Digital Sciences for Society - foto Maurice van den Bosch

Filtering Reality: (Re)constructing media literacy programs related to body image on social media

Adopting a co-creation approach to investigate the opportunities for (re)new(ed) media literacy interventions related to (pre)adolescents’ body image

The project in short:

The potentially negative impact of social media use on (pre) adolescents, particularly in terms of decreased self-esteem and body image issues, has been widely discussed. Concerned with adolescents’ (excessive) use of social media, the Dutch government has explored the potential and scope for mandatory media literacy programs.

Although not mandatory yet, several programs for both primary and secondary school pupils are already being offered by various (commercial) organizations. However, these existing programs have often been developed by pedagogical and/or academic experts. As (pre) adolescents are active users of social media, and their social media usage is rapidly evolving, the aim of this project is to assess whether these top-down programs reflect and complement their needs and experiences. Questions regarding the suitability of both content and (delivery) formats of these programs need to be evaluated in conjunction with developers and (intended) target users.

This project will address the above questions and will investigate the opportunities for (re)new(ed) media literacy interventions especially related to (pre)adolescents’ body image.

Project objectives

The project comprises two phases, with the first phase having the following objectives:

  • determine the status quo by developing an inventory of existing media literacy interventions related to body image;
  • explore how (pre)adolescents experience (the effectiveness) of particular programs through ethnographic observations, focus groups, and in-depth interviews;
  • identify any perceived issues or gaps in existing programs and to explore needs and ideas related to particular media literacy interventions.

Building on insights obtained during the first phase, the second phase centers around the co-creation of a (re)new(ed) media literacy intervention. A blueprint for this intervention, which will be the main outcome of this current project, will be executed by developers at Mediawegwijs.

Potential impact

Firstly, the proposed body image intervention which will be developed as part of this project is expected to have a positive impact on young people’s body image.

Secondly, the scientific impact of this project lies in the development of a co-creation methodology for media literacy, which is not standard yet.

Thirdly, the blueprint for a (re)new(ed) media literacy program forms the basis for a follow-up project in which the program will be evaluated. Moreover, this future project will also engage additional relevant actors in the (pre)adolescents’ lives (e.g., parents/guardians and community leaders) to gain a wider understanding of the environmental/social context in which social media usage is embedded.


The project will run for approximately one year starting from September 2023 onwards.

Multidisciplinary project team

To address the intersections of social media usage and (pre)adolescents’ body image, researchers across faculties and universities are involved:

Lead applicant Dr. Anne-Mette Hermans, Assistant Professor at Tranzo, has previously conducted focus groups with adolescents on the topic of social media, body ideals, and body image, which gave rise to the current project proposal.

Dr. Sophie Boerman, Associate Professor at Wageningen University & Research, is experienced in the development (including co-creation processes) and testing of literacy interventions.

Dr. Jolanda Veldhuis, Associate Professor at Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, conducts research in the domain of (countering) media effects, social influences, and normalization and idealization of body ideals among adolescents and young adults.

Dr. Marjolein de Boer, Assistant Professor at the Department of Culture Studies, has conducted qualitative research on how using digital technologies and media shapes people’s experiences of themselves.

Dr. Ini Vanwesenbeeck, Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication and Cognition,  conducts research regarding the positive and negative impact of social media influencers, with a focus on young target audiences. Similarly, Emmelyn Croes, Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication and Cognition, has (qualitative and quantitative) experience with influences of communication technologies, and investigates motivations to follow social influencers and what impact they have on the behavior and well-being of their (young) followers.

Ilse Godtschalk, Director at Mediawegwijs, a major media literacy organization in the Netherlands, has been involved in the project design and will also aid in the execution. Researchers will join the delivery of existing media literacy intervention on ‘online identity’ and Mediawegwijs will provide access to participating schools. Moreover, the organization will facilitate the development of the (re)new(ed) program through its in-house developers.

This project is funded by Tilburg University’s Digital Sciences for Society program:

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The Digital Sciences for Society program invests in impactful research, education and collaboration aimed at seizing the opportunities and dealing with the challenges of digitalization for science and society.

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