Facebook stalking is real, people, and it has real effects on your body image. A new study has found that Facebook usage is positively correlated with a tendency to compare appearances with peers and engage in self-objectification (viewing your body as an object to be gazed upon). Both of these outcomes can lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.
Researchers in Australia surveyed 150 women between the ages of 17 and 25 to determine what types of media they were consuming and which ones made them feel bad about their own bodies. Unsurprisingly, participants spent roughly 2 hours a day on Facebook. During this time, they would compare their appearance to images of themselves, their close friends and peers (not celebrities or family members, for the most part).
Participants were also asked about their time on the Internet overall, as well as their television, music video and fashion magazine consumption patterns. The only media that led to body comparisons and self-objectification were Facebook and fashion magazines.
So why worry about Facebook when fashion mags are touting size zero celebrities and models as the beauty ideal? For one, magazine usage is on the decline while Facebook continues to take up an increasing amount of our screen time -- over 10 million new photos are uploaded to Facebook every hour.
Plus, unlike magazines, Facebook allows users to click between photos of seemingly "perfect" peers and photos of themselves in an instant. Barring a new Facebook algorithm that alerts you when friends go up and down dress sizes, it couldn't be easier to compare yourself to that friend of yours who's mastered the strategic hand-on-hip pose.
Interestingly, the researchers argue that friends may make us feel worse about our own bodies simply because they're not celebrities or models (well, probably). Most people agree that the stars in magazines are a sample of the population that are either super-human or airbrushed beyond the realm of reality. But binging on photos of a peer can be particularly detrimental to body image since, as the researchers stated, "their appearance might be perceived as attainable enough to serve as relevant targets of comparison but also unattainable enough to still influence how women evaluate their own appearance."
Of course, these are all correlational findings. It's impossible to tell from this research if Facebook scrolling is causing all of this self-objectification or if women who are prone to self-objectify simply spend more time on the social network.
Either way, it might be a good idea to temper your Facebook stalking habits if you're feeling a little less-than-perfect. Or at the very least, go into it with the full knowledge of what clicking through hundreds of photos of a high school acquaintance's honeymoon in Bali will likely do to you.
This study was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.