The Mediating Role of Self-Esteem in the Relationship Between Selfie-Posting and Body Dissatisfaction
Selfie-posting is one of the forms of online self-presentation (Chua & Chang, 2016). Technological affordances of
the Internet such as asynchronicity and editability significantly affect people’s self-presentation (Walther, 1996).
Asynchronous systems of the Internet provide individuals with “almost unlimited time for editing, composing,
sending, and retrieving messages” (Hesse et al., 1988, p. 151). Such technological features have allowed individuals
to easily emphasize positive self-images and desirable impressions of themselves, which encourages selective selfpresentation
online. The selective self-presentation was originally advanced with text-based online
communication. Hancock and Toma (2009) have enlarged the scope of selective self-presentation to visual works
of self-expression such as online profile photographs. Similar to text messages, profile photographs of online date
sites were found to be carefully chosen and digitally editable (Hancock & Toma, 2009; Toma & Hancock, 2010).
Prior research shows that the enhancement of profile pictures can lead to a high likelihood of success in online
dating (Gibbs et al., 2006). Similar to online daters, SNS users also participate in the selective self-presentation by
uploading information or photographs that make themselves look attractive, positive or ideal (Bergman et al.,
2011; Manago et al., 2008; Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2010; Siibak, 2009; Zhao et al., 2008). This selective selfpresentation
on SNS was found to be positively related to online life satisfaction (Y. Kim & Baek, 2014) and
subjective well-being (J. Kim & Lee, 2011).
Self-esteem is defined as an individual’s self-evaluation of oneself (Rosenberg, 1965). Self-esteem indicates how
people feel and think about their worth, value, importance, or abilities (Rosenberg, 1965). As online selfpresentation
has become a part of young people’s everyday activities (Chua & Chang, 2016), researchers have
investigated how online self-presentation influences individuals’ self-esteem. For instance, Toma (2013) has shown
that SNS users can preserve a positive self-image and cope with threatening situations through viewing highly
desirable self-presentation on SNS. After experiencing an ego threat (i.e., exposure to negative feedback), SNS
users were found to unconsciously choose to browse their SNS profile page containing the happy side of
themselves. After viewing their profile page, they appeared to restore the perceived worth of the self (Toma &
Such positive effects of selective self-presentation on self-esteem can be explained by the positive illusion theory
(S. E. Taylor & Armor, 1996). The theory posits that those with positive illusions such as self-aggrandizement,
unrealistic optimism, and exaggerated perceptions of control are more likely to successfully adjust to stressful or
self-threatening events (S. E. Taylor & Armor, 1996). Furthermore, levels of happiness and contentment are found
to be associated with positive self-concepts, illusory beliefs of control, and optimism concerning the future (S. E.
Taylor & Armor, 1996). That is, people’s positive illusions of themselves can increase levels of positive feelings such
as subjective well-being (J. Kim & Lee, 2011) and happiness (S. E. Taylor & Brown, 1988).
SNS users’ selfie-posting as a form of selective self-presentation may play a role in generating positive illusions of
themselves. SNS users tend to post their beautiful or flawless selfies for gathering audiences’ feedback they expect
(Mascheroni et al., 2015). Halpern et al. (2017) explained this tendency by using the self-perception theory which
proposes that individuals shape their attitudes by looking at their own behaviors (Bem, 1972). This theory suggests
that SNS users determine their attitude towards themselves from observing their acts of self-presentation (Kelly
& Rodriguez, 2006). Based on positive feedback from audiences, SNS users may interpret the meaning of their
selfie-posting behavior and adjust their perceptions of themselves. Such perceptions can influence their
subsequent selfie-posting behavior (Halpern et al., 2017). Following the self-perception theory, Halpern et al.
(2017) argued that SNS users create an “ideal persona” by continually posting selfies that can attract positive
feedback from their audiences.
Moreover, selfie-posters can internalize the idealized persona that they build via selfies (Halpern et al., 2017). The
internalization of positive traits of the self-presentation may allow selfie-posters to build positive illusions of
themselves. As mentioned earlier, individuals consciously or subconsciously make efforts to take, select, and edit
selfies in order to show a preferred and hoped-for version of themselves before posting them on their SNS (Chua
& Chang, 2016; Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2010). Hence, SNS selfies can be a tool of more selective self-expression
compared to SNS photographs taken by others. This suggests that selfies may be more apt as a vehicle for the
internalization of an ideal illusion of the self rather than photographs taken by others. Such selfie-posters’ positive
illusions of themselves may help to construct a positive self-image and boost their self-worth that may be lacking
in offline life (Chua & Chang, 2016). In other words, Instagram users’ selfie-posting behavior may satisfy their
fundamental desire to perceive themselves to be worthy and valuable by producing positive illusions of
In sum, Instagram users’ repeated selfie-posting behavior can result in the internalization of idealized or positive
traits that their selfies attain, which may contribute to enhancing their positive illusions of themselves.
Consequently, this may lead to raising their self-appraisals and changing their self-concept (Kelly & Rodriguez,
2006; Schlenker et al., 1994). Therefore, it is plausible to expect that Instagram users’ selfie-posting behavior can
play an important role in boosting their self-esteem.
Low self-esteem has been known to closely related to young women’s negative body image such as body
dissatisfaction and body shame (Paxton et al., 2006). For instance, Fingeret and Gleaves (2004) found self-esteem
indirectly influences body dissatisfaction through the internalization of appearance standards. In a similar vein,
Tylka and Sabik (2010) have shown that low self-esteem predicted body surveillance, body comparison, and body
shame. Those with high self-esteem incline to like or value themselves and accept their physical appearance as it
is (Fitch, 1970). Thus, they may not need to monitor their body and compare it with others’ bodies. In contrast,
those who have low self-esteem tend to dislike or devalue themselves (Fitch, 1970). Also, they may not have
confidence in their physical appearance. Therefore, they are more likely to vigilantly monitor their physical
appearance and compare their physical appearance against others’ appearances (Mercurio & Landry, 2008; van
den Berg et al., 2007). As a consequence, those with low self-esteem are more likely to experience body shame
(Tylka & Sabik, 2010). In sum, the relevant literature has provided evidence that low self-esteem can be a risk factor
for young women’s body image (Downs et al., 2006; Fingeret & Gleaves, 2004). Thus, it is possible to predict that
Instagram users’ high levels of self-esteem may contribute to decreasing their body dissatisfaction.
As mentioned earlier, Instagram users’ selfie-posting behavior may help to construct their positive self-image and
beliefs about themselves, which may contribute to enhancing their self-esteem. It is also likely that enhanced selfesteem
may lead to a decreasing in body dissatisfaction. Connecting previous studies reviewed above, Instagram
users’ self-esteem may play a mediating role in the relationship between their selfie-posting behavior and body
dissatisfaction. Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:
H1: Self-esteem will mediate the relationship between selfie-posting behavior and body dissatisfaction such that
(a) selfie-posting behavior will increase self-esteem, which will in turn (b) decrease body dissatisfaction.
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