Self-Esteem and Social Media: Do 372 Facebook Photos Mean I'm Insecure?

A new study says women who post lots of pictures of themselves online are seeking too much validation

Yep, 372 is the actual number of photos of me on Facebook. This out of the 483 pics that I've uploaded, plus a couple dozen tagged by friends. I have a feeling this is a lot, at least for someone who doesn't get her picture taken professionally. But I didn't know that it meant my self-esteem was in trouble, until I read this new study by researchers at the University of Buffalo. Uploading lots of pictures of myself to Facebook could mean that I base my self-worth on my appearance and use social media to seek approval -- or so say their findings.

I say: Nice try.

The study authors drew their conclusion by analyzing the results of an online survey completed by 311 participants, 49.8 percent of whom were female. So right off the bat, we've got two problems: A notoriously unreliable data-collecting method and a small sample size. Three hundred and eleven people! Come on, I've got more Facebook photos than that!

Then we get to the bigger problem: That the entire premise is flawed. To say that men base their self-worth on achievements while women focus on appearance is to paint all of humanity with so broad a brush that the guy who wrote Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus is going to think you're perpetuating unfair stereotypes. I'm not going to argue that women aren't pressured to care more about their appearance than men. We get told to look thinner, sexier and younger a million times a day, so it's no wonder that many of us get our self-worth tangled up in all of that. But how you feel about yourself is a nuanced, complicated and ever-changing animal. The role your appearance plays in that self-worth varies from day to day if not hour to hour.

Lead study author Michael A. Stefanone, PhD even acknowledges this: "Although it's stereotypical and might have been predicted, it is disappointing to me that in the year 2011 so many young women continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance -- in this case, by posting photos of themselves on Facebook as a form of advertisement," he says. "Perhaps this reflects the distorted value pegged to women's looks throughout the popular culture and in reality programming from 'The Bachelor' to 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians.'"

Perhaps. Or perhaps Dr. Stefanone should be careful about letting 154 subjects speak for all young women everywhere.

Because I'm pretty over the onslaught of hysterical, "research"-based headlines that claim to offer insight into our relationship with beauty and instead continue to typecast all women as insecure and appearance-obsessed. How does that help anyone? Now, instead of looking at my 372 pictures and thinking "those were some fun times," am I supposed to cringe at such a wanton display of insecurity? Or maybe, because I am so appearance-obsessed, after all, I should only post the ones where I look perfect, thanks to my camera's Beauty Retouch program?

Sometimes 372 Facebook pictures are just... 372 Facebook pictures. If you've gotten married, had a baby, attended friend's weddings, thrown Halloween parties, and/or gone on vacation, chances are, you've accumulated a similar number. And we should all feel just fine about that.

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