Researchers found only five minutes of exposure to unrealistic social media images led to increased body dissatisfaction Photo: Facebook
For years, body image experts have warned about the risk of being exposed to images of overly thin women in magazines and advertisements.
Now Sydney researchers have found seeing the unrealistic images on Facebook is just as likely to make people feel dissatisfied with their bodies.
"It's much easier to separate yourself from models or celebrities and say 'they're a celebrity, I'm never going to look like that'," Sydney University masters student Rachel Cohen said. "Even though there are a lot of ways to manipulate images on social media you are more likely to compare yourself, because you think of yourself as more similar to the people you are looking at".
Her study, which was conducted as part of her honours thesis and published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, involved nearly 200 female university students who looked at skinny images made to look like commercial media, as well as others mocked up like Facebook pages.
She found only five minutes of exposure to the Facebook images led to increased body dissatisfaction - well short of the average of 20 minutes each of us typically spends on Facebook each day.
She also found that the women who reported spending more time on Facebook were more likely to have poorer body image and a higher risk of eating disorders to begin with, although it was not known if this was a cause or effect of the Facebook use.
Ms Cohen said she believed if her research had been able to use the photos of real friends of the participants they could have had an even greater effect, as the viewers would have been even more likely to compare themselves.
So has her study changed the way she uses Facebook? Not really, besides raising her awareness of the issue. But it had made her wary of Instagram, with its wealth of beauty and fitness posts.
"Everyone says Instagram is the new Facebook, and Instagram is just full of pictures - it's Facebook on steroids - so I decided not to use it," she said. "I think I'm the only person I know who doesn't have Instagram, but I just didn't want to go into that world".