She posts…therefore, she is?

Women who base their self-worth on their appearance and other external factors share more photos online and maintain larger networks on online social networking sites, according to a study published this spring. The lead researcher Michael A. Stefanone, of the University of Buffalo was quoted as saying that it was disappointing to him 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.

I do think that appearance can be a major factor in many women’s self-esteem and focus, but in my mind, everyone on Facebook (and most of social media, for that matter) is “attention seeking” and seeking positive reinforcement. It’s just a question of degree. I mean, isn’t Facebook all about external validation? We all enjoy when we post something that gets a big response. We’re putting ourselves out there, opening up some part of our lives and it feels good when that is validated. So, while these women in the study may post more or invest more time in Facebook, I don’t think they have different motivations than those who base their self worth more on internal validations (like academic competence or family love and support).

The stories we share on Facebook often highlight the best moments and the best versions of ourselves. It’s like the newsletters we get in holiday cards, only posted in installments throughout the year.  Pretty photos and travel play a prominent role, as do milestones and achievements (yours or your children’s). It’s all good as long as it’s, well, good. While physical appearance is one dimension, there are many others that affect how we present ourselves and how we experience the feedback.

It’s no surprise that Facebook has become a way for us all to tell our personal stories, and in doing so, connects us to one another. It also taps into our need for the feedback and validation we seek when sharing different parts of our lives. In fact, when Facebook launches Timeline it will be even easier to showcase the stories of our lives. When you think about how you use Facebook, what motivates you to post and what type of response are you looking for?

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