Viewing positive appearance-related comments on Instagram leads to greater body dissatisfaction

Viewing Instagram images that included positive comments about a woman’s appearance led to greater body dissatisfaction among a group of college women, a new study published in the journal Body Image found.

“Comments are an important part of Instagram and appearance-related comments in particular, so we wondered if they had any effect over and above the pictures themselves,” said study author Marika Tiggemann, a distinguished professor of psychology at Flinders University.

In the study, 128 female undergraduate students viewed Instagram images of attractive women that were paired with a brief positive comment. Some participants read comments that praised the women’s appearance — such as “You look amazing.” Other participants read comments that praised other aspects of the photo — such as “Great beach.”

The participants’ body dissatisfaction increased after viewing the images, but the increase was significantly greater among those who had viewed the comments praising the women’s looks.

Participants who scored higher on a measure of self-objectification saw an even greater increase in body dissatisfaction after viewing the images and comments.

“Although people make appearance comments to be supportive and helpful, in fact they just put more of a focus on appearance and in the end fuel body dissatisfaction among viewers. Try to comment on something else,” Tiggemann told PsyPost.

“The study looked at the effect of comments on other people’s photos,” Tiggemann added. “So an important question is the effect of comments (appearance and otherwise) on one’s own photos. I expect the effect would be stronger, but might expect a positive short-term effect and a negative longer-term effect.”

“My advice is to not comment on appearance, but that is difficult with Instagram when all you have is a photo. Also, people put up photos precisely to be commented on and told they look good, so it’s part of a social script.”

The study, “‘You look great!’: The effect of viewing appearance-related Instagram comments on women’s body image“, was authored by Marika Tiggemann and Isabella Barbato.