Instagram Is Finally Going After Diet Ads — An Explainer

In the 90s, there was Slimfast. In the early 2000s, Anna Nicole Smith yelled with glee, “Trimspa, baby!” And today, Instagram influencers rave about the tummy tea that helped them lose 10 pounds overnight.

As culture writ large changes and evolves, diet culture, in turn, finds new ways to reinvent itself. And its latest reinvention is in the form of #ads and #sponcon on Instagram. At any given time, you can find dozens of influencers and quasi-celebrities talking about the diet supplements — everything from laxative tea to lollipops — they swear by in sponsored posts. But now a new Instagram policy is taking aim at diet advertisements on the platform. And that’s a good thing.

Here’s why.

What is Instagram’s new policy?

Per Glamour, one of the new policies states that “users under 18 won’t be able to see posts promoting weight loss or cosmetic procedures with incentive to purchase product.” Instagram will further restrict and, in some cases, even remove content that promotes cosmetic procedures by introducing a tool to allow users to report posts which violate these new policies. These policies will also go into effect on Facebook, which owns Instagram.

In a press release, 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,” Collins said.

Why does this matter?

Media of all manner have long been a way for the diet industry to shape public perceptions of what is healthy and beautiful — and subsequently sell products to people who are desperate to attain that image. And that has had an especially detrimental effect on young people who, experts have warned time and time again, are especially vulnerable to diet culture.

Social media takes this pressure and turns it up to 11. And that’s not just noise from body positivity advocates like actress Jameela Jamil. A 2016 study found “a strong and consistent association between social media use and eating concerns in a nationally-representative sample of young adults ages 19 to 32 years.” Translation: social media does affect body image and how young people feel about their bodies.

Which means that it’s essential to make sure that a tool which has such an outsized effect on body image doesn’t also put the tools for disordered eating — laxatives, “detox tea,” and other diet supplements and cosmetic procedures — directly into people’s path.

Will this stop diet advertisers?

Absolutely not. The Kardashian/Jenner clan — which is in many ways the archetype of Instagram diet culture — and other influencers will likely find another way to shill their products, and the diet industry will find another way to reach their target audience. But what these policies will do is cut off a large platform targeted directly at young adults.

Is this change going to solve everything? Of course not. But it’s a step and maybe one that will help to amplify other steps.