Research Proposal


Introduction And Background

In the last few years, there has been a shift between the popularity of main stream media, like magazines and television, towards the widely known phenomenon of social media. But this has also brought up the everlasting discussion on the impact that media has on body image and whether this is negative or positive. Mainstream media has always been blamed for having a negative influence on the view of body image in our modern society. However, with the shift in popularity of mainstream media to what we now know as social media it is yet another topic of discussion. In the past few years the statistics on body image were shocking to our society.

        80% of women in the U.S do not like how they look and that
–     80% of 10 year old’s are afraid of being fat
        53% of 13-year old American girls are unhappy with their body and this number grows to 78% by the time they are 17.  (Gallivan, 2014) 

Statistics like these bring up the important discussion of the influence of social media on body image and whether this is a societal issue that needs to change. Therefore we have decided to implement the following research question:

To what extent does social media in the United states contribute to the negative perception of body image in women between the ages of 16 and 23?

The objectives:

         The rise in popularity of social media
         The statistics of body image in the past five years
         The statistics of body image in before that
         How social media could influence body image
         Can the influence of social media become positive

Research question and sub-questions

Research question

 To what extent does social media in the United States contribute to the negative perception of body image of women between the ages of 16 and 23?

1. Which Social Media platforms are mostly used by women between the ages of 16 and 23 in the United States.?
2. How do Social Media platforms influence women between the ages of 16 and 23 in the United States?

3. What is the overall body image perception in women between 16 and 23 years old?

Literature review

As the internet started to be more inter-functional and user generated, also concerns regarding body image have increased. In a society where social media are a daily routine, seems that we are constantly exposed to media and so the following became an integrated part of our lives (Veldhuis, Konijn, & Seidell, 2013).

What is Body Image?

Body image is the perception of the self-body, a self-evaluation of one’s body. The concept of body image can be seen as positive, when individuals accept their body, or negative when instead they are ashamed of it or they desire to change it. (Hye-Ryeon, Hye Eun, & Jounghwa, 2014).

It was proven that social media and body image have an inevitable interconnection, where social media cause negative body image perceptions every day. But how?

This video includes an interview from the very famous Teen Vogue magazine with a few of their models. They ask the models some questions about body image and you won’t believe their answers.

(Vogue, 2016)

The concept of negative body image has become more and more discussed, since the rise of a globalization of media. With the increasing influence that the western cultures play to the peripheral countries, the media started to shape a fake concept of “perfect body”, which eventually has been followed and desired (Bell, 2016).

In the recent years also, and mostly, social media also started to influence and shape the concept of “perfect body”, also defined as “beachbody” which eventually individuals, especially young women, try to seek (Fardouly, Diedrichs, & Vartanian, 2015). As a result of this phenomena,  studies show that adolescents under the age of 19, show a massive decrease in self-esteem and positive body perception, due to the long exposure to media images (Voelker, Reel, & Greenleaf, 2015; Voelker, Reel, & Greenleaf, 2015).

“Adolescence is a critical period in body image development”

With the usage of social media becoming popular among individuals, it also led to the outset of opinion leaders within this new type of media. An opinion leader is a somebody that has the power to influence, positively and negative, other people (Bell, 2016).

In addition, it has been shown that trends of social media such as exercises, beauty or diet programs, affect the perception that young women have on their bodies, increasing dissatisfaction and tendency to change it (Voelker, Reel, & Greenleaf, 2015). Individuals nowadays use social media daily, posting, sharing or liking hundreds of pictures or posts. People can access the internet from everywhere, which allow them to be constantly subjected to social media and social networks.

Research also shows that women are constantly comparing themselves and their bodies, to others and as the inclination to compare increases, so does the negative perception of their body image (Fardouly, Diedrichs, & Vartanian, 2015).Social media such as Facebook and Instagram are major sources of media, where women are subjected to hundreds of pictures every day, all showing the perfect body image. This constant exposition leads young women to aspire to have the perfect body, as the perfect skin or the perfect hair and to a homogenization of the self (Bell, 2016).

In fact, in one hand, according to Alexandra Sifferlin, journalist, and writer for Time Health, many women found relief in the recent years as they began to accept their bodies and to live without worries. From 1981 and 2011, the general dissatisfaction from women of their bodies went down of 3.3 points. This is also because people, especially in the United States are oversized, therefore it is more normal to feel comfortable. In addition, the image of the woman is changing in the media so this could be a factor that leads to this improvement. Thanks to the emerging body diversity people are more willing to accept their body  (Sifferlin, 2016).
Women are still subjected to thousands of pictures every day, where super skinny models are sunbathing or having a drink, and they look perfect. Social media allow us to have so many ways to express ourselves and to showcase our person but makes us also able to see what other people do on a daily basis. With the rise of Photoshop and other hundreds of retouching programs, the difference between real and not is very hard to detect (Scherker, 2014).


To sum up, Social media leads to:

  • Increased popularity of the so-called “beach body” or “perfect body”
  • The rise of opinion leaders which influence young women to become like them
  • The popularity of diet, exercise and workout pages
  • Constant comparison with other people
  • Shaped perfection as something achievable

These factors help to understand the effect of the social media regarding body perception

but also are allow to explain why this topic is a very discussed topic nowadays. As a consequence, this research will show in depth the extent to which social media are affecting our body perception, and how truly they are connected to this phenomenon.

