Identity and Online Advocacy

The positive side of Social media: The support of self-presentation, mental health and friendships among Instagram users.


Prior to the Instagram platform, many people tend to be more confident and comfortable about their identity when they surround themselves with other people. As innovative technology allows people to have a border connection with others globally, technology plays a significant role in some people’s lives. Instagram is one of the platforms that has highly favoured by most people since the beginning. It is an image and video-based platform that allows people to interact and communicate through posts. Self-presentation has become a significant role of Instagram usage regarding online complement and number of followers. Many people tend to create their standard of beauty based on their favourite famous people, which causes mental health issues from the sense of self-comparison between users and followers. However, some people positively use Instagram to spread the awareness of individual beauty and provide online advocacy within the third space community. This study aims to provide evidence to support the positive effects of Instagram usages, including body positivity, network individualism and relationship. Results show Instagram is one of the influential causes for some people’s mental illness, however, many people improve their cognition of self-presentation and receive mental support from others via Instagram.


Social media in this digital age has become people’s lives once they have access to innovative technologies, for example, mobile phones, tablets, laptops and others. It allows people to exchange their interest through global connections from online media platforms. Instagram is the platform that people are able to communicate by photo-sharing, comment and like on the photo (Ganda, 2014). It creates another community that allows users to express themselves among other users of the platform. However, Instagram’ algorithm of communication forms both positive and negative mental effects on some users from the number of followers, likes and comments. As users receive a different amount of each function depends on individual popularity, particularly with the image-based platform. Some users tend to aim and compare themselves to the online body image, which leads to negative consequences of body dissatisfaction (Lupinetti, 2015). At the same time, Instagram users create content called BoPo or body-positive to oppose the idea of the appearance ideals by including quotes, captions, images and women selfies that are proud to present their appearance in the post (Cohen et al., 2019). It creates advocacy of self-presentation and emotion from the development of social skills (Gentina, 2021) with meaningful built friendship as one of social capital online within Instagram (Lee & Borah, 2020).  


People treat each other differently, depending on individual social acceptance both offline and online. However, people are more concerned about their online acceptance due to the broader community and comparison within the image-based platform such as Instagram to increase self-popularity globally that leads to mental illnesses. According to Qutteina et al. (2019), Instagram is the most influential online platform of eating disorder toward some users’ eating attitude from following favourite famous people’ body images, posts and messages. The idea of body dissatisfaction produces stress and anxiety concerning the ideal beauty standards of famous people. It makes some people feel a lack of confidence in self-presentation, and they tend to rely on false solutions such as eating disorders. Moreover, the positive number of Instagram users who have a mental health issue mainly from a long time spent on the visual content and appearance focus produce surveillance of user’ body shape (Saunders & Eaton, 2018). The users over usage of Instagram creates an obsession with individual beauty stereotypes based on their favourite celebrities, which gives the feeling of body insecurity to users whenever they access the visual content on Instagram and lead them to disordered eating behaviour. As mention above about mental health issue from Instagram usages, there are two disorders that have recently appeared among Instagram users, including bulimia as make bulimic make themselves vomit, and anorexia is known as the scare of consuming food due to the number of likes and followers from individual photo-sharing such as selfies (Butkowsi et al. 2019). Many users risk their diet to keep themselves on their ideal of perfect body shape and beauty standard. Therefore, they might be able to gain more likes and followers in exchange on Instagram. In short, many people focus on the wrong purpose of the usage of Instagram, and they tend to fall into the negative influences by concerning themselves with impressing others by posting images with excellent body shape and appearance online and overlook the point that they destroy their actual health. However, many people and Instagram influencers use Instagram to spread awareness of body positivity, using the new mass self-communication and develop meaningful relationships among users.

Many people notice a large number of people who experience an eating disorder. They decide to use their personal Instagram account to create non-profit posts to spread awareness and message to build others self-confidence and be proud of individual attractiveness rather than compare themselves with others. According to Bahr (2018), many Instagram users post images and caption them with either information on disorders or support messages to create a positive mindset in their followers. Mental illness is the sickness that needs someone to inspire them in order to get over it, so they need a reliable person to persuade and guild them to the correct understanding and build self-value. For this reason, the person who is able to help to influence people with the disorder is the person they follow on Instagram, plus people who succeed with a different appearance. For example, Tess Holliday is the most influential body-positive advocate as a plus-size woman with a million followers. She creates a successful campaign of loving their body using the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards on Instagram to present that everyone can be beautiful and fashionable (Cwynar-Horta, 2016). The idea of using different self-presentations as the proving point of self-success can be a significant model for many people. As well as creating the campaign to encourage others to stand on their attractiveness by posting body images helps to build and support the confidence of many people. In further time, body-positive movement on Instagram accounts aims for appearance-based social comparison. Many people have included a wide range of content on their post, including fashionable outfits, the picture of women that happily display different body shapes and quotations to inspire other people (Tiggemann et al., 2020). This proves that Instagram is a powerful platform that allows people globally to help to prevent many people from mental illness and support the individual identity as a unique charm. Hence, Instagram is one of the most powerful platforms that are able to influence self-presentation on online media and provide a new space for users’ mental support. Next, content collaboration forms a new global connection for people who seek to create a new social life.

Networked individualism allows people to interact with each other through many media platforms, which many people decide to place themselves as the centre of content creation.

Praprotnik (2019) states that each user will have their small community within this online platform in order to share their enthusiasm and exchange knowledge.  While offline conversation requires high communication skills from many people, Instagram gives the users a wider possibility to express themselves with others who have the same interest. For this reason, users feel more comfortable and secure interacting with people online. Moreover, the Instagram concept of users’ participation based on visual interaction with powerful individualism, which creates a new online communication culture (Ekman & Widholm, 2017). Instagram appears to respond to natural human behaviour of story sharing. The users can express themselves based on using themselves as the centre of others by posting the image and wait for feedback from others in the form of like and comment. In addition, networked society provides options to its users to select control over others’ accessibility of user’ information. Also, users can choose the particular online society themselves to have an association (Udayanga, 2017). The Instagram algorithm of personal privacy creates the limitation of users’ information accessibility from others, which help users to narrow the online community to feel comfortable sharing information with the person they trusted. Thus, people can choose the person to share the interest in real life. People cannot just hold the entire conversation with one person topic as mass self-communication. Online networks help people to reach their satisfaction with the conversation by allowing the users to be self-centred of the conversation. Plus, users feel more secure to share the information with the selection members. For this reason, people tend to enjoy having to interact with people through the media platform, which helps maintain users’ well-being while engaging with the online society.  

Since social interaction is essential for all people as it can affect both mental and physical health. Instagram provides the opportunity for people to have and interact with others across the world. This helps users to decrease loneliness and improve their healthy connection with others. According to Pittman and Reich (2016), the new technology has become a part of users’ appeal and engagement to help decrease individual loneliness. For example, Instagram is a contemporary digital society that allows people to like, comment, and share images rather than exchanging messages. Instead of communicating through text, Instagram plays the role of third space to keep the connection between users and others. Surprisingly, people can sense and feel deeper from the photo than text. Additionally, during the pandemic period, people are not able to have interaction as face-to-face communication. However, Instagram provides an opportunity for people to update the information with others and develop their well-being while in a lockdown situation across the world (Ye et al., 2021). Online social media is the solution during lockdown situations. People can keep in contact with their friends and interact with others on Instagram. Considering human cooperation among people is one of the significant elements of social capital. Therefore, by having communication and interaction through Instagram, many people are able to build new friendships. Also, it helps users to strengthen the weak existing relationship (Lee & Borah, 2020). This reinforces the communication method during the mentioned situation of the pandemic. People are not able to have physical interaction due to the spread of the virus. So, the usage of new technology such as Instagram seems to be the solution to continue human interaction with others. Hence, the innovation of technology on online media platforms. It helps remove the boundaries and breaks the limitation of human interaction. Although most people cannot have physical interaction throughout the pandemic, Instagram gives people the opportunity to continue engaging with other people.


To conclude, innovative technology such as Instagram provides the ability for people to interact with others globally. It creates a negative effect on users idealises of appearance, which leads to mental health from the wrong diet. However, there are plenty of positive effects. The positive side of media use of social networks can divide into three sections. Begin with body positivity, as many people try to encourage about being proud and love of individual self-presentation by using Instagram as a medium to spread awareness. Mass self-communication to satisfy human behaviour of self-centred within the context of the conversation and the secure space to express their interest with others. Also, the change of social interaction, since the online media allow people to have access all the time and everywhere, face-to-face interaction is no longer only the way to communicate and keep the connection between people. Due to the limitation of the number of the chosen platform, this study can only provide the effect of the usage of one platform. For future paper, discussions of additional media platforms should be included in order to have better support for the statement of the effect of social media on identity and advocacy.


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Cohen, R., Fardouly, J., Newton-John, T. & Slater, A. (2019). #BoPo on Instagram: An experimental investigation of the effects of viewing body positive content on Young women’s mood and body image, 21(7).

Ekman, M. & Widholm, A (2017). Political communication in an age of visual connectivity: Exploring Instagram practices among Swedish politicians, 15(1). doi: 10.1386/nl.15.15_1

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Pittman, M. & Reich, B. (2016). Computer in Human Behaviour. Social media and loneliness: Why an Instagram picture may be worth more than a thousand Twitter words, 62.

Praprotnik, T. (2019). The Power to Choose or Power to Lose? Networked Individualism and the Usage of Social Media.

Qutteina, Y., Nasrallah, C., Kimmel, L. & Khaled, S. M. (2019). Relationship between social media use and disordered eating behaviour among female university students in Qatar, 4(1).

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14 thoughts on “The positive side of Social media: The support of self-presentation, mental health and friendships among Instagram users.

  1. Hi Im,

    I loved reading your paper, it was captivating. However, you did seem to be going back and forth a little with which side you supported in some places.

    I totally agree with you when you say Instagram is the number one platform for influencing eating disorders. This makes sense given that there is so much imagery based content and the large number of celebrities and influencers that flock to it to show off their bodies and lives. It is so sad to see the extent to which these social media sites can create harmful byproducts of the content posted, including eating disorders and body insecurity.

    Seeing body positivity activists like Tess Holliday using the same platforms as the body shaming individuals to create a strong positive message, sends home the message to me that the content on these platforms can go both ways in terms of how they influence people’s thoughts and feelings.

    I also think that it is often an even stronger message when it is sent by a celebrity on influencer who promotes body positivity. The celebrity in question that springs to my mind is Lizzo, who promotes loving yourself and eating healthily to match what your body needs not what anyone elses does (Jefferson, 2020).

    My question to you is that do you think that the length of time and who people follow are a big factor on how much they are impacted by the content they see, or is it more their personal resolve?

    Great paper thanks!

    – Lily

    Jefferson, M. [@lizzobeeating]. (2020, October 22). Now streaming on Netflix. [Video]. Instagram.

  2. Hi Im, this is actually a very good argument regarding the use of social media and how it is a tool for self-presentation, mental health and friendships. However, some bits that I quite question on is the overall developing relationships with people online that have a chance to be dangerous in impacting an individual physical and mental well-being. It is indeed true that SNS is beneficial when it comes to connectivity and social support, but because of the wide users of SNS are adolescents, won’t they go off tangent and becoming more gullible and vulnerable to the relationships they have developed online that can put their mental wellbeing at risk? A study by Valkenburg in 2010 has concluded that adolescents may wrongly develop relationship with people they met online; whether it is someone that supported their view point in an online argument, someone that complimented them online, or someone that actually helped them regarding their mental health that in-real life friends couldn’t do. Conversations with people online especially on topics such as mental health and life enables one to be unconsciously reliant with their “online friends”. Yes, to one side it is good as one can expand their friend group and connectivity, but I believe that the other negative side is that one will be more prone in becoming gullible in “instructions” or “advice” given by their so-called online friends without knowing if it is good or bad, hence proving that the connectivity available online isn’t always positive and one should not take-it-easy in developing online friends. Thus, do you reckon that the connectivity online can also deteriorate one’s mental health as things online are not always positive? Thanks let me know!

