Protective filtering: A qualitative study on the cognitive strategies young women use to promote positive body image in the face of beauty-ideal imagery on Instagram

Ornella Evens*, Sarah E. Stutterheim, Jessica M. Alleva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Research supports the hypothesis that people with a positive body image engage in a cognitive process of protective filtering, whereby positive information is "filtered in" and negative information is "filtered out" to promote and maintain positive body image (Wood-Barcalow et al., 2010). To provide more insight into this process, this study qualitatively explored the experiences of young women self-identifying as having a positive body image (N = 20, Mage = 21.00) when they were exposed to beauty-ideal imagery. Participants wrote down their thoughts during beauty-ideal exposure on Instagram, and were interviewed. Via reflexive thematic analysis, we identified four themes concerning the protective filtering strategies the participants described using: (a) critiquing the beauty ideal/imagery; (b) appreciating their own/other's bodies; (c) focusing on the values and personality of the women in beauty-ideal imagery; (d) linking beauty-ideal imagery with its past negative consequences. Participants described factors contributing to the effectiveness of their protective filtering, and advice for others to foster positive body image. Overall, many of the protective filtering strategies overlapped with key characteristics of positive body image. Future research may examine whether deliberately "activating" these characteristics in the face of body image-threats could protect and promote positive body image among other women as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-52
Number of pages13
JournalBody Image
Early online date22 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jun 2021

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