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Young women feel social media pressure over appearance

Women with many Instagram followers particularly experience appearance-related pressure, a Finnish study finds.

Vaikka omat kuvat olisivat kuinka suosittuja, Instagramissa niistä saa palkkioksi vain näkyvyyttä.
Women with more than 200 followers on Instagram were more likely to say they felt pressure about the way they look than those with fewer followers. Image: Mostphotos

Twenty percent of women and ten percent of men who use Instagram feel that social media platforms cause them to feel pressured about their appearance, according to a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Turku.

The study looked at how people in Finland are affected by appearance-related pressures on social networking sites, according to researcher Erica Åberg and economic sociology teacher Aki Koivula, both from the research study team.

For the study, the researchers interviewed around 3,700 males and females aged 18-74, aiming to see the differences in pressure felt by women and men - as well as the difference between users of the photo sharing site Instagram and the social media platform Facebook.

The likelihood that someone felt such pressure was five percentage points higher for those who used Instagram than those who only used Facebook, according to the researchers.

The study found that the biggest difference between people's actual lives and the virtual ones on social media - or more accurately if they have a large number of followers - still does not appear to protect them from anxious feelings about their appearance.

The study actually found the opposite was true. Women with more than 200 followers on Instagram were more likely to say they felt pressure about the way they look than those with fewer followers.

The researchers said the reason is that women with increasing numbers of followers said they felt they were being compared to other women. However, the age of the person in question also appears to play an important role.

About half of women aged 18-24 said they felt pressured about their appearance while just one-third of females aged 25-34 said the same.

While Instagram is actually a Facebook property, the two sites are quite different. Instagram is a much more visual platform with people often sharing selfies and also often offers a broader social network than its parent company's platform.

Photo filters don't cover up feelings

According to the researchers, previous studies have shown that an ability to edit and retouch photos does not help women with insecurities they may have about their appearance. Actually, the opposite was found to be true - in such cases, women were more likely to notice aspects of their appearance they were not happy about.

"It could also be that people feel they are 'fooling' their followers by editing selfies. Then they feel like the likes and comments they get simply confirm their [actual] appearance is lacking," Åberg said.

"Taking a closer look, there are also many ways to challenge norms and reduce appearance-related pressures found on social media," she explained.

While the vast majority of users often portray what they think is most attractive on social media, a few have turned the practice on its head, instead showing the hidden realities behind ideal Instagram posts. For example, Australian comic Celeste Barber has garnered around 6.9 million followers with her parodies of “perfect” Instagram model poses.

The study, "A feminine burden of perfection? Appearance-related pressures on social networking sites," was published in Telematics and Informatics, an interdisciplinary journal concentrating on the cultural impacts of digital technologies.

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