An interview study exploring the impact of social media on Liverpool university students’ feelings and attitudes towards body image


  • Eoin Geehan


body image, body satisfaction, body comparison, body surveillance, body standards, social comparison, self-enhancement, self-improvement, self-esteem, behaviour, idealised, thin, skinny, muscular, mental health, social media, algorithm, Instagram, LGBTQ , photo-editing, public health, government, qualitative, Stunkard, scroll-back, exposure, fear of missing out (FOMO)


Posting one’s body on social media has become a ubiquitous activity, and previous research suggests the abundance of ideal bodies on social media can lower self-esteem and body satisfaction levels, as well as increase body comparison among those viewing them. Despite the high levels of body dissatisfaction in the United Kingdom (UK), there are very few interventions to help combat this problem. The aim of this qualitative study was to investigate the impact of social media on Liverpool university students’ thoughts and feelings towards body image. Semi-structured interviews with eight students at university in Liverpool were conducted and analysed thematically. Key findings from the study were how and why people compared their bodies to others, what the ideal body looked like for participants, which platform this occurs on mostly and the impact comparisons to ideal bodies on social media has on the participants’ mental health.Both male and female participants felt exposed to ideal bodies online, particularly on Instagram. This was supported through the scroll-back method which evidenced images of ‘attractive’ male and female bodies that participants are exposed to daily. Ideal body types varied with gender and sexuality. Participants felt their exposure to the ideal body caused high levels of social comparison and pressure to self-enhance their own bodies using editing applications, or sometimes even physically, by dieting and exercising. Comparing their bodies caused them to feel distressed, and experience poor mental health. Some students made attempts to reduce their exposure by lowering their social media use and thus had a more positive mental outlook. These results allowed the researcher to come up with recommendations to tackle this public health issue, including educational interventions in schools and universities to help young people foster a positive body image early on in life, improvements with social media algorithms, and building on the current research surrounding gay male’s body standards online and fear of missing out (FOMO) in the context of body image.