Instagram and diet culture

By IMA on Sep 20, 2019

Instagram and diet culture

Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has attracted over 1 billion monthly active users. That’s a lot of content to a lot of people. What started as a simple photo-sharing app has grown into an immersive shopping platform with ads and influencers cropping up to sell you everything and anything – including ‘diet’ products. But social channels have been facing a media-backlash for their links to mental health issues. Resulting in the platform introducing age restrictions on content about diet and plastic surgery – with some posts banned completely. So what’s the story…

Mental health and the social media backlash

Social media – it isn’t all bad. It has real advantages, like connecting people, pictures of dogs with sunglasses on, following your favourite celebrities and keeping us marketeers up to date with trends. But it does have some serious disadvantages too, including being heavily linked to depression and anxiety in young people. The NHS Medical Director, Prof. Stephen Powis, claimed that more than 1 in 10 young people are affected by mental health issues in the UK. He stated that it is one of the “most pressing issues facing our country”. A study of more than 6,000 children aged 12-15 found those who used social media over three-hours a day were more likely to report issues of depression, anxiety and loneliness. A statistic it’s impossible to ‘like’.

Keeping up with the Kardashians

The Kardashians. Love them or hate them you can’t help but know all about them. They are some of the biggest social media influencers – with sisters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner boasting an impressive 127+ million followers each, enabling them to charge $1,000,000 minimum per endorsed post. But with great power comes great responsibility. With a following of a lot of impressionable young girls it could be argued that they have an ethical responsibility over which advertisers they partner with.

The Kardashians have faced a backlash for promoting ‘unethical’ products such as skinny teas, meal replacements, waist trainers and appetite suppressant lollipops. Kim Kardashian’s infamous appetite lollipop post attracted so much negative attention she was forced to delete the caption…although the picture is still on her Instagram. Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner frequently promote waist trainers – like a modern-day corset. The Kardashians are not the only ones though. Celebs such as Katie Price, Vikki Patterson and Lauren Goodger have advertised these damaging products.

Not just a Yorkshire Tea

Diet products, appetite suppressants and laxative teas are only the start. Besides encouraging an unhealthy relationship with food, diet products are the catalyst for many mental health issues. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend the BBC documentary, Odd One Out. In it, Little Mix star Jesy Nelson discusses the abuse she suffered on social media and how she attempted to take her own life when trolls consistently branded her ‘the ugly one’.

Research has shown that those born after 1995 are much more likely to develop mental health issues. The greatest increase in symptoms occurred in 2011 when social media usage exploded. There are physical effects too – worn over time, waist trainers can damage your internal organs. Studies going back to 20th century found that wearing corsets long term can actually misplace your organs and could cause permanent damage.

So what is Instagram doing about this?

The actor and body-positivity campaigner, Jameela Jamil, secured a major win on this topic. Jamil has previously called celebrities such as those above a “terrible and toxic influence on young girls” – and branded a meal replacement shake as “laxative teas”. Now, in part thanks to Jamil, if an Instagram post promotes a weight loss product (or cosmetic procedure) users under 18 won’t see the post. Instagram also aims to remove any content that makes a ‘miraculous claim’ about weight loss and any diet product that comes with a discount code.

While this a step in the right direction, the problem simply isn’t going to go away. Growing up in an Instagram world means it’s all too easy for young people to feel huge pressure to confirm and aim for unattainable looks that risk damaging their physical and mental health. So, if you are what you see, make sure you’re visual diet is balanced. And, just like junk food, that potentially harmful images are consumed in moderation.