social sciences

Self-perception and body image

In a highly visual world where ‘the media’ represents specific body types it might be difficult for certain people to build self-esteem. Certain groups might be more susceptible to this, such as teenagers, as their need to belong and fit in might be stronger.

Mental health
Self-perception influences one’s mental health. This relationship has been studied by researchers before. They found a link between how one perceived their weight status and depressive symptoms (1). This effect was also found to be stronger for women.

However, this does not mean that men do not deal with body image issues. In an article from 2004, researchers looked at body dissatisfaction among college men. They found that the men judged themselves to be fatter than they actually were. Though, these men also perceived themselves to be more muscular than they were. Though, they pointed out that they would like to be more muscular than they actually are. The researchers speculate that men are under more pressure to be more muscular due to contemporary media pressures. In this study, females were also asked to describe their preferred body type for males. The findings of the study highlights a discrepancy between what women want and what men think women want. Men assumed women want a man who is much leaner and muscular than the women in the study indicated (2).

‘Elastic’ body image
Researchers have created different models of body image. An article from 1992 describes a model that considers women’s body image, which is influenced by content on TV. This model contains different body images, including: society’s deal body, the internalized ideal body, current body image, and the objective body shape. To test their model, female participants were asked to watch specific imagery. The perception of one’s own body can change after being exposed to only half an hour of television (3).


  1. Ali, M. M., Fang, H., & Rizzo, J. A. (2010). Body weight, self-perception and mental health outcomes among adolescents. The journal of mental health policy and economics, 13(2), 53-63.
  2. Olivardia, R., Pope Jr, H. G., Borowiecki III, J. J., & Cohane, G. H. (2004). Biceps and body image: the relationship between muscularity and self-esteem, depression, and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of men & masculinity, 5(2), 112.
  3. Myers, P. N., & Biocca, F. A. (1992). The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women. Journal of communication, 42(3), 108-133.
social media

Facebook and mental health

Facebook has been available to the general public since 2006. Since this time there have been many studies on the effects of Facebook on individual’s mental states. There have also been studies on how personality traits can influence internet use. Facebook is a new environment where people can socialize, this space, which is considerably different from face-to-face communication, can have disparate implications.

One of the major arguments people use when criticizing social media is the idea that it might replace real life interactions. However, this concern seems to be ungrounded, as the opposite is more likely to be true. People still engage in face-to-face interactions, and on top of that communicate through the use of an internet connection. Thus the amount spent socializing has actually increased.
Another issue which is often discussed is that Facebook does not mimic a setting close to real life interaction. Which, at face value, is very likely to be true. First of all, the average amount of Facebook friends is 150. This is not just an arbitrary number, this is referred to as the Dunbar number. Based on our cognitive capacities humans are limited to maintaining this number of relationships.
Third, the content that is shared and posted doesn’t always match the discussed content in real life. For instance, people seem to be more likely to share their positive milestones and experiences. Entering such a space, from a hypothetical standpoint, could affect your mental state. People might start to feel like negative emotions or occurrences are unusual, and from this they will infer that something is wrong with them.

Moreno et al. (2011) looked at depressive symptoms displayed on Facebook profiles of college students. In order to identify these symptoms, they used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is a book used by many different professionals, including psychologists, to recognize mental disorders. For this study, they used the criteria of a major depressive episodeThey found that 25% of the profiles they studied disclosed symptoms of depression. And 2.5% displayed symptoms of an actual major depressive episode. The authors of this article refer to suicide in relation to Facebook being a much talked about topic in the media nowadays. Recently a teen took her own life while broadcasting this using the Facebook Live tool. Because of such events and the fact that Facebook users do sometimes display symptoms online, the researchers opt for identifying those at risk and making sure they receive further clinical evaluation.

Krasnova et al. looked at envy on Facebook. They asked respondents what kind of reasons others might have for experiencing negative emotions using this social media site. And one of the most picked reasons was envy, or upward social comparison. Afterward the participants had to indicate what exactly could elicit such feelings, with travel and leisure being the top reason. They also find that 20% of the times people felt envious, it was elicited by Facebook use.

Kim and Lee (2011) looked at self-reported well-being and Facebook. They posited that the amount of Facebook friends could be associated with people’s well-being. And that is exactly what they found in their sample of college students, more friends mean higher well-being. This wasn’t because they perceive more social support but according to the researchers it is more likely to be an enhancement of self-worth.
In terms of social support, they find a  negative curvilinear association with the amount of friends. Most likely due to the fact that maintaining a few close relationships is important for social support, and that the number of friends is not important in this regard.
Positive self-presentation on Facebook also positively influences people’s well-being. The authors point out that people like having positive feelings about themselves, and that presenting yourself in such a way can increase your subjective well-being.

Dunbar, R. I. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of human evolution, 22(6), 469-493.

Kim, J., & Lee, J. E. R. (2011). The Facebook paths to happiness: Effects of the number of Facebook friends and self-presentation on subjective well-being. CyberPsychology, behavior, and social networking, 14(6), 359-364.

Krasnova, H., Wenninger, H., Widjaja, T., & Buxmann, P. (2013). Envy on Facebook: A hidden threat to users’ life satisfaction?.

Moreno, M. A., Jelenchick, L. A., Egan, K. G., Cox, E., Young, H., Gannon, K. E., & Becker, T. (2011). Feeling bad on Facebook: depression disclosures by college students on a social networking site. Depression and anxiety, 28(6), 447-455.