Low Self-Esteem? Blame It On Your Friends

April 23rd 2015

Laura Donovan

A new paper in the Psychology of Women Quarterly finds women are more likely to compare themselves to magazine and Facebook photos than images they see online, on TV, and in music videos. 

"Our research shows that spending more time reading magazines and on Facebook is associated with greater self-objectification among young women and these relationships are influenced by women's tendency to compare their appearance to others, particularly to peers on Facebook," researchers said, according to Science Daily

The researchers concluded that women tend to compare photos of themselves to older personal images and current pictures of their peers. The study noted that magazines can provoke similar negative feelings among women, however, magazines are read less frequently than Facebook posts. 

"Furthermore, self-comparisons to images of a previous self might engender a greater focus on specific body parts, also contributing to self-objectification," the researchers said. "Young women report spending long periods of time on Facebook and this research highlights some of the potential negative influences that Facebook may have on how young women view their body."

What too much Facebook time does to your self-esteem

Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed during a Q2 earnings call that Americans spend roughly 40 minutes on Facebook per day. All this time on social media can increase feelings of isolation, "fear of missing out" (FOMO), and jealousy. Cara Reedy, a blogger for CNN Money, wrote earlier this year that Facebook can be hard for her as a middle aged individual, who constantly checks the platform. 

"I have come to the conclusion that Facebook is a lifestyle magazine featuring my friends, who are doing it better than me," Reedy wrote. "My only consolation is sometimes my friends confuse 'there,' 'their' and 'they're' in their posts about their lovely vacations and darling children. Then suddenly, I feel a little bit better about myself."

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Missouri found that Facebook can cause users to experience envy, also a sign of insecurity and low self-esteem.

"[I]f Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship—things that cause envy among users—use of the site can lead to feelings of depression," Margaret Duffy, a professor and chair of strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism, said in a release regarding the study. "Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect."

Why it's important to take Facebook posts with a grain of salt

Edson Tandoc, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in the University of Missouri study that it's important to keep in mind the kind of content people are willing to share on their social media platforms. Though some use Facebook as an opportunity to rant and complain, many only post about the positive aspects of their lives -- an incomplete portrait of how things are really going.

"Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation in using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would only post positive things about themselves," Edson said in a release. "This self-awareness, hopefully, can lessen feelings of envy."

This brings to mind a recent light-hearted BuzzFeed post titled "If We Were Honest On Instagram," which features a selfie of author Lara Parker above the caption, "I took 23 pictures before I decided this one would be the one posted."

Last fall, "New Girl" star Zooey Deschanel posted a makeup-free photo of herself on Twitter to send the message that even celebrities aren't glamorous all of the time. Last week, supermodel Chrissy Teigen posted a photo of her stretch marks on Instagram for the same reason. 

If users remember this while perusing seemingly perfect Facebook feed photos, they might be less inclined to pine for the lives, looks, and experiences of their Facebook friends. As for envying former versions of oneself? The only way to move is forward. The researchers involved in this recently published study made recommendations for women who find themselves negatively impacted by friends' photos or past images of themselves. Share fewer personal photos on Facebook and unfollow those who constantly post snapshots on the social media platform.