Social Media and the Dieting Industry

After publicly criticising the Kardashians and Cardi B for their marketing of dieting and detox industry products, Jameela Jamil describes Instagram’s newest policy as a “huge step” in the fight against this content. Part of her “i Weigh” movement expresses her views against content promoting weight loss products and unhealthy lifestyles, solidifying her approval of the new policy that takes a further step towards creating a safer and healthier social media environment. However, how much can the new policy help facilitate this, and is there more that should be done?

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The pressures of “the dieting mind-set”

Many influencers today advertise a “dieting mind-set”, where dissatisfaction with your natural body shape or size leads to a decision to actively change your physical body weight or shape. This sort of publicity can cause extreme amounts of guilt associated with eating, distorting reality and facilitating unrealistic expectations for what is right for our bodies. The sad truth of it all is, dieting rarely works. According to the University of Berkeley, “95% of all dieters regain their lost weight and more within 1-5 years”. There is a risk of “yo-yo” dieting, which involves a cycle of gaining and losing weight, and often means missing out key nutrients like calcium from the diet. Worst of all, this can restrict your brainpower.

How does this relate to us as students?

As university students, this can be a difficult problem to approach and deal with for multiple reasons. Without a huge source of income, it is occasionally difficult to make ends meet; spending on items like miraculous dieting teas or vitamins stretches the bank balance, or simply buying fresh fruit and vegetables is expensive. As student life gets busy there might not always be enough time to cook what your parents may describe as proper meals. We must also take into account the tendency to stress eat. Harvard Medical School published an article that explains how being prone to stress eating is due to the way the hormone cortisol increases appetite and may “ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat”. It also points out that ghrelin, a “hunger hormone” has a role to play where “physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both”. Specifically, the University’s high sports rankings could contribute to an unspoken pressure to be “athletic” and “slim”.

Should posts regarding the dieting world be monitored?

When there is such great risk of causing major harm to the mental health and perceptions of social media users, there should be safety measures put in place by these companies. The UK Centre for Mental Health reports that “the notion of the ‘idealised body image’ has arguably been detrimental to self-esteem and image, especially that of young women […] When these expectations are inevitably not met, the impact on self-esteem can be damaging, to the disturbing extent that the Royal Society of Public Health recently found 9 in 10 young females say that they are unhappy with the way they look.”

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Instagram’s newest policy – fabulous or fail?

Instagram is riddled with dieting pictures, products and promotions. Despite a current rule where influencers must write “ad” or “sponsored” in their posts, the app has created a new policy whereby users known to be under 18 are no longer allowed to be shown dieting adverts, and any posts promoting cosmetic procedures, detox or dieting products with false claims or buying incentives will be taken down. Initially this seems like an effective way of getting rid of such ads from the mainstream audience, especially young users of the app … or does it? Users of Instagram are not asked for their date of birth when they open an account, therefore these details are unknown to the app. Instagram’s Public Policy Manager Emma Collins said, “We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media”. While her tone is somewhat sympathetic, her overall motivation could be for protecting the company’s image rather than a passion for fostering a safe online environment. Furthermore, it has been found that some over-18s want the opportunity to block out these dieting adverts as well. If the same measures are taken for minors, surely Instagram should consider making the option available to everyone?

Should influencers feel accountable for their promotions?

As many influencers are paid to advertise these products, we might question their genuine motivations. Critically examining their motivations for promoting these products would hold them more accountable for the influence that they are having on their audience’s attitudes, body image and welfare, ultimately to the detriment of the health of their followers. Sadly, it is very unclear whether influencers truly believe in the latest dieting inventions they promote or not.

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Despite all concerns, Instagram’s newest policy provides a vital step forward in strengthening its promotion of self-love over constant guilt with regards to the dieting and detox world.

I recommend you look at these pages which all work to create a supportive online feed:

  • @i_weigh – founded by Jameela Jamil, this account is about radical inclusivity; it aims to amplify, advocate and pass the mic.
  • @libbyshappyproject – a body-positive artist creating funky images with very important messages.
  • @theeverymanproject – a project that aims to create a conversation around diversity, accepting vulnerability and fighting back against toxic masculinity.
  • @kristamurias – a certified intuitive eating coach who wants to encourage you to heal and grow your relationship with food and your body.
  • @drjoshuawolrich – an NHS surgical doctor fighting weight stigma, challenging #nutribollocks to improve your relationship with food.

– Mickey White

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