“It’s Better Saying I Look Fat Instead of Saying You Look Fat”: A Qualitative Study of U.K. Adolescents’ Understanding of Appearance-Related Interactions on Social Media

Danielle L. Paddock*, Beth T. Bell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Appearance-related interactions with peers, both positive and negative, are commonplace on social media. Using qualitative methods, this study explores U.K. adolescents’ shared understandings and experiences of these interactions. Sixty-four adolescents (Age M = 12.56; SD = 0.97; Girls = 33) from a secondary school in Northern England participated in semi-structured focus groups. Using thematic analysis, three themes were developed that encapsulate their shared understandings of appearance-related interactions: (a) positive appearance commentary is the norm, especially if you are popular and attractive; (b) comments to others should be positive, but comments about the self should be modest and self-deprecating; and (c) negative appearance comments are problematic but not always intentionally harmful. Overall, our findings suggest that, to adolescents, the boundaries between positive and negative interactions are blurred, as content, intention, gender, and social rules intersect with social media platform design. Further research is needed to better understand how social media site design alters adolescents’ appearance interactions, as well as the role of these interactions in the development and maintenance of peer relationships and body image concerns.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Adolescent Research
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • adolescence
  • appearance interactions
  • focus groups
  • peer relationships
  • social media

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