“We’re continually comparing ourselves to something”: Navigating body image, media, and social media ideals at the nexus of appearance, health, and wellness
School of Medical and Health Sciences / School of Arts and Humanities
Edith Cowan University
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. In modern Western society, women commonly encounter media that conflates appearance and health. However, this phenomenon is seldom explored qualitatively from the perspective of the women who encounter and internalize these messages. The present study describes how a group of women perceive appearance, health, and wellness ideals promoted through media and social media as well as how they attempted to challenge and negotiate these. Qualitative data were collected from in-depth semi-structured interviews with 25 women (aged 22–72 years) who embraced a holistic health perspective in Perth, Western Australia. Thematic analysis of the data revealed multiple overarching themes, including the women’s recognition of unrealistic ideals in the media, the potential for harmful social comparisons, their desire to achieve the appearance of health and wellness, and the use of various strategies to modify their exposure to such media and uphold a positive body image. Some participants were challenged by media claiming a more “holistic” orientation in which ideals of appearance, health, and wellness are closely intertwined. The findings from our research provide timely guidance on mechanisms to promote positive body image amidst a rapidly changing media landscape, including the use of critical media literacy and social media literacy interventions. Such interventions should encourage critical appraisal of appearance ideals that are promoted under the guise of health and wellness.