Effect of Instagram on Adolescent Female Self-Esteem

Today, social media can be seen anywhere and used everywhere. Social media is extremely popular, with 86% of 18–29-year-old individuals accessing social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter (Sung, Lee, Kim, & Choi, 2016). Taking and sharing selfies have become common with the advent of various smart devices and social media. In fact, SNSs have become the most commonly accessed websites on the Internet (Kalnes 2013). Sure, social media has positive factors, such as being an advocate for self-expression, creativity, and new friendships, but it is also known to have negative factors as well. In previous studies, social media is shown to be correlated to cyber-bulling and mental health issues, but how does this fit into the Instagram app specifically?

Instagram is a free popular social media/social networking app that was formed on October 6, 2010 by two Stanford graduates, Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom. The purpose of the app is to allow its users to upload and share photos, videos, and memes with their family, friends, and followers. Some of the app’s features include: direct messaging, instagram stories (similar to snapchat and facebook stories), and most recently, instagram questions. Although Instagram encourages/allows self-expression and self-identity, it also brings anxiety, body dysmorphia, and low self- esteem. According to TimeHealth.com, “Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing, according to a recent survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults…Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect” (Macmillian 2017).

This research study is of importance because social media, specifically Instagram, has put pressures on teenagers and adults to fit into what society portrays as beautiful and perfect, these outside influences have lead to eating disorders and health issues. Whether they are teens, adults, or grandparents, hundreds of different people are exposed to and use this app religiously. If hundreds of people use this app in their everyday lives, there has to be some kind of negative effect somewhere, right? According to TimeHealth.com, constantly using the Instagram app can promote and enable a ‘compare and despair’ attitude. They go on to say, “Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem” (Macmillian 2017). We live in a world where people constantly seek approval, compare themselves to a false reality, and copy exactly what others are doing to gain acceptance from them. This study aims to show the correlation between Instagram and examine its negative effects on female users.

Review of Literature

Photo-Sharing and The Selfie

With today’s generation, selfies have become a phenomenon. There is even a selfie-taking tool, the selfie stick, which aids the user in taking the perfect picture. According to Oxford Dictionaries, Selfies refer to pictures of oneself, taken by oneself. Thanks to social media apps like Instagram, selfies, photography, and photo-sharing have since gained major popularity. Winter (2014) states that “more than 17 million photos and selfies are uploaded to social media each week, and “photo-sharing social networking sites (SNSs) have created a ‘selfie-craze’” (Lee & Sung, 2016, p. 347). Todays generation prioritizes technology above most things and has a constant need to update others on their life via social media, but sharing photos online soon becomes less about updating and more about impressing. With today’s technology, media has created certain features which allows its users to easily manipulate pictures before posting them online. Some examples of manipulation would be the use of Photoshop and the face filters provided by Snapchat.

Social Comparison

Previous research has shown that when using Instagram, people tend to start comparing themselves with their friends’ posts. According to Chou and Edge (2012), “although social media helps individuals to stay updated about what is going on with their friends’ life events, exposing too much content that friends have posted on social media can inevitably trigger individuals to compare themselves with their friends, eventually leading to envy.” Social comparison amongst others is a negative effect of Instagram use because people soon become jealous of others and began to alter reality to impress others, which paves the way towards the idea of body dissatisfaction.

Charoensukmongkol (2017) conducted a study that displayed results which showed that teenagers, majority female, are “in the age group that highly deploys social media for self-presentation to impress others.” When posting images online for the world to see, individuals choose pictures that make them look amazing, and people seem to post pictures on social-networking sites (SNSs) that often tend to stretch the truth (Charoensukmongkol, 2017). When referring back to Chou and Edge’s (2012) definition of envy, teenagers exposed to favorable life events that friends may have posted, in order to create impressions and a persona on social media, can increase social comparisons and negative emotions, causing them to feel envious of what they view from their friends’ posts.

