Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Psychology


Behavioral Science



First Advisor

Juliana Breines


Years of research has demonstrated that mainstream media negatively impacts women’s body image; however, less is known about the role social media plays. Social media is a newer type of media and is becoming increasingly popular among younger women. The purpose of the study is to gain an increased understanding of how female college students use Instagram and how using Instagram in different ways may influence their body image. This descriptive exploratory qualitative study used focus groups to explore 27 female college students’ experiences with Instagram. The data were analyzed using content analysis to identify frequencies, patterns, and themes. The findings highlight that female college students mainly use Instagram for following others or viewing others, and posting their own photos. Three major themes related to Instagram use emerged: (1) effortful posting, (2) promotion of self and (3) seeking engagement. That is, female students seemed to put a lot of effort into what they were going to post, they were careful to select the best images of themselves to display, and they placed a lot of importance on engagement by others as they hoped to receive likes and comments on their images.

The findings also offer insight into Instagram’s role in female’s body image. Three themes surfaced pertaining to participants body image: (1) Internalization of beauty standards, (2) social comparison behavior, and (3) self-objectification. Participants were aware of a variety of beauty standards on social media to include different standards for different races and ethnicities, and they seemed to internalize the different standards by putting effort into adhering to them; some participants discussed experiencing body dissatisfaction as a result of trying to measure up to these “unrealistic” standards. Moreover, participants frequently made comparisons with others on social media such as comparing their looks to others or to the number of likes/comments on someone else’s photo. Lastly, participants took on an audience perspective: they were concerned with how others would perceive their content and if they would get desired responses from their audience.

Findings also highlight that individuals who were able to recognize that beauty standards seemed unreal and practiced self-acceptance seemed less affected. Thus, further research should examine the effects of prevention programs like social media literacy programs or mindfulness practices (e.g., self-compassion). Clinicians and educators should provide psychoeducation to those who are heavily involved with social media, or those about to open an Instagram account. Helping to increase individuals’ awareness that photos on Instagram are often doctored and display unrealistic ideals may help prevent them from striving to meet these standards and developing body image related issues.



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