#BodyPositivity: More acceptance for different bodies

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Social media content can have a major influence on what body shapes women descri
Social media content can have a major influence on what body shapes women describe as beautiful - in others and in themselves. That’s what a Würzburg study shows. (Image: Surprising_Shots/Pixabay)


Social media play an important role in users’ perception of the ideal body - often leading them in an unhealthy direction. Researchers at the University of Würzburg have investigated how this can be counteracted.

How can social media contribute to a more diverse concept of body shapes and physical attractiveness? The answer is: body-positive content.

On social media platforms, slim and fit bodies are often overrepresented and thus brought to the fore. However, the reality is different and is often neglected when scrolling through social media posts and profiles. For this reason, Instagram, TikTok and Co. are at least partially blamed for promoting unhealthy slimness ideals - especially among women.

One movement that opposes these unhealthy beauty ideals is Body Positivity (BoPo) - that is, a positive basic attitude toward the body. BoPo advocates the beauty of all body shapes and types.

In a study originating at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU), the authors, Professor Jan-Philipp Stein, Sophie Scheufen and Markus Appel, hypothesized that BoPo has the power to change the concept of ideal bodies.

Most importantly, viewing body-positive content should not only alter perceived ideal body weight, but also expand the range of weight-related norms. Published the work in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Shifting the focus - from one body ideal to different ones

Two experiments were conducted to examine the effects of body-positive content on body perception. "Previous research focused exclusively on capturing a single body ideal. Therefore, in both experiments, participants were asked to choose not just one body shape, but all the body shapes they consider ideal," explains Markus Appel, Chair of Communication Psychology and New Media.

In both experiments, two groups were randomized. In the first experiment, participants were shown either five Instagram posts categorized as body positivity content or five Instagram posts categorized as fitspiration content. Fitspiration is content that is meant to encourage an active and health-conscious lifestyle, but often includes an emphasis on low weight.

After viewing the posts, participants were asked to select all the weight types they considered ideal on a visual rating scale. This measurement method was also used in the second experiment; however, instead of fitspiration content, neutral Instagram posts were presented. In addition, the researchers used a pre-post design that allowed for an examination of numerical differences before and after the test.

Body-positive content creates expanded ideal image

As expected, the average body shape selected as ideal according to BoPo content was slightly more voluminous than according to Fitspiration content. In addition, individuals in the BoPo condition selected an average of nearly three body shapes to describe an ideal body, whereas participants who viewed Fitspiration content selected only slightly more than two body types.

An additional task was to estimate the weight of 36 people depicted in full-body photos. On average, subjects who had seen BoPo content estimated the weight of the pictured strangers to be significantly lower than those who had consumed Fitspiration content. This suggests that weight perception was indeed influenced by prior exposure to different types of social media content.

Body-positive content and body self-esteem.

The data also showed that body-positive content leads to an increased sense of well-being in one’s body. Based on this, the results suggest that the increased number of body shapes considered ideal is an effect variable that positively influences body self-esteem.

Digital body positivity could be uniquely positioned to promote societal change: "By changing internalized beauty standards toward diversity, it could address unjust appearance-based biases that still persist in many areas of social life," concludes Jan-Philipp Stein.

Original publication

Stein, J.-P., Scheufen, S., & Appel, M. (2023, May 11). Recognizing the Beauty in Diversity: Exposure to Body-Positive Content on Social Media Broadens Women’s Concept of Ideal Body Weight. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/­xge0001397