Social Media and Body Image

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon an op/ed entitled “I feel sorry for Kim Kardashian” which discussed how the celebrity was body shamed on social media for her pregnancy-bod. The author herself was body shamed for posting a full length photo where she was wearing a flowy top to cover up her own baby bump. As someone who has struggled with body image over the years, the article resonated deeply with me. I’ve spent countless hours fawning over instagram celebs and comparing my physique to their seemingly unattainable #fitspo posts. Entire industries have been built on helping women nip, tuck, and hide their flaws in order to make them feel “prettier” in the skin that they’re in. And, the problem is only getting worse each time we log onto social media.

A study published in PsychGuides mapped the usage of instagram posts containing #thinspo and #fitspo posts to see whether the prevalence of these hashtags was concentrated in specific areas:

While both hashtags have negative and positive connotations associated with them. It’s interesting to see Kentucky, which has one of the highest levels of obesity in our country, uses #thinspo most frequently; whereas California is a leader in the #fitspo movement and has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the country. Sunny skies and beaches might have something to do with it, and I’d be interested in exploring the data further… but one thing is for sure: the body image conversation isn’t going away… so what can we do about it?

You may remember Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign where regular women were dropped into their advertisements in place of the stick-thin models we are used to seeing. Well, the campaign is now 11 years old, and it’s one of the most successful marketing campaigns the company has seen to date. Dove continues to change the conversation with the Dove Self-Esteem Project by producing shareable content and valuable resources aimed at helping women improve their self image. Good for society and the brand? Win/win.

Dove reports that “since launching the Dove Self-Esteem Project more than 10 years ago, 17 million young people in 112 countries have benefited from our programs. More than 625,000 teachers have delivered a Dove Self-Esteem Project workshop, and more than 1.5 million parents have benefitted from our online tools. No other organization is acting on the same scale or with the same impact.” The campaign, which has no call-to-action outside of “love the skin you’re in,” has improved brand loyalty for Dove, which positively impacts sales.

Earlier this year, the company teamed up with Twitter to create the #SpeakBeautiful campaign in order to change the way we talk about beauty online:

The campaign, which debuted during this year’s Oscars, involves using Twitter technology that allows Dove to reply in real-time to users posting negative Tweets about themselves. The campaign has obviously been met with criticism (many called it an effort to humanize Unilever, who also owns the Axe brand, which has gotten some heat for their exploitation of women) but, overall, the campaign was successful at creating a buzz for the brand by generating over 51,000 tweets containing #SpeakBeautiful and 46,000 replies to @Dove on the night of the Oscars alone.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.51.14 PM

It’ll be interesting to watch the Dove campaign continue to grow and see how the brand can move the needle when it comes to female empowerment and body image. The next generation of women are growing up in a world where they are being trolled for not being “enough.” It’s more important than ever to have conversations about what real beauty looks like, both inside and out.


  1. Caitlin McCorkle · ·

    I stopped following accounts on instagram that made me feel bad about my body. It’s been awesome.

    Have you read anything about the Aerie campaigns, where they don’t retouch their models?

  2. Sonia, thanks for sharing. The internet and moreso social media has presented us with pictures (often manipulated) of what it means to be attractive. So many girls and women develop low self-esteem from their looks which can prevent them from reaching their full potential in life. You may find this summary ( of Dove’s Campaign For Beauty helpful. While Unilever (owner of Dove and Axe) received its fair share of criticism for exploitative labor particular that of women, I do think that the company have launched a series of campaigns that are also geared toward men. On Father’s Day 2015, Dove Men+Care launched the ‘First Fatherhood Moments’ campaign to celebrate the emotion, strength and happiness dads openly express upon learning they are going to become a father. In January 2015, Dove Men+Care launches ‘Real Strength’ campaign on sports’ biggest stage to celebrate the caring side of modern men by sharing photos across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Dove Men+Care ‘Real Strength’ campaign celebrates men who embrace their caring side, which is no longer antithetical to being strong, but is instead the hallmark of modern, well-rounded masculinity. I would be interesting to see how the Dove campaigns grow in the near future. Will that growth curtail some of the negative criticism Unilever receives for cases of exploitative labor?

  3. We just discussed the Dove case in our marketing strategy class two weeks ago. While from branding strategy perspective, the series of campaigns were considered a risky move ( 1, they went too far at some point in trying to define what beauty is 2, they let go of their control on their brand image and give total power to social media and the discussions online 3, all this talk and awareness might not convert into actual purchases) , they did bring positive impact by at least get people talking and thinking about beauty standards and the role modern media has played in forming certain definitions. In many parts of the world, body shaming are still a common phenomenon and social media only just reinforces certain ideals and narrow beauty standards. It might take a long time and a lot of awareness campaigns for people to embrace natural beauty and diversity.

  4. I really enjoyed that you took a new perspective on a conversation we’ve had in class a few times – the conversation concerning how social media has affected self-esteem and feelings of happiness. We haven’t even touched upon how it effects our perception of ourselves.

    I too found your infographics to be interesting – though I am curious about their sampling/statistical methods. Certainly the top 10 cities ranking loses meaningfulness considering the requirement for a population threshold that all cities just can’t meet. Also, considering what you said that both #fitspo and #thinspo have positive and negatives – I’m not sure that one’s usage over the other really carries that much weight without social context. #fitspo can look a lot like #thinspo if wielded by the right person. Just some perspective.

    Either way, Great post and I loved you tying in the Dove/Twitter Campaign.

  5. Thanks for bringing up what has to be a very difficult subject, Sonia.

    Being married to someone with body image issues (what woman doesn’t really?), I’ll be the first to admit that I really can’t fully understand the mindset most women have where they’re constantly comparing their body to others. Chalk a lot of that up to the differences between men and women.

    Part of me wonders if the proliferation of social media will actually be good for body image issues long term. Won’t we get fewer airbrushed and retouched images in Instagram, rather than on the cover of Cosmo or People Magazine? Or will women just follow keep comparing to other women with insanely perfect bodies?

  6. Sonia, great post. I can only imagine how difficult it is for celebrities as they are constantly photographed and critiqued. It saddens me how critical media outlets are. If a celebrity gains 15 pounds, it does not merit a news story.

    The “thinspo” maps are really interesting. LA is probably the perfect storm of people who are social media savvy and also live in a hot climate where bathing suits are more common. Although I think Dove’s campaign are just a great marketing approach, I appreciate the conversations they spark. I like the suggestion of talking to yourself as you would talk to a loved one. I’ve also seen a post talking about treating yourself as the 5-year-old you once were. Would you want to deprive your 5-year-old self of love, good nutrition, or decent sleep?

  7. Nice post. I think the “thinspo” tag may be more associated with anexoria and bulemia. A student a semester or so ago did a very nice presentation/ blogpost about it. It’s the pro-ana post referenced on the “related posts” I see above.

  8. ariellebudney · ·

    Great post Sonia! I found the #fitspo and #thinspo maps incredibly interesting, and I also would be interested in exploring the data further to understand the correlation between the frequency of the trends and geography. Unfortunately, social media has become a forum for promoting negative body image. I think Dove’s campaigns have done a good job at raising conversations around the unattainable beauty standards in our society, but not enough has been done to enact real change in our culture. There are still too many companies and brands that capitalize on our collective desire to achieve perfection. Hopefully in the future more brands will follow Dove’s lead so that young girls do not grow up with social media as a negative influence.

  9. Nice post, Sonia! If you’re interested in learning more about body-image and marketing techniques, I just finished a great book concerned with that today! Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” it was very interesting and funny — an overall enjoyable read, it’ll take you no more than a week of light reading.

%d bloggers like this: