Shirtless man before and after digital enhancing

Two ways to alleviate body image issues in men

Instagram now boasts over one billion users worldwide, with users continuously going on the app to build social connections, document their lives, and peer into the lives of others.

However, research has shown that frequent use of these kinds of sites can be bad for our mental health.[1,2] In particular, looking at images on Instagram can harm a person’s body image by making users feel they do not meet the “idealised” standard of the bodies on display in their feed.

This issue is often mentioned in the context of women, but there is increasing evidence that this is a problem for men as well. Between 68-95% of adult men have reported that they experienced some kind of body disturbance stemming from social media use.[3]  Men who view idealised images of other men often experience increased body dissatisfaction, depression, and low self-esteem.  Men, like women, often feel pressure to be thin. Additionally, men may also feel pressure to be muscular or lean.

Many of the issues noted above are caused by social comparison. Users look on the app to judge what is seen as “desirable” by others, often given by large numbers of “likes” or followers for certain accounts.  When users feel they do not reach that standard, there is inevitably a decline in their well-being.  The fact that many Instagram “models” may digitally manipulate their images does not improve the situation!

How can we address body image issues in men?

In my work, we have looked at two ways in which these issues can be alleviated:

1. Through Increasing Media Literacy

This is where users are educated about the “truthfulness” of the images they see on Instagram.  We point out that images can be digitally manipulated, that things can be happening off-camera (e.g., lighting can accentuate muscles), and that the people in the images are often professionals and thus know just how to pose!  Although we often know these things on a subtle level, explicitly outlining how they occur with examples can really drive the point home.

2. Through Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is where individuals are taught to recognise negative thought patterns and to replace them with more positive and adaptive ones.  It is very common for people to automatically think something negative when they view an image, and not even realise they’re doing it.  For example, a person may look at a model on Instagram and think “my body is terrible”.

If we can get people to recognise these thoughts, they can be restructured into something more positive.  We can encourage individuals to analyze that thought and say, is that a reasonable comparison?  Should I be comparing myself against someone who is a professional model?  Do I really look “terrible” or just perhaps not as good as this person in the photo?

By drawing a person’s attention to these thoughts, and helping them realise that these thoughts are not very constructive or fair, body dissatisfaction may be alleviated.

The Research

To test whether these strategies actually work, we convened male focus groups and briefed them on the techniques of media literacy and cognitive restructuring in the context of Instagram use.

We then ran the men through two experiments.  Across the two studies, the techniques of media literacy and cognitive restructuring proved very effective in addressing body image issues.[4]

When we dive deeper into the findings, it seemed that viewing the materials reduced the perceived realism of Instagram images.  The men realised what they were seeing was not very realistic, and so stopped comparing themselves to those images.  This in turn meant they were less critical about their own bodies.

Overall, this is a great first step in addressing men’s body image issues.  By learning the techniques of media literacy and cognitive restructuring, negative feelings can be reduced by 1) illustrating what we see online may not be very realistic; and 2) making people aware of the negative thoughts they have, so they can address them.

Moving forward, we now want to study these effects over a longer period of time, such as months or years, to see if we can create lasting change in Instagram users, and create more powerful body positivity in men.

Please let me know if reading this article has changed how you think about your body by taking this brief survey.

Next Steps

Our self-guided course Rewiring Negative Thoughts, walks us through the steps of cognitive restructuring, a powerful technique that can help us take control of our thoughts, emotions, and overall mindset.

This course includes interactive exercises and examples that make it easier for us to apply these techniques in our everyday life.


  1. de Valle, M. K., Gallego-García, M., Williamson, P., & Wade, T. D. (2021). Social media, body image, and the question of causation: Meta-analyses of experimental and longitudinal evidence. Body Image, 39, 276–292.
  2. Fioravanti, G., Bocci Benucci, S., Ceragioli, G., & Casale, S. (2022). How the Exposure to Beauty Ideals on Social Networking Sites Influences Body Image: A Systematic Review of Experimental Studies. Adolescent Research Review, 7(3), 419–458.
  3. Galioto, R., & Crowther, J. H. (2013). The effects of exposure to slender and muscular images on male body dissatisfaction. Body Image, 10(4), 566–573.
  4. Stiff, C., & Cutts, M. (2023). The effectiveness of an instagram intervention targeted at men to reduce body dissatisfaction. Current Psychology.