Sammy Nickalls
July 21, 2015 1:05 pm

Social media has received a lot of criticism for leading to poor self-esteem and self-worth. After all, it can be kind of rough to see everyone’s best moments showcased on the Internet for all to see. But a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine suggests that if it’s used the right way, Facebook can actually help you feel better about yourself, your body, and your image.

“We really wanted to examine how each college woman used Facebook when posting pictures online,” said Stephanie Zerwas, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and senior author of the study. “Is she thinking, ‘I’m posting this picture to share a fun moment with my friends’ or is she thinking ‘I want to post this picture to compare how my body looks to my friends’ bodies’?”

The study, published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, tested 128 college-aged women by having them complete a survey about their eating habits, according to Phys.org. Each subject was asked whether she tends to worry about her shape, size, and weight — and if she tended to participate in “risky behaviors,” such as purging after meals, fasting for the sake of weight loss, or using diet pills. Then, the researchers asked the women about their relationship with Facebook and use of the social media platform in their day-to-day life: their number of Facebook friends, the time spent on Facebook every day, and how the platform is incorporated in their life. They also asked a very important question: whether the subject would compare their friends’ bodies in online pictures to their own body.

The researchers did, indeed, find that social media can harm body image in women and girls, leading to disordered eating. Often, when the college-aged women had a stronger emotional investment in Facebook, they were more likely to compare bodies in pictures, thus leading to aforementioned risky behaviors.

The twist? That’s not always the case. The researchers discovered a surprising development in their research: women with a strong emotional connection to Facebook were often less concerned about their body size and shape, leading to less fewer risky dieting behaviors. . . as long as the emotional connection wasn’t rooted in comparison.

“I think that Facebook could be an amazing tool to nurture social support and connections with friends and families,” Dr. Zerwas explained, according to Phys.org. “And if you’re getting that kind of social support from the site, you might be less likely to be worried about your body size. But if you’re using it as a measuring stick to measure how your body appears in pictures compared to your friend’s body, Facebook could also be used a tool to foster dangerous dieting behavior.”

Although social media is often blamed for self-esteem blows, it looks like those accusations aren’t always fair. The takeaway from this study, in a nutshell: If used the right way, social media can help women to feel confident and sure of themselves. . . as long as they’re using it in a healthy way.

“While conducting this study, I couldn’t help but identify with the women in the study. It led me to examine my own social media habits,” said first author of the study and college student Morgan Walker, BS, according to Phys.org. “How do I spend my time on Facebook, and is it healthy for me?”

As Walker points out, being aware of this relationship between Facebook, comparisons, and self-esteem can help fight feelings of inadequacy. “Having this research in the forefront of my mind made it easier to redirect my focus if I found myself falling into the trap of online physical or social comparisons,” Walker said. “It’s also important to remember that one’s social media image is only an edited snapshot of their life, one that is likely not as perfect as it appears online.”

Hear, hear. So, ladies, remember while you’re surfing on Facebook — you are beautiful and fabulous. Don’t compare yourself to ANYBODY, because you’re perfect just the way you are. If you remember this, Facebook can actually help you be happier and healthier.

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