“Too Good to Be True”: Semi-Naked Bodies on Social Media

“Too Good to Be True”: Semi-Naked Bodies on Social Media

Anke J. Kleim (University of Strathclyde, UK), Petya Eckler (University of Strathclyde, UK) and Andrea Tonner (University of Strathclyde, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8535-0.ch005


This chapter examines how body image deception is created and understood in social media. The authors focus specifically on the beach body, which is a narrower form of bodily representation online, but where deception is especially likely to occur. Focus group discussions with young adults revealed that editing and perfecting the beach body is commonplace and even normalized on social media. However, participants distinguished between celebrities and friends in expected use of manipulation and seemed to place a limit on the acceptable types of manipulation: body tan but not body shape, for example. The authors discuss the implications of these discussions and how applying deception theory in body image research can provide useful insights.
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Media images, such as of the ideal beach body, increasingly undergo digital alteration and enhancement, so that most pictures we see online represent an idealized version of reality. This trend applies to celebrities and regular users alike. In this “online appearance culture” (Williams & Ricciardelli, 2014), users seem obsessed with posting, sharing, liking and commenting on pictures, and appearance seems to be of growing importance. Through these behaviors, users contribute to the normalization of unrealistic body and beauty ideals, which can be damaging to body image, self-evaluation and overall wellbeing (Fardouly, Diedrichs, Vartanian, & Halliwell, 2015).

The beach body is an especially interesting niche in the larger body image literature, due to the high expectations placed on individuals offline and online, and the likelihood that those expectations cannot be met. Thus, the mediatized beach bodies of young people online are not only photographic versions of their real bodies, but an improved and perfected representation, which agrees with the cultural standards of the day and which sometimes is quite removed from the original. Through photo manipulation, accessorizing and body positioning, these “easy lies” (Harwood, 2014) become possible.

In this chapter, we will examine mediatized images of the beach body in the context of social media through the conceptual lenses of deception, a unique combination of concepts, which has not been explored together previously, and which can expand significantly the current range and depth of research on body image and deception. We will explore what motivates young people to engage in online deception about their beach body and how they achieve it.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mediatized Beach Body: Images of beach bodies displayed on social media and in mass media.

Beach-Body Ready: The annual and seasonal process of achieving an ideal beach physique as depicted in the media through bodily preparation techniques such as dieting, exercising, hair removal and fake-tanning.

Real Beach Body: Semi-naked figures in swimwear in natural offline environments.

Information Manipulation Theory 2: A theory which focuses on the creation of a deceptive message and on the motivations of the sender.

Truth-Default Theory: The theory posits that when people communicate with each other, they tend to presume that their conversation partner is basically honest.

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