Self-Esteem. Self-esteem is generally defined as the way individuals feel about themselves, and an individuals’ attitude toward themselves as a whole. Low self-esteem is a lack of respect for oneself, with feelings of unworthiness, inadequacies and deficiencies, which have been associated with “negative psychosocial outcomes such as body image disturbance” (Ahadzadeh et al., 2017). Depending on how someone views themselves determines their personal self-esteem. When viewing photos on Instagram, users with little to no confidence in their appearance are subject to having low/lower self-esteem because of self-consciousness and self-comparing. Females, typically, tend to compare each other online which causes dissatisfaction with their own appearances, lowering their self-esteem (Kalnes et al., 2013). Ahadzadeh’s (2017) study even goes on to state that self-esteem is the mediator between self-schema and self-discrepancy.

Self-Perception. In today’s society, positive self-perception is a constant struggle for some individuals because the media only shows us an airbrushed, polished version of beauty. Females from all over the world are subject to societal pressures on looking a certain type of way because the media alters and morphs beauty into its own definition. Media content mainly include images portraying the thinness for women and muscular body for men as physical beauty, desirable and ideal traits (Wasylkiw, Emms, Meuse, & Poirier, 2009). The increase of these types of images in conventional media such as glossy magazines and television programs are portrayed as standard and achievable. However, Harrison (2009) states, “since it is practically tough to achieve the ideal body, the internalization of its respective norms might lead to negative body image.” Nowadays, as mentioned before, we can digitally alter ourselves through Photoshop and
apps such as Perfect365, producing our own notions of whats normal. Not only do we critique our bodies in mirrors, but now we can digitize our body dysmorphia by virtually modifying what we dislike, creating “perfect” selves instead. Coy-Dibley (2016) emphasizes that as the age of digitized beauty progresses, alongside a growing personal capacity to technologically modify our there is a greater need for discussion as to how this is affecting women’s relationship to their bodies. Andsager (2014) concluded that engaging in appearance-related activities, such as posting photos of oneself and one’s friends, was associated with increased weight dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, internalization of appearance ideals, and self-objectification.

When online, people are evaluated and valued based mostly on their appearance rather than internal qualities. With this statement, Andsager proposes two theories: the sociocultural theory and the objectification theory. The sociocultural theory proposes that media can encourage women to internalize the beauty ideal and engage in appearance-based social comparisons with the women in such imagery (media’s beauty standard). Beauty ideals for women pertain to body features such as being slender, toned, and facial features such as having smooth skin, large eyes, slim face, and full lips. As this beauty ideal becomes important, yet can almost never be achieved, women may experience a negative body image. Andsager (2014) showed that the relationship between SNS use and a more negative body image was mediated by “appearance-based social comparisons and internalization of appearance ideals, supporting the sociocultural theory.”

The objectification theory proposes that living in a society in which women are viewed and evaluated based predominantly on their appearance can encourage girls and women to engage in self-objectification (Lindberg, Hyde, & McKinley, 2006). In turn, self-objectification can foster a negative body image. A body-focused view of the female body results in experiencing objectified body consciousness, which ties to having low self-esteem and negative emotions regarding their body, such as being ashamed of it (Wood 2016). Digitized dysmorphia occurs when an individual is unsatisfied with their body and manifests through the digital image, as the altering of supposedly undesirable parts of the self through modifying and fixing the visual and virtual appearance of an individual’s self through apps.

Mental Health. Through the use of Instagram, appearance becomes an important aspect of life. When differences between actual and ideal self-image become apparent, cognitive incongruence results in negative image and unhappiness with their body. Women’s bodies have long been the subject of scrutiny, but anorexia nervosa and other disordered eating behaviors emerged as one of the most prominent health problems for girls and young women (Coy-Dibley, 2016). It was – and still is – appropriate that girls and young women have been the focus of research on the media’s role in shaping body image and possibly contributing to disordered eating behaviors. Body dissatisfaction and its possible outcomes such as disordered eating behaviors are serious, complex problems.



