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The Role Of Gender In Self Presentation And Self-esteem

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Over the last two decades, social media has grown from being a technology based media tool to a medium of self – expression for teenagers and young adults. There seems to be an increasing trend among social media users to control and manipulate one’s identity and appearance on social networking platforms – a tendency to project an exaggerated and often fabricated image of themselves, to create a false idea of certain aspects of their lives. This phenomenon can be called Impression management or self- presentation which has been defined as “the process by which individuals attempt to control the impressions others form of them” (Leary & Kowalski, 1990, p. 34. Self – presentation involves a certain human need to create a positive impression on other people or be a desirable spectacle to one’s “audience” (Cunningham, 2013). Recognition and a gain in reputation on social media are believed to be the ultimate motivation behind this consistent cycle of self – optimization (Völcker & Bruns, 2018). Social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat etc. are the major platforms for teenagers and young adults to create an online profile. These sites allow users to create individual web pages, post personal information like photos and “about me” sections, make friends or acquire “followers” and interact with others (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008). They have varying configurations and create different kinds of platforms for users to broadcast themselves on the internet. Twitter uses message sharing up to 140 characters while Instagram allows users to share photos and videos. Each SNS allows a different type of self – presentation and creates opportunities for users to establish relationships of their personality and their online image (Attrill, 2015, p. 41). (requires more text)

Motivations and tendencies

Attrill also maintains that generally all SNSs require a certain level of image projection and suggests the possibility that people may not necessarily create versions of themselves but may be inclined to project different sides of their personality or life depending on what the SNS demands or is equipped to do. (Attrill, 2015, p. 42). Ellison, Heino and Gibbs, however, conducted a study on self – presentation in online dating and found that the assurance of anonymity in the online world allows users to misrepresent themselves in the form of profiles and create an “ideal self” which is an aspired version of themselves that they present online (Ellison et al., 2006). This finding coincides with the dual factor model that was introduced by Nadkarni and Hoffman in the study of the reasons behind increased use of Facebook which consisted of the need for human belonging and the need for self – presentation out of which the need for belonging is defined as “the intrinsic drive to affiliate with others and gain social acceptance”. These needs can be autonomous or be dependent on factors like cultural background, social and demographic conditions, personality traits such as introversion, shyness, narcissism, self-esteem and self-worth. (Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012). Their study delves deeper into understanding the personal characteristics associated with the need to self – present on social media, concluding that such behavioural patterns may be a reflection of a person’s behaviour offline. Recapitulating Jones and Pittman’s five strategies of self – presentation which established theoretical framework for the study of the subject, Kuznekoff in Social Networking and Impression Management conducted a study to examine the differences in the use of these strategies across social media platforms. The strategies include: ingratiation – engaging in the projection of one’s image that would make one favourable among others, intimidation – create an idea of danger associated with one’s personality, self-promotion – promoting the idea that one is competent and possesses skills and abilities, exemplification – wanting to project a sense of integrity and moral worthiness and supplication – emphasising one’s incapacity to invite assistance (Cunningham, 2013, p. xix). In his study, he discovered that the frequency with which each strategy is exercised and the tendency to do so varied with each platform and what it required from users, which is consistent with Attrill’s observation of the demands of SNSs. Contrary to this, a study on 236 SNS users, conducted in the United States and Germany on university students between the age 17-22, comparing their “ideal-self” with the rating obtained from a testing audience or “observers” found that these Facebook users’ profiles reflect their actual personalities and not an idealised version of themselves (Back et al., 2010). This definite result can be attributed to the small size and similar nature of the tested group of Facebook users, however, it is increasingly apparent that the present research conducted on the existence of self-presentation by SNS users and the tendency to practice it has produced inconsistent results.

Relationship with self – esteem

There are some general assumptions among researchers in the field of human behaviour on social media that self – presentation may be closely tied to a person’s personality and behaviour offline. Similar to Nadkarni and Hoffman’s study of the relationship between Facebook use and personality traits, Buffardi and Campbell also found an association between narcissism and Facebook use (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008). Their study, conducted on 129 undergraduates and their Facebook profile pages found correlations between their scores on the Narcissistic Personality Index (NPI) and the self-promoting information they posted on their pages; higher scores were associated with more tendency for self-promotion such as their self-descriptions, quotes and the perceived attractiveness of their photos. A similar study conducted by Mehdizadeh on 100 Facebook users in York University ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, concluded that higher NPI scores were associated with increased frequency of Facebook use, with the additional finding that these participants rated low on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale, indicating that low self-esteem could be associated with self-promoting narcissistic behaviour online (Mehdizadeh, 2010). Another study by Seong Lyu on the relationship between self-objectification and self-presentation on social media analysed travel selfies taken by 394 Korean women established a correlation between appearance surveillance and self – presentation, concluding that women who felt a certain dissatisfaction with their appearance and body caused by internalised beauty ideals had tendencies to manipulate their image on social media (Lyu, 2016). Though this study involved a limited test group, a general association can be made between body dissatisfaction and self-esteem which requires further research to be a conclusive result. Yang, Holden and Carter’s study on social media self-presentation and identity development among 219 college freshmen in a U.S. university showed a positive correlation between selective self-presentation and self-esteem indicating that while these students showed signs of positive or selective self – presentation on social media, it led to a direct escalation in their self- esteem while they possessed low identity – clarity or a sense of their actual selves (Yang et al., 2017). Similarly, a study conducted by Wilcox and Stephen on 100 Facebook users in the U.S. indicated that self – presentation on Facebook lead to a rise in self-esteem, especially for people using Facebook to make strong connections or ties on the internet (Wilcox & Stephen, 2013). The existing research conducted on the relationship between self – presentation and self – esteem and its associated factors has produced mixed or inconsistent results with respect to positive or negative correlations. While there are substantial number of studies associating Facebook use with increased narcissism and low self – esteem, there are also a few studies that alter that general conclusion by finding that social media self – presentation is in fact associated with a rise in self – esteem. In addition to this, the specificity of the geographical locations and the type or number of test subjects affects the conclusions of each study and it is difficult to assume a single standard of human behaviour. Most of these studies were conducted prior to 2014 when Facebook was the most preferred and popular SNS. In recent years a number of sites like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube have gained popularity and most studies have not accounted for this expanding pool of SNSs, hence the results can only be applied to a narrow area of social media.

