The Upside of Spending So Much Time on Facebook

Turns out, social media use may have a surprising benefit. 

Photo by Plainview/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on MIMI.

Several studies have suggested that social media networking sites have a negative impact on body image, and can be triggers for disordered eating. But Medical Daily says new research may show otherwise: a study from the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine found college women who were heavily invested Facebook users and had lots of friends on the platform were not as concerned with body image and not as likely to engage in detrimental dieting behavior. This was the case as long as the subjects weren't comparing themselves to other women.

Dr. Stephanie Zerwas, senior author of the study and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, and her colleagues, wanted to examine the way women use Facebook when they post pictures on the site.

"Is she thinking, 'I'm posting this picture to share a fun moment with my friends' or is she thinking 'I want to post this picture to compare how my body looks to my friends' bodies," Zerwas said in a statement.

The answer lies more in the former. The researchers had 128 college women take an online survey that asked about unhealthy eating habits—from taking diet pills to purposefully vomiting food. The women were asked if body size was a personal worry, and about their relationship with Facebook, which was determined by factors like visits to the site and amount of friends. The team did find that frequent Facebook users compare themselves to other women, BUT those who did not compare "could be highly invested in the social network without developing problems with body image or risky eating habits," a writer for Medical Daily wrote. And the more positive reinforcement a user sees on the platform, the better.

"If you're getting that kind of social support from the site, you might be less likely to be worried about your body size," Zerwas said. "But if you're using it as a measuring stick to measure how your body appears in pictures compared to your friend's body, Facebook could also be used as a tool to foster dangerous dieting behavior."

The increased visibility of social media activism centered around body positivity for all shapes is no doubt another contribution to better user perceptions. I can't go a day without seeing a story on a new campaign that promotes body love, or a post about anunconventional model who is smashing industry stereotypes. It's amazing. I say keep the good vibes coming.