The body positive movement on social media seeks to challenge narrow conceptualizations of beauty that media outlets traditionally perpetuate and reinforce. Through a 2 × 2 between-subjects online experiment, we examined how the nature and authenticity of body-positive imagery on social media affects female viewers and their evaluations of body-positive content (N = 425, Mage = 35.47, SDage = 13.52). Specifically, participants viewed and reacted to a series of 10 body-positive images of women on social media varying in their degree of sexualization (sexualized vs. non-sexualized) and evidence of digital photo modifications (modification icons vs. no modification icons). A control group that featured landscape images was also included. Results indicate body-positive images that are considered sexualized and are believed to be digitally modified can undercut the movement’s intended aims: Participants who viewed body-positive images that were sexualized (vs. non-sexualized) and included photo modification icons (vs. no modification icons) reported greater endorsement of traditional beauty ideals (e.g., thinness) and thought the images were shared for self-serving reasons (e.g., to gain likes/shares/endorsements); these relationships were mediated by the extent to which viewers believed these images were sexualized and digitally modified. Further, results indicate that sexualized body-positive images can instigate sexual objectification of others and oneself. Those who viewed control images (vs. experimental body-positive images) produced significantly fewer sexually objectifying words about others and themselves. Implications for both viewers and producers (e.g., individuals, corporations) of body-positive imagery on social media are discussed in light of objectification theory.
Vendemia, M. A., DeAndrea, D. C., & Brathwaite, K. N. (2021). Objectifying the body positive movement: The effects of sexualizing and digitally modifying body-positive images on Instagram. Body Image, 38, 137-147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2021.03.017
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