowing membership (Pew Research, 2013b), and young women eport spending around two hours per day on Facebook (Fardouly

Vartanian, 2015; Tiggemann & Slater, 2013). Facebook allows users to create public or semi-public personal

rofiles, and to customize their pages with photos and informa- ion about themselves. Like magazine images which are edited nd often “enhanced” before publication, Facebook users are also ble to edit images before uploading them to Facebook and are ble to closely monitor their self-presentation in order to present n idealized or “hoped for possible” version of the self (Manago, raham, Greenfield, & Salimkhan, 2008; Zhao, Grasmuck, & Martin, 008). Importantly, just as with exposure to idealized images in the edia, viewing one’s own or other people’s idealized images and

rofiles on Facebook could have a negative impact on women’s elf-evaluations and overall well-being. Further contributing to his concern is the fact that women have reported viewing other eople’s Facebook profiles in order to make comparisons to those

ndividuals (Haferkamp, Eimler, Papadakis, & Kruck, 2012). Indeed, ne study found that participants who spend more time on Face- ook believe that others are happier and have better lives than hemselves, especially when the participants had a greater num- er of Facebook “friends” that they do not know personally (Chou

Edge, 2012). Finally, Facebook contains additional elements that ould impact people’s body image concerns, such as comments osted by other people.

mpact of Media Exposure

Several correlational studies have investigated the association etween Facebook usage and young women’s body image con- erns. Pre-teenage girls (Tiggemann & Slater, 2014) and female high chool students (Meier & Gray, 2014; Tiggemann & Slater, 2013) ho were Facebook users reported more body image concerns

han did non-users. In addition, more time spent on Facebook was ssociated with greater body image concerns among pre-teenage irls (Tiggemann & Slater, 2014), female high school students Tiggemann & Miller, 2010; Tiggemann & Slater, 2013), and female niversity students (Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015). Furthermore, in a

ongitudinal study of female university students, maladaptive Face- ook usage (which included seeking negative social evaluations and

aking general social comparisons) was associated with increased

ody dissatisfaction four weeks later, and body dissatisfaction as found to mediate the relationship between maladaptive Face-

ook usage and increases in overeating (Smith, Hames, & Joiner,

ge 13 (2015) 38–45 39

2013). These studies provide some initial evidence linking Face- book usage with body dissatisfaction in young women. However, because these studies are all correlational, the causal association between Facebook and body dissatisfaction is still unknown. Exper- imental research is therefore needed to determine the direction of the relationship between Facebook usage and body image concerns.

Only one previous study has experimentally investigated the impact of Facebook on one aspect of women’s body image (Mabe, Forney, & Keel, 2014). In this study, weight and shape preoccu- pation decreased among women who were exposed to Facebook; however, it also decreased among those who were exposed to a neutral website. Because the decrease in weight and shape preoc- cupation was greater for participants exposed to a control website than for participants exposed to Facebook, the authors concluded that Facebook usage maintains women’s preoccupation with their weight and shape compared to other Internet activity (Mabe et al., 2014). Further theoretically-driven experimental research is still needed to establish the causal impact of exposure to Facebook on evaluative aspects of body image, including body dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction with particular aspects of appearance.

Previous experimental research has found that exposure to more traditional types of media, such as magazines, can increase body image concerns in young women (Groesz et al., 2002; Halliwell, Malson, & Tischner, 2011; Knobloch-Westerwick & Crane, 2012; Tiggemann & McGill, 2004; Tiggemann & Polivy, 2010). Most previous research on magazine exposure has presented participants with a static image or advertisement of a thin-ideal model or celebrity before asking them to rate their state body dis- satisfaction (Myers & Crowther, 2009). Given that young women are now turning to Internet sources rather than print media (Bell & Dittmar, 2011; Tiggemann & Miller, 2010), and given that people are able to be more selective with the content viewed online, it is also important to examine the effect that this medium is having on women’s body image.

In addition to its impact on body dissatisfaction, exposure to thin-ideal media (e.g., magazines) also leads to more negative mood (Harper & Tiggemann, 2008; Tiggemann & McGill, 2004). Simi- larly, one study found that spending 20 min on Facebook lead to more negative mood than did browsing the Internet in general (not including social networking sites) or spending no time online (Sagioglou & Greitemeyer, 2014). Facebook itself, quite contro- versially, manipulated users’ newsfeeds and found that reducing the percentage of positive content posted by others resulted in users themselves posting less positive content (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014), perhaps because they were also in a more nega- tive mood. Taken together, these studies suggest that exposure to Facebook can potentially influence people’s mood as well as their body image concerns.

