Associations were also discovered between body assessments and the disordered eating thoughts and behaviors of viewers.
In recent research, participants generally perceived women’s figures as more slender in selfies compared to pictures taken from different perspectives. Ruth Knight of York St John University, UK, and Catherine Preston of the University of York, UK, recently published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.
Selfies and Body Image Perception
Popular on social media, selfies are portraits taken by the photo’s subject, who positions the camera away from their body but points back at themself. Prior research has suggested that viewing selfies might affect viewers’ judgments of the photo subjects’ attractiveness and could, in some cases, lead to comparisons that affect viewers’ satisfaction with their own appearance. However, such research is limited and has focused more on the perception of faces in photos than bodies.
To shed new light, Knight and colleagues evaluated the judgments of female participants in response to photos from different angles of 10 female volunteer models dressed in exercise clothing.
With faces excluded, each volunteer’s body was photographed at several angles: from a traditional external perspective, a selfie taken an arm’s length away, a selfie taken using a selfie stick, or from the volunteer’s own perspective, with the camera looking down from the chin. Participants also completed a questionnaire to measure the degree to which they engaged in thoughts and behaviors related to disordered eating.
Results and Implications
Analyzing results from four different experiments, the researchers found that participants tended to judge bodies in the selfie images as slimmer than bodies in the external-perspective images, however, there were no significant differences in attractiveness ratings. Chin-down images were judged to be less slim than selfies, and the least attractive of all the perspectives analyzed.
They also found some evidence that participants with a higher level of certain disordered eating symptoms tended to rate bodies in selfies more favorably. On the basis of this finding and prior findings from other studies, the researchers suggest that viewing selfies could be more damaging than other types of photos to people who are vulnerable to developing eating disorders.
Study Limitations and Future Directions
These findings highlight potential links between social media use and body satisfaction. However, the researchers note several limitations of the study, such as a small number of participants and a lack of precise matching of photo angles between volunteer models, which could have influenced judgments.
Future research could deepen understanding by, for instance, evaluating how different photo angles might influence judgments of different body types, or whether viewers’ own weight-to-height-ratio might influence their photo judgments.
The authors add: “Many of us see selfies every day as we browse the growing number of social media platforms. We know that filters can change the way that bodies appear. This research suggests that the angle from which the photo is taken can change our judgments about body size, so that when consuming images on the internet, even simple unfiltered selfies, what we see is not necessarily an accurate representation of real life.”
Reference: “Do selfies make women look slimmer? The effect of viewing angle on aesthetic and weight judgments of women’s bodies” by Ruth Knight and Catherine Preston, 11 October 2023, PLOS ONE.