My Body, My Post
Women receive many contradictory messages about what their bodies should look like and how they should behave. These messages necessarily impact how women are socialized to use social media and how they engage with online platforms. Little attention has been paid to the impact of these mixed messages on women’s self-concept and social engagement online, or to the mental health and social consequences of these interactions. The present study, guided by Objectification Theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) and Relational Cultural Theory (Miller, 1976), intended to gain a deeper understanding of how emerging adult women understand the messages they receive about their bodies and what they should be used for and how these messages influence their relational behaviors online. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 women (ages 19-25), focusing on messages concerning expectations of women’s bodies and sexuality, performance of body and sexuality in social media spaces, social media activism, and social interactions online. Conventional content analysis was used to examine the interviews. Interview data revealed multiple themes, composing four broad domains: (1) expectations of women; (2) social media curation; (3) mental health and social effects of social media use; and (4) activism and advocacy. Notions about how women wanted to perform their identities online were shaped by several factors, including aspirational goals for self-love and body acceptance, an interest in portraying themselves authentically and in the best possible light, and a desire to be part of a movement of social change. The study underscores the impact of social media in individual functioning and wellbeing and reveals deep-seated conflict that women face in integrating messages about who they should be with performance of their own identities. This study highlights the need for situationally responsive clinical practice, intervention, and future research.