Assessing the impacts of Instagram body image ideals on the health & well-being of adolescent girls and young women

Public Health Dissertation Prize Winner


  • Simone McKenna


Body image, Instagram, Media, Social media, Fitspiration, Feminine beauty ideals, eating disorders, mental health, body dissatisfaction, gender inequalities, health & wellbeing


Identified by the Royal Society for Public Health (2017) as the most harmful of all main social media platform for young people’s mental health, Instagram has 1 billion followers worldwide and hosts posted content that promotes idealised and manipulated body images, while posters compete for followers in response to the images. The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee’s findings for 2019/2021 indicate 95% of young people in the UK use Instagram, with 65% of girls under 18 believing there is an ‘ideal body type’ and only 5% of that age group saying they would not change any feature of their appearance. Meanwhile, Instagram’s own internal findings highlight the increased rates of anxiety and depression in 32% of teenage girls as a result of its externalized body image ideals (Raychoudhury, 2019). This literature review explores the idealisations of unrealistic and unhealthy female body image via the social media platform Instagram. It examines the issue of Female Body Image from a Public Health perspective through a broader, socioecological lens incorporating it with psychological standpoints, and in the contexts of history and sociocultural pressures as exacerbated by the mass reach, and visual and comparative features, of social media. The review analyses and quantifies the impact of Instagram body image ideals on the physical, emotional and mental health and well-being of adolescent girls and young women and exposes this as a major public health concern (Instagram, 2019; Frier, 2021; Heger 2020). It furthermore assesses various public health responses, concludes that the effectiveness of these is uneven and the need remains to address these issues from a well-informed, authentic public health perspective that can equip girls and young women to recognize the harmful and inauthentic nature of the Instagram body image. The review recommends improvements including: campaigns to promote more positive and diverse health-related internal traits and combat self-objectification; the inclusion of primary age children in educational health initiatives; collaboration between medical professionals, legislators, and the body positive movements; and further regulation of media images and encouragement of a more diverse range of female bodies represented in the public eye.