The participants recruited for this research study were 50 females aged between 13 and 25 years from the Southern California, Los Angeles area. The majority of participants identified as Caucasion/White (55%), with 25.5% Hispanic, 13% Asian, and 7% ‘Other’. Teenage participants (25 females, age range: 13-17) and the adults (25 females, age range: 18-25) were recruited by an advertisement for the study that was posted on social media (Instagram, twitter, facebook, etc.). After participating in this study, the participants were not only thanked, but they were also compensated $5.


A between-subjects experimental design was used to determine/observe the effect of Instagram usage (selfies, followers, comments, etc.) on the dependent variables of self-esteem, body- dissatisfaction, narcissism, and social comparison.

Materials and Procedures

By responding to the study’s advertisement that was posted online, the participants were asked to be interviewed individually where they would be asked a variety of questions and shown 15 images that were retrieved randomly from Instagram to spark a reaction from the participants. The images needed for this research study are professional model images, flashy celebrity images, images of thin girls, tall/short girls, and places of travel. During the interview, a variety of questions regarding the social media application (and the feelings/thoughts that ensue while using the application) will be asked. Some of the questions that will be asked are: “How many hours a day do you find yourself on Instagram”, “Do you find yourself checking the amount of followers you have constantly”, “Will you avoid liking a picture on Instagram because you are envious of that person”, “How many selfies do you post a week and how many of those selfies are edited or altered in any way”, “Do you feel better when you edit your photos and if so, why?” When all participants are gathered, one person will be asked to go inside the testing room where the interviews are taking place and, once the interview is over, that same person will advance to the image study while the rest wait outside the room. The image portion of the test will display images that usually attract envy and the participants will be asked to honestly describe what they see, how the pictures make them feel, etc. The study itself will take the participant no longer than 30 minutes to complete.

Sample Size, Power, and Precision

The total sample size of this study is 50 females to which half are teenagers and the other half are adults. Even though there will be two testing rooms, all participants will be asked to complete both tests (the interview and image portion). Within this study, two different age groups were selected to provide results with multiple views/perspectives. By having growing teenagers and already grown adults, we will be able to display the varying results from the test on a spectrum that will show us which age groups feel which way.

Measures and Covariates

The methods used in this study are in-person interviews and observation.

Experimental Manipulations or Interventions

The image portion of the test was an experimental manipulation that is supposed to cause the participants to react, whether that be in a positive or negative way. The images would be displayed and the participant will be asked to state how the images make them feel. For example, a photo might be shown of one of the Kardashians surrounded around name brand clothes and money, or a photo might be shown of those who have had work done but yet are seen as “natural and beautiful”. The point of this test is to receive honest thoughts and feelings from the participant while browsing through photos posted Instagram. Previous studies have correlated low-self esteem and body dissatisfaction which is why this test is a good follow up.


When building this research proposal, I based the procedure heavily on the literature review and previous studies. The literature review focused mainly on how the Instagram application made its users feel and emphasized on the negative effects of it. Based off that information, I decided to do a qualitative study where I can focus on individual groups when doing the research and be involved in the interview process as much as possible. With this study, I decide to use a female population because previous research showed females to be more vulnerable and susceptible to the negative effects mentioned. I made the decision to have 50 subjects, where half of the subjects were in the ‘adolescent, growing up/puberty’ stage and the other half of subjects were already young adults. I made the decision the split the age groups like this so that way we can have more finite/reasonable results. For example, if majority of the adolescent subject were victims of Instagram’s negative usage effects, then we’d probably make the connection that those feelings coincided with growing up. For the procedure itself, I decided to do interviews and pictures to have a wide spectrum of results/answers instead of ‘yes or no’ answers. With the picture portion of the test, we’d be able to get actual feedback and results that had to do with emotion and feeling, that would later allow us to better understand the situation and the user.