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The gender variable

Among the possible influences on a person’s tendency to self – present on social media, gender may play an important role. Gender, culture and communication are related to each other or as Wood says in Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture,

“What gender means depends heavily on cultural values and practices; a culture’s definitions of masculinity and femininity shape expectations about how individual women and men should communicate; and how individuals communicate establishes meanings of gender that, in turn, influence cultural views” (Wood, 2008, p.20).

There is a general tendency on social media of self – objectification and comparison among women – an expectation of achieving an ideal body weight or shape or projecting sexuality. Men may experience the expectations of the socially constructed idea of masculinity which involves having strong bodies and tough personalities (Rose et al., 2012). These gender based expectations can influence a person’s behaviour on social media. However, the existing research on the influence of gender on self – presentation tendencies on social media is limited and unspecific. In Kapidzic and Herring’s study conducted on the interrelation between race, gender and self – presentation in teen profile pictures, it was found that females tended to post pictures which conveyed seductiveness whereas males seemed to be inviting friendships (Kapidzic & Herring, 2014). This study establishes that there is a difference in the way men and women post content on social media, but makes no reference to self – presentation or falsification of the information posted. However, a study conducted on self-presentation in online dating compared the tendencies to self – present in young female and male undergraduates at a university and found that more men changed their personality characteristics and physical appearance on online dating sites, compared to women (Guadagno et al., 2012).


  1. Attrill, A. (2015). The manipulation of online self-presentation: Create, edit, re-edit and present. Springer.
  2. Back, M. D., Stopfer, J. M., Vazire, S., Gaddis, S., Schmukle, S. C., Egloff, B., & Gosling, S. D. (2010). Facebook profiles reflect actual personality, not self-idealization. Psychological Science, 21(3), 372-374.
  4. Buffardi, L. E., & Campbell, W. K. (2008). Narcissism and social networking web sites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(10), 1303-1314.
  5. Ellison, N., Heino, R., & Gibbs, J. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-presentation processes in the online dating environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415-441.
  6. Cunningham, C. M., Liberman, C.J., Brody, N., Davis, D.C., Drushel, B.E., Hamman, S.G., Hall, J.A., Johnson, A., Johnson, B., & Kuznekoff, J.H. (2013). Social networking and impression management: Self-presentation in the digital age. Lexington.
  8. Guadagno, R. E., Okdie, B. M., & Kruse, S. A. (2012). Dating deception: Gender, online dating, and exaggerated self-presentation. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2), 642-647.
  9. Kapidzic, S., & Herring, S. C. (2014). Race, gender, and self-presentation in teen profile photographs. New Media & Society, 17(6), 958-976.
  10. Leary, M. R., & Kowalski, R. M. (1990). Impression management: A literature review and two-component model. Psychological Bulletin, 107(1), 34-47.
  11. Lyu, S. O. (2016). Travel selfies on social media as objectified self-presentation. Tourism Management, 54, 185-195.
  12. Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-presentation 2.0: Narcissism and self-esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13(4), 357-364.
  13. Nadkarni, A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2012). Why do people use Facebook? Personality and Individual Differences, 52(3), 243-249.
  14. Rose, J., Mackey-Kallis, S., Shyles, L., Barry, K., Biagini, D., Hart, C., & Jack, L. (2012). Face it: The impact of gender on social media images. Communication Quarterly, 60(5), 588-607.
  15. Völcker, M., & Bruns, A. (2018). Digital self-presentation: The subjective meaning of selfies for adolescents and young adults. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung, 19(3).
  16. Wilcox, K., & Stephen, A. T. (2013). Are close friends the enemy? Online social networks, self-esteem, and self-control. Journal of Consumer Research, 40(1), 90-103.
  17. Wood, J. (2008). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.
  18. Yang, C., Holden, S. M., & Carter, M. D. (2017). Emerging adults’ social media self-presentation and identity development at college transition: Mindfulness as a moderator. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 52, 212-221.

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