Social media ‘gap week’ lifts self esteem

Gap week from social media can improve self esteem
New research shows that even a week off social media can improve the self esteem of young women. | Photo: Finn Hafemann (iStock)

A single “gap week” from social media has been found to be enough to significantly lift self-esteem and body image in young women.

A study by the York University Faculty of Health asked half of a group of young women to continue their social media use and the other half to discontinue.

The self-esteem and body image of both groups was surveyed before and after the period of the study.

Study co-author Professor Jennifer Mills said the self-image boosts for those who took the break were significant, particularly for those most vulnerable to “thin-ideal internalisation”.

“The statistician inside me was excited. We don’t often see effect sizes this large in my area of psychology research because human behaviour is complicated and there’s lots of variability,” Professor Mills said in a study report on the York University website.

“There’s natural variability in how people feel about their bodies and about themselves in general, so we took that into account statistically, and even after that there were still significant differences between the groups after one week.”

Professor Mills said improvements outlined in the study might be explained by women spending far less time engaging in “behaviours known to have a detrimental effect, such as comparisons with others” and also replacing social media with healthier behaviours.

The study outcomes were reported in the journal Body Image. The study involved 66 first-year female undergraduates who volunteered to take part in the research.

Professor Mills said the impact of social media was vastly different from earlier research on the effects of traditional media on the development of eating disorders.

“Back then, you could only spend so many minutes or hours looking at fashion and beauty magazines and they only came out once a month,” she said.

“There was a finite amount of content that you would be exposed to. With social media it’s infinite. It’s always new and novel, which triggers our brain’s reward system that makes us want more and more of something.”

According to the study report, of the 4.6 billion active users of social media globally, the heaviest users are 18–29 year old women.