Young women interact with online images can affect the way they feel about their own bodies Picture: File

While social media like Facebook and Instagram blurs the difference between reality and fantasy, how young women interact with online images can affect the way they feel about their own bodies, say researchers.

The study showed that young women who actively engage with social media images of friends who they think more attractive than themselves are more likely to feel worse about their own appearance later.

"The results showed that these young adult women felt more dissatisfied with their bodies. They felt worse about their own appearance after looking at social media pages of someone that they perceived to be more attractive than them," said Jennifer Mills, Associate Professor from the York University in Canada. 

For the study, the team included 118 female undergraduate students from diverse ethnic backgrounds aged 18 to 27 years old. 

Participants were asked to log into Facebook and Instagram for a period of five or more minutes and find one peer that was the same age who they felt was more attractive than themselves. 

After looking at the photos, each participant was asked to leave a comment of their choice.

Findings, published in the journal Body Image, showed that participants' views of their own appearance were not affected when interacting with their family members.

Particularly in this age group (18 to mid-20's) appearance is very important, and women care a great deal about how they are perceived by other people. They are also most likely to use social media, according to the researchers.

"We really need to educate young people on how social media use could be making them feel about themselves and how this could even be linked to stringent dieting, eating disorders or excessive exercise," Mills noted.