“SELFIE” AWARENESS: The Implications of Appearance Related Photo Activities on Mood and Body Image

This article was published on: 02/20/19 12:06 PM

The term “selfie” typically refers to a photograph taken of oneself, by oneself with a smartphone.  The phone is usually held with one hand at arm’s length. It may include multiple subjects but as long as the individual taking the photo is one of the subjects being featured, it is considered a “selfie” (Mills, Musto, Williams, & Tiggemann, 2018).  

Just 10 years ago, no one ever heard of such a term.  Due to the enormous popularity of social networking sites, social networking has become a widely used form of social communication.  Because social media is interactive, individuals typically create their own personal profiles and share information and photos with their online social network.

Currently, the most widely used social media platforms are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.  These platforms can be accessed via smartphones, computers and other forms of technology. In today’s world, you rarely see a person walking around without a phone in hand.  Take a look, you will see people immersed in their phones walking down the street, through malls, in the grocery store, movie theaters, parking lots, in cars, in classrooms, and even in business meetings.  Have you noticed babies and small children playing on their parent’s smartphones? What about young children snapping selfies? Undoubtedly, you have.

What impact does and will this self-focused trend have on people long-term?  Recent studies are emerging showing a relationship between appearance related photograph activities on mood and body image.  In time, we will see what longitudinal research projects reveal. Longitudinal research methods study data gathered for the same subjects over a period of time, usually years, but can even extend for decades.

Currently, over 95% of college students regularly maintain and manage their social networking profiles (Mills et. al, 2018).  What effects do social media behaviors have on users? On the one hand, social media can be beneficial as a form of communication by allowing instantaneous connectedness and contact.  This can lead to a greater sense of well-being in general, but it may also have a downside.

As with the mass media, photos often promote idealized images of perfect body types.  This can lead people to set unrealistic standards for themselves. Studies show that women who use social media often internalize the “thin ideal.”  They then strive for unrealistic standards of beauty and feel shame when they’re unable to personally achieve it (Mills et. al, 2018). To portray the “thin ideal” and the “athletic ideal” the photos are often retouched and convey the idea that these body types are normal, desirable and easily attainable via diet and exercise.  This is not accurate for the majority of human beings.

The mass media is known for imposing unrealistic standards of the thin and/or athletic ideals.  The general public probably doesn’t realize that those models who are so extraordinarily beautiful comprise about 1% of the entire population (Mills et. al, 2018).  In addition, the model’s photos are digitally edited to camouflage or remove any flaws. Body parts are lengthened and made to look longer, leaner and/or stronger. Color and shading are imposed to create illusions of “ideal” beauty.

Studies indicate that social media is a major catalyst for widespread appearance concerns among girls and women.  In addition to exposure to unrealistic beauty expectations, it provides the opportunity for social comparison and frequent use results in body dissatisfaction (Mills et. al, 2018).  People who spend a significant amount of time on appearance-focused online comparisons are not likely to compare their appearances to less attractive friends.

Women with high body dissatisfaction are at high risk for the development of eating and body image disorders which are correlated with low self-esteem and depression (Mills et. al, 2018).

For these reasons, selfie posting on social media is harmful for young women’s mood and self-image.  A recent study showed that posting selfies, whether retouched or not, resulted in worsened mood and body image (Mills et. al, 2018).

Contrary to popular belief, touching up the selfie to make yourself look better does not result in you feeling better. Although you may feel even more anxious without being able to retouch your selfie, there were not significant benefits of retouching it. In fact, Mills et. al (2018) found that those women who could retouch their selfie actually felt less attractive when they posted, which could be attributed to the fact that in retouching the image, they are actively looking for flaws in themselves to fix. Although they claimed feeling more confident, when compared to a group of women who did not post anything on social media, the confidence levels of women who retouch their selfies illustrated that selfie posting did not actually have an effect on confidence.

Women aged 16-25 are spending a lot of time, around 5 hours per week or more, taking and uploading selfies to social media, making this practice a hazardous to well-being and mental health. Overall, posting on any social media platform can take a significant psychological toll on a person’s mental health, resulting in increased self-consciousness, a higher fear of negative self-evaluation, and increased self-objectification (Mills et. al, 2018). These effects may develop into being dissatisfied with one’s body overall, a negative mood, low self-esteem leaving one vulnerable to mood, anxiety and eating disorders, as well as body dysmorphic disorders. As this phenomenon is relatively new, more research needs to be done to thoroughly examine the lasting effects of selfie-use. Social media, though new, has become an everyday fixture in our lives and does not seem to be going anywhere.


Khanna, A., & Sharma, M. K. (2017). Selfie use: The implications for psychopathology expression of body dysmorphic disorder. Industrial Psychiatry Journal26(1), 106–109. https://doi.org/10.4103/ipj.ipjpass:[_]58_17

McLean, S. A., Paxton, S. J., Wertheim, E. H., & Masters, J. (2015). Photoshopping the Selfie: Self Photo Editing and Photo Investment are Associated with Body Dissatisfaction in Adolescent Girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders48(8), 1132–1140. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22449

Mills, J. S., Musto, S., Williams, L., & Tiggemann, M. (2018). “Selfie” harm: Effects on mood and body image in young women. Body Image27, 86–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.08.007

Veldhuis, J., Alleva, J. M., Bij de Vaate, A. J. D. (Nadia), Keijer, M., & Konijn, E. A. (2018). Me, my selfie, and I: The relations between selfie behaviors, body image, self-objectification, and self-esteem in young women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000206

Written by Andrea G. Batton, LCPC and Rachel A. DiComo, Graduate Intern

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