Comparison Targets

One difference between images on Facebook and images in mag- azines is the type of comparison targets they contain. Magazines generally feature images of models and celebrities whereas Face- book mainly features images of one’s peers (Hew, 2011). Similar to the effect of exposure to images of thin-ideal models and celebri- ties (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2004; Halliwell et al., 2011; Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2004), exposure to peers who closely match the thin ideal has been found to increase women’s body dissatisfaction (Krones, Stice, Batres, & Orjada, 2005). Some research examining the impact of appearance comparisons to these different target groups has shown that comparisons to peers and models can lead

to different outcomes in regard to women’s body image concerns, perhaps because the appearance of peers is seen to be more per- sonally attainable than the appearance of models or celebrities due to the similar resources and lifestyle that peers often have

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o oneself. However, the findings in the area are mixed (Carey, onaghue, & Broderick, 2013; Leahey & Crowther, 2008; Ridolfi, yers, Crowther, & Ciesla, 2011; Schutz, Paxton, & Wertheim,

002), and a meta-analysis of research on appearance comparisons nd body dissatisfaction found no significant difference between he effects of comparisons to peers or thin-ideal media images on omen’s body dissatisfaction (Myers & Crowther, 2009).

ace, Hair, and Skin Comparisons

The increasing use of social networking sites may also be hanging what components of appearance are salient during the ppearance comparison process. Whereas traditional media forms ave focused primarily on the body, women have been found to pload more portrait pictures than full-bodied pictures to their acebook profiles (Haferkamp et al., 2012), which would in turn rovide women with more opportunities to make face, skin, and air-related comparisons than body comparisons. Because more

requent facial comparisons may lead to more dissatisfaction with ne’s facial features, it is important to consider the potential impact f Facebook on broader appearance constructs beyond just weight- elated body dissatisfaction. Indeed, research suggests that facial eatures, skin, and hair are also important aspects of attractive- ess for women (Adams, 1977; Confer, Perilloux, & Buss, 2010; assebrauck, 1998; Jones, 2001; Tucker, 1985) and can be a basis for

ocial comparison (Jones, 2001; Newton & Minhas, 2005; Richins, 991).

oderation by Appearance Comparison Tendency

Another important consideration from previous research is that xposure effects of traditional media on women’s body image seem o be influenced by certain individual difference factors; that is, ot everyone is equally affected by exposure to media images. The endency to engage in appearance-related social comparisons has een found to influence the relationship between exposure to tradi- ional media and women’s body dissatisfaction (Keery et al., 2004; an den Berg et al., 2002; Vartanian & Dey, 2013). Specifically, omen who more frequently compare their appearance to others

re also more negatively affected by exposure to the media, rela- ive to women who do not make as many appearance comparisons Dittmar & Howard, 2004). Therefore, it is important to also con- ider how women’s appearance comparison tendency moderates heir reactions to Facebook.

he Present Study

The overall aims of the present study are to: (a) investigate he immediate effect of Facebook usage on women’s state mood, ody dissatisfaction, weight and shape discrepancy (i.e., the extent o which participants want to change specific aspects of their eight and shape), and face, hair, and skin-related discrepancy

i.e., the extent to which participants want to change specific spects of their facial features, hair, or skin); (b) investigate whether his effect differs from the use of an online fashion magazine r an appearance-neutral website; and (c) investigate whether rait appearance comparison tendency moderates these effects. We ypothesized that brief exposure to Facebook would lead to more egative mood, body dissatisfaction, weight and shape discrepancy, nd face, hair, and skin-related discrepancy than would exposure o an appearance-neutral control website. Similarly, we hypothe- ized that exposure to an online fashion magazine would lead to

ore negative mood, body dissatisfaction, weight and shape dis-

repancy, and face, hair, and skin-related discrepancy than would xposure to an appearance-neutral control website. Given that no revious research has examined the difference between exposure

ge 13 (2015) 38–45

to Facebook vs. a magazine (online or in print), and given that pre- vious research on comparisons to peers and models is mixed (Carey et al., 2013; Leahey & Crowther, 2008; Ridolfi et al., 2011; Schutz et al., 2002), no specific hypotheses were made regarding Facebook vs. the online fashion magazine. Finally, appearance comparison tendency was predicted to moderate the relationship between exposure to an assigned website (Facebook, online fashion mag- azine, control) and state negative mood, body dissatisfaction, and appearance discrepancies.



