A week off social media boosts young women's self-esteem

A week off social media boosts young women’s self-esteem

/ 10:21 AM July 06, 2024
Daily use of social networking sites is detrimental to young women's self-esteem and body image, according to a Canadian study.
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Daily use of social networking sites is detrimental to young women’s self-esteem and body image, according to a Canadian study. But their perceptions could be improved by stepping away from social media for even a week.

Worldwide, 4.6 billion people use social networks on a daily basis, with women aged between 18 and 29 accounting for the highest number of users. In this context, research from York University in Canada highlights the harmful effects this use can have on the self-esteem and body image of young women. However, all it takes is a week’s break to see a reversal in these effects, scientists say.

The study, published in the journal Body Image, involved 66 female participants aged 17 to 24, divided into two groups. Thirty-four of them were instructed not to visit social networks for a week, while the other 32 were instructed to continue using them as usual. The difference between the two groups was clear, the researchers conclude.

“Young women who took a social media break for as little as one week had a significant boost in self-esteem and body image — particularly those most vulnerable to thin-ideal internalization,” explains a news release accompanying the study.

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Psychology professor and coauthor of the paper, Jennifer Mills, says that there were “still significant differences between the groups after one week,” even when taking into account people’s natural variability in how they feel about their bodies.

The study demonstrates the influence of social networks on appearance-related anxiety, the quest for thinness and the potential eating disorders that can be associated with this. And women appear to be more greatly affected than men.

Indeed, the scientists cite previous research in which “improvements in life satisfaction and positive affect were reported by women, but not men, who took a one-week break from Instagram.”

These findings support the idea that women, especially young women, can be particularly affected by the pressure of idealized body images conveyed by social networks.

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However, “if we’re spending more time in real life, socializing with friends, getting sleep, getting outdoors, getting exercise, there could be secondary behaviors that fill the void left by social media,” explains Jennifer Mills.

“We hope this study can be used to help protect young people and influence social media companies to give users more agency in how they interact with these platforms,” she concludes.

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