As with all studies, there were some limitations that made themselves known. First, although the sample chosen contained a variety of mixed races, it consisted of individuals who were not only young, but primarily females. Thus, the findings from the study may not generalize to other or older groups of females who’ve lived more than a quarter of their life. Second, the study did not take place in a natural setting, it took place in a ‘testing room’ setting. Therefore, some answers from the participants might not have been honest or natural feelings since they weren’t in their natural environment (i.e they knew they were being watched and tested on for reason). The next steps of this research should be to redo the process for this study but focus on a more grown-up/mature group of subjects, as well as including men in the subject participation. By focusing on an older group, one might find more accurate/new results on negative behavior instead of solely blaming that behavior to puberty.

Works Cited

  • Ahadzadeh, P. S., & Ong. (2017). Self-schema and self-discrepancy mediate the influence of instagram usage on body image satisfaction among youth. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 8-16.
  • Albooshi, A., Burriss, L., Asthana, S., & Farewell, T. (2015). Self-Esteem Levels & Selfies: The Relationship between Self-Esteem Levels and the Number of Selfies People Take and Post, and the Uses and Gratifications of Taking and Posting Selfies, ProQuest Disserations and Theses.
  • Andsager, J. (2014). Research Directions in Social Media and Body Image. Sex Roles, 71(11), 407-413.
  • Barry, C., Doucette, H., Loflin, D., Rivera-Hudson, N., Herrington, L., & Sumerson, Joanne Broder. (2017). “Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 6(1), 48-60
  • Charoensukmongkol, P. J.(2018). The Impact of Social Media on Social Comparison and Envy in Teenagers: the Moderating Role of the Parent Comparing Children and In-group Competition among Friends. Journal of Child and Family Studies. Volume 27, Issue 1, pp. 69-79.https://doi-org.jpllnet.sfsu.edu/10.1007/s10826-017-0872-8
  • Coy-Dibley I (2016) “Digitised dysmorphia” of the female body: the re/disfigurement of the image. Palgrave Communications. 2:16040 doi: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.40.
  • Kalnes, K., McClary, Susan, Alkins, Kimberly, and Dereshiwsky, Mary. (2013). Influence of Social Media Use on Adolescent Females’ Perceptions of Their Body Image, ProQuest Disserations and Theses.
  • Lee, J. A., & Sung, Y. (2016). Hide-and-seek: Narcissism and “selfie”-related behavior. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19, 347–351.doi:10.1089/ cyber.2015.0486
  • March, E., & McBean, T. (2018). New evidence shows self-esteem moderates the relationship between narcissism and selfies. Personality and Individual Differences, 130, 107. doi: 10.1016/2018.03.053
  • Nesi, J., & Prinstein, M. (2018). In Search of Likes: Longitudinal Associations Between Adolescents’ Digital Status Seeking and Health-Risk Behaviors. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 1-9.
  • Perloff, R. (2014). Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research. Sex Roles, 71(11), 363-377.
  • Prieler, M., & Choi, J. (2014). Broadening the Scope of Social Media Effect Research on Body Image Concerns. Sex Roles, 71(11), 378-388.
  • Shin, Kim, Im, & Chong. (2017). Selfie and self: The effect of selfies on self-esteem and social sensitivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 111, 139-145. doi: 10.1016/2017.02.004
  • Veldhuis, J., Alleva, Jessica M., Bij de Vaate, A.J.D., Keijer, M.G., Konijn, E.A., Communication Choices, Content Consequences, . . . Communication Science. (2018). Me, My Selfie, and I: The Relations Between Selfie Behaviors, Body Image, Self-Objectification, and Self-Esteem in Young Women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1-17. doi:10.1037/ppm0000206
  • Winter, K. (2014, March26). We’re all selfie-obsessed! Over 17 million self-portraits uploaded to social media every week-with over-55s taking more than those ages 18–24
  • Wood, M., Bukowski, A., & Lis, W. (2016). The Digital Self: How Social Media Serves as a Setting that Shapes Youth’s Emotional Experiences. Adolescent Research Review, 1(2), 163-173.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:


Leave a Reply