Social Comparison and Body Image in Teenage Users of the TikTok App

Cureus. 2023 Nov 3;15(11):e48227. doi: 10.7759/cureus.48227. eCollection 2023 Nov.


Background and aim: The TikTok app is one of the video-based social media platforms that is currently trending and commonly used by teenagers. The data about teenage users of the TikTok app are limited. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence of TikTok app use among teenagers in Saudi Arabia and to investigate the association between TikTok app use and the social comparison and the body image of the study population. Further, to explore the potential associations between the social comparison and the body image of the TikTok app users and their different characteristics.

Methods: This cross-sectional survey study was conducted all over Saudi Arabia. The study included male and female teenagers, aged 12-19 years. The researchers used a structured, self-administered questionnaire to collect data, and it was disseminated using different social media platforms. The social comparison was measured using the questionnaire of the Iowa-Netherlands Comparison Orientation Measure, and the body image was measured using the Measurement of the Body Image Scale. The data were analyzed using the SPSS software version 26 (Chicago, IL: SSPS Inc.). Continuous variables were compared using the Student's t-test, Mann-Whitney U test, or Kruskal-Wallis tests, whereas categorical variables were compared using the Chi-square or Fisher's exact tests as appropriate. Spearman's rank correlation was applied to investigate the association between body image and social comparison scores among TikTok app users and non-users.

Results: This study included 384 Saudi teenagers. Females (n=260) outnumbered males (n=124) (67.7% and 32.3%, respectively), and the mean of their age was 16.3±2.0 years. The researchers found a high prevalence (343/384, 89.3%) of TikTok app use among the studied teenagers. There was a significantly high median of the social comparison score among the TikTok app users (33.0, IQR: 28.0-38.0) compared to the non-users (28.0, IQR: 26.0-34.0), p=0.005. TikTok app users also showed a significantly lower median body image score (64.0, IQR: 54.0-72.0) in comparison to the non-users (67.0, IQR: 58.0-73.0), p=0.037. The correlation between social comparison and body image among teenagers using TikTok showed a negative relationship, but it was not significant (p=0.110). However, a significant negative weak relationship was found between body image and comparison of abilities (rs coefficient=-0.113, p=0.037).

Conclusions: The findings of the current study indicate a high prevalence of TikTok use among teenagers in Saudi Arabia. The use of TikTok was associated with a high social comparison and a negative body image, with more than half of the users expressing a negative body image. Comparison of abilities was associated with an increased level of body dissatisfaction. These findings emphasize the need for the development and implementation of public health policies and awareness programs to promote body acceptance, especially for young people across the country. Future studies should focus on the long-term impact of TikTok use on psychological health.

Keywords: body image; prevalence; saudi arabia; social comparison; teenagers; tiktok.