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Study finds female Internet users experience higher rates of body dissatisfaction

PhD student Allison Carter talks about her research in an interview with The Peak

Allison Carter, a PhD student in health sciences, has conducted research concluding that the more time women spend on the Internet, the more dissatisfied they feel about their body.

The idea of a correlation between time spent online and body dissatisfaction first came from Carter’s personal experience. She began to notice that her own use of the Internet had an effect on her sense of body dissatisfaction. She then chose to investigate that relationship using Canadian data.

Her research was based on a study of 3,000 Canadian women aged 12 to 29 from all over the country. These women reported the amount of time they spent on the Internet each week in the past three months (excluding time spent at work or school). They were then asked to answer the question: “How satisfied are you with the way your body looks?” Answers ranged a set of five responses that went from “very satisfied“ to “very dissatisfied.“

The results

The results show that “women who spend 11 to 20 hours online were also more likely to be less satisfied with their bodies,” said Carter. Those that spend more than 20 hours online each week “reported body dissatisfaction at three times the rate of those connected for less than one hour per week.“

Carter underlined that a lot of research has been done on “the effects of various social fields“ on self-perception, from TV and magazines to, more recently, the Internet. According to Carter, the strong effects on women are caused by the fact that “women are being taught to be focused on what the body looks like and to be concerned about it.”

Although no specific type of online content was investigated, women generally consulted websites, particularly social media and fitness websites, that “tend to be focused on idealized aspects of female beauty.“ Carter said that they are “typically consuming images, messages, and ads that promote thinness as beautiful, and a perfection that does not exist, which can lead to the internalization of these messages and consequently lower body image.”

What about men?

The experience was repeated on 2,700 men also aged 12 to 29. Carter reported that they feel “a much lower rate of body dissatisfaction despite a higher rate of Internet use,“ suggesting that there is a slightly different pattern for men and women regarding the effects of the use of Internet.

How can young women and students use the Internet in a more positive manner?

“One of the most direct things is to limit the amount of time you spend online. The Internet has a lot of positive aspects but we should pay greater attention to the kind of content we’re consuming,“ Carter warned. She advises students to “unfollow“ accounts that cause “harmful self-evaluation and follow those that lift us up.“ She personally recommends the Instagram account Beauty Redefined, “that promotes really great messages around body positivity.“
Body dissatisfaction can have important consequences such as a lower self-esteem, eating disorders, excessive exercise, and depression. “Beyond being important individual issues, these are also public health issues,” insisted Carter.