This was a two-part study with a between-participants experi- mental design. At Time 1, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions in which they were asked to browse one of the following websites for 10 min: their own Facebook account (n = 38; all participants had their own Facebook account), a fashion magazine website (n = 36), or an appearance-neutral control web- site (n = 38). Participants completed pre- and post-exposure state measures of negative mood and body dissatisfaction and a post- exposure state measure of appearance-discrepancy. One week later (Time 2), participants completed an online survey containing a trait measure of appearance comparison tendency.


Participants (N = 112) were female students and staff members aged between 17 and 25 years (M = 20.46, SD = 1.71) from a univer- sity in the United Kingdom. Participants’ mean body mass index (BMI: kg/m2) was 23.40 (SD = 4.18). The majority of the partici- pants identified as White (n = 84; 75%), 11 as Asian (9.8%), eight as Black (7.1%), four as mixed race (3.6%), and four as “other” (3.6%); ethnicity information was missing for two women. Partici- pants were recruited for a study on “Media Use and Memory.” They were recruited through the university psychology student partic- ipant pool and given course credit for their participation (n = 45), or were recruited through flyers posted around the university and paid 10 GBP for their participation (n = 67). There was no difference in age (p = .461) or BMI (p = .753) for participants assigned to each condition.


Pilot study. A pilot study was conducted to ensure that the websites used in each condition were equally engaging and to ensure that there were the same opportunities to make appear- ance comparisons on the magazine website as on Facebook. Eleven female volunteers made ratings of their Facebook accounts (in gen- eral, not just their own profile page) and four popular websites (candidate websites to be used in the magazine and control con- ditions) on measures of website engagement (including ratings of website interest and enjoyment) and image percentage (e.g., per- centage of images on each website as opposed to text). (Although demographic details were not collected from the volunteers, they were drawn from the same population as the sample for the main study, and would therefore be similar in age and ethnicity.) Of the piloted websites, the UK Cosmopolitan magazine website ( was chosen for the fashion magazine condition, and a home craft website ( was chosen for the appearance-neutral control condition.

There were no pairwise comparison differences between Face- book (M = 3.42, SD = 0.52), the Cosmopolitan website (M = 2.97, SD = 0.66), or the home craft website (M = 2.52, SD = 1.04), on a combined rating of engagement, interest, and enjoyment (1 = not

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t all, 4 = very much; ps > .05). Similarly, there were no pairwise omparison differences between Facebook (M = 67.27, SD = 11.91), he Cosmopolitan website (M = 60.00, SD = 17.32), or the home raft website (M = 75.45, SD = 11.28), on a rating of website image ercentage (as opposed to text; ps > .05). Furthermore, Facebook 83%) and the Cosmopolitan website (84%) did not differ in the ercentage of images containing people (p = .858), but both had ignificantly more images containing people than did the control ebsite (7%, ps < .001). Therefore, both Facebook and the fashion agazine website provided equal opportunities to make appear-

nce comparisons, whereas participants in the control condition ad little opportunity to make appearance comparisons. Partici- ants were also asked “What sort of women do you think featured

n the images on the website?” For the magazine website, all of the ilot participants (100%) indicated that it featured images of mod- ls or celebrities; for Facebook, all of the pilot participants (100%) ndicated that it featured images of their peers. (Note that, although articipants reported that Facebook mainly featured images of their eers, Facebook can also contain images of other potential tar- ets of appearance-based comparisons, such as celebrities or family embers; Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015.) Finally, participants were asked “How long do you think you

ould spend on the website whilst staying entertained?” for which articipants were provided with an open-ended response. On aver- ge, participants reported that they could spend around 30 min on acebook (M = 30.45, SD = 14.74), around 30 min on the magazine ebsite (M = 30.91, SD = 21.42), and around 15 min on the control ebsite (M = 15.00, SD = 13.37). In order to maintain consistency

cross conditions and to minimize the likelihood that participants ould lose interest in the task, we selected 10 min as the amount of

ime that participants would spend browsing their assigned web- ite.

