The Surprising Impact of a Social Media Break on Young Women’s Body Image

May 11th, 2024

By John Patterson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In the digital age, social media has become a ubiquitous presence in our lives, influencing not only how we communicate but also how we perceive ourselves. Recent research from York University’s Faculty of Health reveals a significant, positive change in body image and self-esteem among young women who paused their social media use for just one week.

Understanding the Research

The Study’s Findings

The study, published in the journal Body Image, involved 66 first-year female undergraduates. Participants were divided into two groups: one continued their usual social media activities, while the other abstained from platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok for one week. Before and after this digital detox, all participants underwent surveys assessing their self-esteem and body image.

Professor Jennifer Mills, the study’s co-author and director of clinical training for the graduate psychology program at York, expressed her excitement about the results, noting, “The statistician inside me was excited—we don’t often see effect sizes this large in my area of psychology research because human behavior is complicated and there’s lots of variability.”

The Psychological Impact of Social Media

Social media platforms provide ‘infinite’ opportunities for comparison by constantly presenting idealized images that can significantly impact one’s body image and self-esteem. This constant exposure can lead to the internalization of unrealistic beauty standards. Mills explains, “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.”

The Benefits of Taking a Social Media Break

Improved Self-Esteem and Body Image

The research indicated that even a temporary break from social media led to measurable improvements in how the participants viewed themselves and their bodies, particularly those most vulnerable to thin-ideal internalization. “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,” Mills stated.

Replacement with Healthier Behaviors

The absence of social media likely encouraged participants to engage in healthier behaviors, such as socializing in person, getting adequate sleep, and spending more time outdoors. These activities can significantly boost mental health and overall well-being. Mills speculates, “If we’re spending more time in real life, getting exercise, there could be secondary behaviors that fill the void left by social media.”

Implications for the Future

This study highlights the potential negative effects of social media on young women’s self-perception. It opens the door for future research to explore how replacing social media time with more fulfilling activities can lead to healthier mental and emotional states.

Influencing Social Media Platforms

The findings from this study could catalyze social media companies to reconsider the design of their platforms to promote healthier user interactions. “We hope this study can be used to help protect young people and influence social media companies to give users more agency in how they interact with these platforms,” Mills emphasizes.


This study underscores the importance of taking regular breaks from social media to safeguard mental health and nurture a positive body image. It serves as a powerful reminder that sometimes, disconnecting is necessary to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us in healthier, more meaningful ways.

Practical Steps to Implement a Social Media Break

Assess Your Social Media Use

Before beginning a social media detox, it’s crucial to understand your current usage patterns. Track your time on different platforms for a few days to get a baseline. Use apps or built-in smartphone features to monitor your daily screen time. This initial assessment will help you recognize which social media habits you might need to adjust.

Set Clear Goals for the Detox

Determine what you aim to achieve with your social media break. Are you looking to improve your mental health, increase productivity, or perhaps enhance personal relationships? Setting specific, measurable goals can provide motivation and a clear direction for your detox period.

Plan Alternative Activities

Prepare a list of activities to replace your time on social media. These could include physical activities like walking or yoga, hobbies such as reading or painting, or spending more time with loved ones. Having a plan will make it easier to avoid the temptation to revert to old habits.

Notify Your Circle

Let your friends and family know about your social media break. This can help manage expectations for immediate responses and provide a support system. You might even inspire others to join you in the detox, creating a shared experience that can further enrich the process.

Gradually Reduce Your Usage

If the idea of suddenly stopping all social media use seems daunting, consider gradually reducing your screen time. You might start by eliminating usage during meals and an hour before bed, then progressively decrease your usage from there.

Create Physical and Digital Boundaries

Remove social media apps from your phone, or at least move them to a less accessible folder. Use website blockers if necessary to prevent access from other devices. Creating these physical and digital boundaries can help reduce the urge to check social media impulsively.

Reflect and Journal

During detox, keep a journal to document your feelings and any changes you notice in your mood, productivity, or social interactions. Reflection can help you understand the detox’s impact and guide you in making informed decisions about your future social media use.

Evaluate and Adjust Post-Detox

At the end of your social media break, evaluate your experience. Did you meet your goals? How has your well-being improved? Decide if you want to reintegrate social media into your life and in what capacity. You might choose to extend the detox, reduce your overall usage, or only use certain platforms that benefit you.

Implementing these practical steps can help ensure that your social media detox is successful, leading to improved mental health and a better balance between digital and real-life interactions.

Journal Reference:

  1. Out of the loop: Taking a one-week break from social media leads to better self-esteem and body image among young women. Body Image, 2024; 49: 101715 DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2024.101715

About the author:

John Patterson is an avid writer and researcher who delves into the latest scientific research. With an insatiable curiosity, he translates complex concepts into accessible narratives, allowing readers to embark on a journey of discovery. John bridges the gap between experts and the public through his work, igniting curiosity and inspiring meaningful conversations about scientific breakthroughs.

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