This video is a short documentary film interviewing normal people in a school on their body image, on social media and the connection between the two.

(Twidle & Williams, 2016)


During this extensive research we will be looking at different kinds of research methods. Apart from some literature review, there will also be conducted research through trend analysis, data visualization and netnography. This section will focus on the definition of these research methods, and how the methods will be utilized and applied to the research question.

Trend Analysis

Trend analyses are roughly described as the practice of analyzing big amounts of data, and finding a pattern or « trend » within these data. It is used to predict and forecast what could happen in the future or foresee uncertain events that yet have to find place.

When it comes to the application of this research method to the research question “To what extend does social media have a negative effect on the body image of females from 18 to 23 years old”, the researchers should portray a trend analysis on which is shown how bad women think of their body image to the amount of time they spend on social media. This research method could be paired with a survey so the research team would have their own information, or they could use previously found literature in order to accurately display this trend.

Something that is also applied in this research, is data scraping and trend analysis through Netlytic. This is to accurately collect data of one of the new hashtag trends that have been going around on social media regarding our research question. Netlytic is a cloud-based data collection tool used to analyze and process big amounts of information on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. The tool portrays connections between sources and targets of a specific keyword or hashtag, and also shows more detail about the person who has initially shared their post. (Social Media Lab, s.d.) The figure below portrays how a netlytic analysis looks like.


Data Visualization

This method is used to put as much data as efficiently as possible into a figure, so one will have a clear vision of the outcome of the data and is able to conclude things in a glance. This is mainly used to have clear overview of the collected data, and to communicate the data through visual objects. Figures include graphs, plots and statistical graphics. This method goes hand in hand with most quantitative research and some qualitative researches that include some sort of binary data. Furthermore, this method is widely used to portray big data to an ordinary audience.

Just like the trend analysis, it is also possible to utilize survey outcomes and portray them through graphs or histograms. The audience are females from 18 to 23-year-olds, this audience is very broad and active on social media, which means that the amount of data about this particular issue will be too much to implement it into a diagram or scheme, data visualization would be the most appropriate way to display the findings. (PewResearchCenter, 2016)

The information gathered through Netlytic does not really give us a representation of the data. For this we need another tool called Gephi. Gephi is a data visualization tool that uses edges and nods to portray how data connects with each other, and what the similarities are between users of the keyword or hashtag. In the figure below one can see an example of how a Gephi analysis looks like. The same colors represent the same topics and how frequent they appear in the analysis.



Netnography is a branch of ethnography that provides and in-depth analysis of everyday life and behavior in an online medium. (Karr, 2015) This method involves a team of researchers that observe different online platforms as for example forums and gather comments and reviews for a better understanding of the audience’s feelings and perceptions.

By the means of the anonymity that the Internet provides for the users, people feel more confident to speak up and criticize or confess their own perception of their body image, and to find peers to interact and relate with. Their comments and reviews in online communities are unpolished and raw opinions about their own body image, therefore netnography allows the researchers to analyze accurate data provided by the audience themselves.

The researchers can also opt out for forums like Reddit or Quora, in order to follow conversations, or start topic themselves. Using forums can lead to raw and personal opinions since many forums are also anonymous. Users can choose their own personal nickname and choose to hide their real one.

The researchers can go on a social media site like Facebook, and go undercover into one of the many Facebook groups for young females. They all feel comfortable to share their feelings in this “community” and ask for advice and help from peers. Through reading the posts young females share in these communities the researchers can draw conclusions.

With this study the researchers want to look into the lives of young females between the ages of 18 and 23, and how social media influences their way of thinking of themselves, both physically as well as mentally.



Online Research


Social media

Google trends allows researches to search particular topics. The service showcases the relevancy and popularity of the trend/topic worldwide, within countries and states.

The topic of the this research project is conducted on social media usage within the United states. Body image and perception fits within the field of beauty and fitness. Physical attributes currently define beauty when it comes to social media platforms. Fitness is a hot topic when talking about physical beauty. It leads to a very fitness healthy orientated generation of Instagram users while at the same time stirring controversy by only including thin lean and sporty women, excluding plus size, curves and every other body that does not fit this norm.  By being as specific as possible, the results will be more accurate.


The topic social media within the United States within a span from 2004 till now related to the topic Beauty & Fitness shows a strong rise of social media interest around the end of 2007. The number 1 related topic to the social media term is Instagram. Twitter scores on this same list coming in at number 4.


Image 1 (Google, 2017)

Senza titolo.png


Instagram the platform on which this research is mainly based on. Instagram Has been having a rising popularity since 2011. Again the search specifications: United states, a span of 5 years, Beauty & Fitness have been used. Looking at the relating topics, Instagram is mostly known for featuring rich, famous good looking people with an extravagant lifestyle.

On number 1, Dan Bilzerian, an American poker player whom is know for his big houses, extremely expensive cars and hordes of good looking female companions. The remaining 4 are all female models showing off their thin lean bodies, flawless skin and high fashion wear.


Image 2 (Google, Instagram, 2017)

Senza titolo.png



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