Dr. Vendemia’s Perception on How Social Media and Photo Modification Effects Body Image

Social media is an incredibly prevalent factor within many individuals’ lives nowadays. So much so, numerous researchers have conducted multiple studies focusing primarily on its effects on users.Dr. Megan Vendemia is fascinated with social media’s impact, as she has focused most of her research emphasizing how it influences individuals and its potential impact on self-identity. Besides her research background, she is also an Assistant Professor in the School of Communications at Chapman University. With Dr. Vendemia’s experience, she became the ideal candidate to interview. Our group mate Angelina Nguyen conducted an amazing interview where they discussed the effects of social media and Dr. Vendemia’s study The effects of engaging in digital photo modifications and receiving favorable comments on women’s selfies shared on social media.

The interview with Dr. Vendemia was started with her perception of social media effects. She stated that social media exacerbates the impact of what is viewed in traditional media outlets (i.e., representation in advertising or TV). The exacerbation of the effects hits a bit more to home as she stated that it merges interpersonal connections with mass media relationships, rather than keeping the identities separate. The topic of body image was highlighted within this interview [as this is a focal point in Dr. Vendemia’s study], as it usually faces negative consequences due to the social comparison theory. This theory is not inherently flawed as it helps individuals navigate the world but can cause adverse effects on mental and physical health. Dr. Vendemia also noted that body image is not always negatively impacted by social media but can have positive results by allowing us to create images of ourselves that make us feel good. Social media’s impact on an individual is best summed up as not always bad, especially when authenticity within posts is prevalent. 

Referencing back to Dr. Vendemia’s study, people do not see images as realistic ideals because of filters, but rather see the sources more negatively or “they are not as intelligent,” for example. When people can alter their images, they see themselves as less desirable, less satisfied,  and create more unintended negative consequences because of how we view others negatively or our perceived flaws. Despite the alterations’ original purpose, it ultimately makes the people who take the pictures more insecure and self-aware. Women found that they were more insecure with the filters as opposed to the unaltered ones. The study focused on women taking selfies and seeing people’s reactions and their perception of themselves and if it did change with the comments of people and the filters on the pictures.

Women most typically obtain specific cultural ideals of how they should look and specific body types that are the most desirable. Men face similar cultural ideas, as some are starting to face objectification. Furthermore, men are also self-aware as women are; there is just a different perspective. Dr. Vendemia within the interview stated that there should be more studies done on men and how they also face objectification. She also noted that the study focused on women, but it should include men since women are socialized to see themselves through an outsider’s lens. Traditionally, cisgender women have been the focus on body image work, but now should include men, as they are very similar in how they judge themselves and others when it comes to body image. 

There is a pre-existing culture of what general characteristics are deemed ‘attractive’ within our society. However, platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, etc., have planted a seed in society and push this idea of what is truly ‘desirable.’ For example, filters on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are created to alter or ‘enhance’ someone’s features like changing skin tones, adding freckles, and so forth. Through these filters’ popularity, people have gone as far as getting tattoos of freckles on their faces because it is what social media has defined as ‘desirable’ or ‘attractive.’ According to Dr. Vendemia, her studies only show the short-term effects of modified content because it is still challenging to determine what the long-term effects of social media are going to be. Dr. Vendemia’s study shows that people are less likely to engage in cosmetic procedures because current technology gives people a quick fix to look ‘desirable,’ while getting cosmetic surgery is much more invasive and costly. Social media has also allowed introverts to come across as more extroverted, open, and social, especially when interacting with followers on different platforms.

Within Dr. Vendemia’s study, The effects of engaging in digital photo modifications and receiving favorable comments on women’s selfies shared on social media, a large sample of predominantly quantitative data was collected. As stated by Dr. Vendemia, her work could benefit from a qualitative component (like a focus group). Still, it would be more difficult due to the number of people she would have to collect data on. Eventually, Dr. Vendemia wants to incorporate qualitative components to understand things like people’s perception of photo editing in general and to learn what people think beyond survey numbers. For quantitative studies like this, Dr. Vendemia recommends using the Likert-scale because they are comfortable and efficient to respond to.

Dr. Vendemia does mention how social media has specific nuances and is constantly changing, which could be a drawback to her study. Although there are drawbacks with her studies being largely revolving around social media, she says that a benefit is that most people in her studies understand how to use social media. For example, she mentions how if she were to show someone a photo, they would probably question why she showed them a photo. However, when presented through a social media feed, people understand what it means through the platform being shown and the functions of ‘likes’ and comments. Through that familiarity, questions can be eliminated for the researcher.

Although most of her research has been done through social media, Dr. Vendemia’s biggest interest is how people detect authenticity and how it is meaningful. Throughout people’s lives, they are constantly being exposed to media messages, and people tend to gravitate towards certain types of people. Dr. Vendemia presents the example of children playing with dolls. Although that in itself isn’t harmful, children are presented with the unrealistic body types that Barbie dolls have from an early age. These unrealistic standards can be problematic and can negatively impact people, which is why Dr. Vendemia holds such a strong interest in what she researches through social media. 

As a social media user herself, she has difficulty not seeing her own research in action. Dr. Vendemia notes that all her study ideas have been based on some kind of anecdotal evidence that she has experienced in real life and trying to explain why it’s interesting. Dr. Vendemia does continue to push forward in her research and hopes to do more lab work once the pandemic subsides. She doesn’t want to limit her studies to what photos she shows to subjects or images produced in a lab setting. But instead, she wishes to go beyond that a develop more internal insights as she is currently running studies on more inclusive body standards through narratives and stories based on what is being posted on social media. 

This video has been edited and cut due to time constraints

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