    Also, I’d appreciate if you have a time to check out my post on social media and mental illness.

    Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2011). Online communication among adolescents: an integrated model of its attraction, opportunities, and risks. Journal of adolescent health, 48(2), 121-127.

  3. Hi Im 🙂

    I really enjoyed your conference paper thank you for sharing your beautifully written work it was great.

    What an amazing thing technology is and how it has allowed us to interact and communicate on new scales.

    Imagine a pandemic without the technology we have now to keep updated and communicate. We now live in a world where people had the option to work and study from home, how privileged and lucky are we?

    While online study did annoy me a little I was beyond grateful to even have the choice to do so.

    I really enjoyed your paper!

    Thanks so much and all the best.

    Georgia Wiley 🙂

  4. Hey Im,

    I very much enjoyed your paper. You provide an interesting insight into how social media sites like Instagram can spread awareness of important issues and provide online advocacy within the third space community.

    Being a strong social media user, I have seen the dark side of these sites, but strongly agree that the positives outweigh the negatives. The thing I find most interesting about social media is its ability to connect people instantly from across the globe. Furthermore, the ability to share content efficiently makes it a great tool for collaboration in tackling things like social issues.


  5. Hi Im,

    How are we feeling as the conference paper is drawing to an end?

    What a fantastic paper that explores the collaborative nature of the social media platform, which is Instagram, since its introduction to the online environment in the early 2010s has provided an alternative revenue for users to create a social world with the use of photos rather than words. The mechanism of images rather than words creates an environment where users are encouraged to promote and upload content that they hold dear to themselves in order to create a web profile that is unique to them. Unfortunately, this has lead users which have been mentioned within your paper to mimic the content they have seen as they are able to view and follow users with content creators with various body shapes and sizes which has led to an increase in mental health related issues. This increase in mental issues has encouraged the conversation to change discrimination and alter it into a means of interconnect friendships and relations online. I am sure as found on within your social media platforms, it is a good change to see the variety of multicultural looks being incorporated online such as the Indigenous, Asian and middle eastern. Is there any current hashtags you have come across recently that incorporate the change of body discrimination?

    Many thanks Im!

  6. Hey Im!

    I found your paper really interesting and enjoyed reading about the positive and negative effects of social media, though I found myself getting lost in which side you were supporting. I see how social media can be beneficial in creating communities that support things like being comfortable in your own skin, but do you think these communities now overrun the negative communities that advocate ‘fitspo’? And therefore create a safe space for people online? With your comments about the negative effects of social media, I couldn’t help but think that they overrule the positives that you have listed.

    My paper discusses the negative effects of social media use in adolescents being detrimental to community building. Let me know if you give it a read and what your thoughts are! Here is a link:

    Thanks for the interesting read,

  7. Hey Im!

    It is quite crazy to see how technology has evolved and given us ways to interact with others that we probably would have never thought of years ago. I love how you talked about both the positive and negative aspects that have come with technology and social media. Especially in today’s society, with everyone obsessing over views, likes, comments, anything to get positive reinforcement, leads people to present unrealistic standards within society and creating body image issues. All these factors affect people’s mental health and their relationships with food, people, etc. When you mentioned that people treat each other differently based on their social acceptance, I completely agreed. I feel as though these influencers are creating a community with other people who portray themselves as “perfect” giving them large followings because everyone wants to be like them. Do you think if enough body positivity messages spread, the concept of having this ideal body type will slowly stop being everyone’s main insecurity?

