City Research Online

An exploratory analysis of young women's experience of photo sharing on social media and its role in body image

Dixey, R. (2018). An exploratory analysis of young women's experience of photo sharing on social media and its role in body image. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Feminists have long maintained that women’s bodies are socially constructed as objects to be looked at, often through a male gaze of desire. In turn, it is theorised that women internalise this perspective, viewing themselves as objects, rather than evaluating their worth according to their personal traits. Research has demonstrated that this can have a range of negative consequences for women. The advent of mass media provided ample space to perpetuate this objectification of women, in advertising, television, magazines and music videos. The subsequent development of social networking sites (SNSs) has created a space in which women’s bodies are displayed and depicted even more routinely than before.

Adding a new dynamic to traditional media platforms, SNSs also provide a platform from which girls and women are able to turn the camera on themselves, sharing photos to both peers and unknown viewers. Literature demonstrates that this process can result in negative experiences. At the same time championing the female body through SNSs might be experienced as empowering. The aim of this research was to gain an insight into the ways in which young women construct their experience of both viewing and sharing photos on SNSs, and its potential role in body image.

Nine young women were recruited as participants to take part in this study, aged between 18 and 20 years old. They all took part in individual, semi-structured interviews, which were later transcribed and analysed according to the process of thematic analysis. I positioned myself within a feminist, constructionist epistemological paradigm.

Three themes were generated from the analysed data: objectifying other women, which explores the way in which participants were caught in a cycle of objectifying other women through their own use of SNSs; creating the online self, which explores the variations in how and why participants constructed versions of themselves to post online; the question of feminism, which considers the feminist – or lack thereof – discourses around posting certain types of photos on SNSs.

The ways in which the young women in this study constructed their experiences of online photo sharing were rich, complex and varied. Several highlighted inherent negative consequences, from low self-esteem to a desire to restrict food intake because of the oft perpetuated thin ideal on SNSs. Others formulated positive experiences, in which SNSs act as a vehicle for their empowerment and autonomy, challenging patriarchal norms. In terms of cultural competency, it's important that counselling psychologists have an awareness of the role of SNS in the lives of most young women today, and the ways in which this relates to their view of themselves and their bodies.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Publisher Keywords: Objectification theory; young women; social networking sites; body image; feminist; thematic analysis.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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