“A lot of us just kind of scroll through and see things passively,” said study co-author Tricia Burke or Texas State University. “We might not realize that we are internalising it, and that it can be affecting our attitudes about ourselves.”
Burke suggests that those who are exposed to a higher number of ‘fitspo’ posts were more likely to experience moments of low self-esteem and were overly concerned with their weight and visual appearance. There were however some respondents that identified these posts as motivators, comparing themselves to the athletes they follow and attempting to raise to their level of physical conditioning.
"When people received more posts about exercise, it made them more concerned about their weight -- more self-conscious -- and that's not a good thing," said Stephen Rains of the University of Arizona. These negative impacts are the result of ‘social comparison’, and when viewing photos of individuals that were deemed to be similar, negative comparisons and self-doubt arose.
According to Burke and Rains, the psychological impact of social media on the responder is profound, and most users won’t be able to immediately identify whether they fall into the ‘motivated or damaged’ category.
Inclusion, positivity, and encouragement are the values that are most valuable to viewers, according to the results. “We should be careful about the way that we’re phrasing things,” says Bourke, highlighting the need to be aware of the potential effect your posts have on those who view them. “We should be responsible posters and try to have a proactive, pro-health, positive message that makes people feel capable of engaging in these health behaviors.”