    This paper was so well written and very enjoyable to read! if you’re interested, I wrote a paper on health and fitness influencers spreading misinformation within their community. Here’s the link:

  8. Hi Im

    Thank you so much for writing a paper about the positive effects of social media!

    I am the mum of two teenage girls, and I am always concerned about the influence of social media on them. I try and have conversations with them about their use of social media. I know they both use Instagram. I believe that social media can definitely be used for good.

    I can see some similarities with your analysis of how Instagram can help to support mental health with my own paper which looked at the way military partners connect in closed Facebook groups. The need for social interaction has been so important especially during the pandemic.

    Do you have any thoughts on why one person might have a positive experience online while others have a negative one? Is it the length of time they spend online?

    Weinsten (2018) notes that ‘moderate screentime (including specifically for smartphone and social media use) “is not intrinsically harmful and may even be advantageous in a connected world.’

    I am so fascinated by the reasons why different people have different experiences of social media. I enjoyed reading your analysis.

    My paper, if you are interested is here

    Weinstein, E. (2018). The social media see-saw: Positive and negative influences on adolescents’ affective well-being. New Media and Society, 20(10), 3597–3623.

    All the best

  9. Hi Im,
    Finally a paper writing about positive effect online! your paper is amazing I really enjoy reading it, the mental health subject you talk about is fascinating, we all tends to forget the mental health online and the way you taclke the subject is very well done. I have also wrote about self presentation online but in a completely different way than you. it would be great if you have a look at my paper and tell me your views about it.

    Overall Very Good Paper!

    Here is the link to my paper :

  10. Hi I’m !

    I really enjoyed your paper! I think the topic of body positivity on social media is so relevant to nowadays and how social media can actually help people in really positive and meaningful ways. I really found it interesting how you mentioned
    “ Since social interaction is essential for all people as it can affect both mental and physical health”
    I think social interaction especially during Covid has been something people have really been craving and social media has definitely helped people communicate and build each other up when it comes to body images and confidence.

    I really like how you talked about how some online influencers and just normal people will put up non profit posts to raise awareness without commercial gain. This is really interesting as I went the other way on my conference paper (self promo moment) and talked about how social media influencers may lose credibility when they do sponsored posts.
    It really is an interesting perspective to see a more positive view on online identity and what it means to build a meaningful following with really genuine positive messages. I think this is so relevant for the way in which we build communities online especially since body positivity and confidence are such important topics and starting to really take off on social media platforms.

    Really enjoyed your paper, Im !

    Have a great day 🙂


    1. Hi Emma and Im,

      This is a really well written and insightful paper Im, I agree that the topic of body positivity on Instagram is really important, especially recently with the rise of Instagram influencers. I also think it is important to highlight the positive affects of social media in general, as there is a lot of negativity surrounding it, but it can be a useful tool for spreading awareness and bringing together like-minded people.

      In terms of your paper Emma, I would love to read it (even if it was a self promo moment), as I agree that influencers lose credibility when they promote shamelessly online when it’s clear they don’t have a genuine interest in the product. I am keen to read your insights – would you be able to link me your paper here?
      Looking forward to reading it!
      Thanks Emma and Im 🙂

      1. Hi Megan 🙂

        Thanks for your insight on this! Here is a link to my paper

        Hope you enjoy reading it! I think that Im and I’s papers complement each other in that they show two different sides of social media influencers!

        Have a good day 🙂


  11. Hi Im.
    This is an interesting paper and well written. We often hear about the negative effects of social media, but it is good to acknowledge the positive as well. I similarly wrote my paper about the positive effects of online platforms for LGBT youth. Platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram can help improve mental health by allowing the teens to not feel alone, when often they can be in situations where they are not accepted by people in their day-to-day lives. I was pleased to read though your paper that there are other areas of society that also find support across social media.

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