State mood and body dissatisfaction. Following previous edia exposure studies (Heinberg & Thompson, 1995; Prichard

Tiggemann, 2012; Tiggemann & Slater, 2003), computer based isual analog scales (VAS) were used to measure state negative ood and body dissatisfaction both before and immediately after

rowsing the assigned website. Participants were asked to rate how hey feel “right now” by moving a vertical marker to the appropriate lace on a horizontal line with endpoints labeled “not at all” (0) and very much” (100). Participants rated the items depressed, anxious, ngry, confident (reverse coded), and happy (reverse coded), which ere combined to form an overall measure of negative mood (Cron-

ach’s ̨ = .71), and the items physically attractive (reverse coded), at, and satisfied with your body size and shape (reverse coded), which

ere combined to form a measure of state body dissatisfaction Cronbach’s ̨ = .74). Previous research has shown VAS to be a reli- ble measure of changes in mood and body dissatisfaction among ollege women (Heinberg & Thompson, 1995). To further disguise he purpose of the study and reduce the salience of the body related uestions, participants also reported on their satisfaction with their omantic relationship, satisfaction with their financial status, satis- action with their housing situation, and satisfaction with their social ife.

State appearance-discrepancy. The state version of the Self- iscrepancy Index (SDI; Dittmar, Beattie, & Friese, 1996; Halliwell

Dittmar, 2006) was used to measure weight and shape-related ppearance discrepancy as well as face, hair, and skin-related ppearance discrepancy. The SDI is an unobtrusive measure used o reduce demand characteristics previously found to be associ-

ted with experimental research examining exposure effects (Mills, olivy, Herman, & Tiggemann, 2002). Participants were asked to escribe three aspects of themselves that they would ideally like o change right now. For each aspect reported, on 5-point scales

ge 13 (2015) 38–45 41

participants were asked to rate how different they would like to be from what they actually are (magnitude; 1 = a little differ- ent, 5 = extremely different), and to indicate how important this difference is to them (psychological salience; 1 = not important, 5 = extremely important). The reported aspects were coded as weight and shape-related appearance if they explicitly referred to weight, body size or shape (e.g., “flatter stomach,” “thinner arms,” and “bigger breasts”), and were coded as face, hair, and skin-related appearance if they explicitly referred to aspects of the face, hair, or skin (e.g., “better complexion,” “longer and thicker hair,” and “level of tan”). Two independent raters (the first author and a research assistant) coded the responses for weight and shape- related and face, hair, and skin-related appearance discrepancies with a high level of inter-rater agreement (Kappa = .98). Any incon- gruities between raters were agreed upon after a discussion. For any weight and shape-related statement and face, hair and skin- related appearance statement, the magnitude and salience ratings were multiplied and then summed for each individual, giving a sin- gle score for each measure that ranged from 0 to 75, with higher scores indicating greater state weight and shape-related discrep- ancy or face, hair, and skin-related appearance discrepancy. The SDI has been validated in previous research with college women (e.g., Halliwell & Dittmar, 2006).

Trait appearance comparison tendency. The Upward and Downward Appearance Comparison Scale (UPACS/DACS; O’Brien et al., 2009) was used to measure participants’ tendency to compare their overall appearance with that of others. Participants indicated their level of agreement on a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) with 18 statements on comparisons to people who look better (upward comparison) or worse (downward com- parison) than themselves, such as “when I see good-looking people I wonder how I compare to them” and “I compare myself to peo- ple less good looking than me.” The UPACS/DACS has good internal consistency and construct validity among college women (O’Brien et al., 2009). Previous research has found that the upward appear- ance comparison and downward appearance comparison subscales of the UPACS/DACS are strongly and positively correlated with each other and with measures of body image concerns among college women (O’Brien et al., 2009; Vartanian & Dey, 2013). In addition, in the present study, the pattern of moderation was identical for upward and downward comparisons when analyzed separately. Given these findings, the UPACS and DACS were combined to form an overall appearance comparison tendency measure in the present study. Reliability of the combined measure in the present study was high (Cronbach’s ̨ = .92).


Participants were told that the study was an investigation into the influence of media use on memory. For Part 1 of the study, par- ticipants came into the laboratory and were tested in individual rooms. To add to the cover story and to reduce suspicion about pre- and post-exposure measures, participants were informed that they would be asked to report on their mood throughout the experiment because mood had previously been found to influence memory. After providing informed consent, participants completed the pre-exposure state VAS measure of negative mood and body dissatisfaction on the computer. They were then asked to browse their assigned website for 10 min. Participants were told they could view whatever they like on their assigned website but that they should not visit any other websites. Note that in order to

capture naturalistic viewing and maintain ecological validity, par- ticipants in the Facebook condition were asked to log into their Facebook account and browse Facebook in general, but they …