Fitspiration Marketing on Social Media takes Advantage of Adolescent Users

Most adolescents have some form of social media — Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, etc. — where they can connect with their friends alongside following their favorite celebrities and influencers. The growth of social media over the past couple of years has been insurmountable, raising both positive and negative concerns for the mental, physical, and emotional health of these young people. 

The general concept of social media has taken a negative toll on adolescents in terms of their self-esteem, body image, and beauty ideals, as it depicts life to be a picture-perfect place. Although most people are aware that most of what is posted on social media isn’t real or is just a snippet of what happens behind the scenes, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the idea as a whole and start to lose oneself. If the general concept of social media can have such a negative effect, what happens when marketing is added? 

Social media marketing is the new wave of social media — where influencers can promote their brands, lifestyles, and products, or be chosen to represent other brands through collaborations, brand deals, paid ads, and partnerships. The most common form of social media marketing is seen through weight loss products, diets, and fitness. This can be seen on A-list celebrity accounts from the Kardashians to small influencers. 

social media apps on phone Photo by dole776 from Unsplash Research has already shown the general negative effects of social media, and more research is starting to emerge about the new wave of ‘fitspiration’ marketing. Everything comes together to support the same idea — the promotion of diets, weight loss products, and fitness on influencer’s Instagrams negatively affects the mental, physical, and emotional health of their adolescent followers. 

Fitspiration marketing usually includes influencers and celebrities with the ‘ideal’ body— thin, curved in all the right places, hourglass figures, and some toned muscles, usually shown while wearing tight fitting sportswear. With their marketing comes personal anecdotes, before and after pictures, and motivational messages of power, perseverance, hope, and guidance. Many of these tactics are harmful, such as the before-and-after images, as they focus on appearance as opposed to internal health. Additionally, social media fitspiration marketers usually aren’t qualified to give advice and information on the products they promote.

Typically, young girls see these fitspiration models and compare their bodies to  those they see on their social media feeds. When they see their version of an ideal body paired with specific products, diet plans, or lifestyle choices, they develop a need to follow those to achieve the same results. 

This is harmful as many other factors play into the photos, bodies, and lifestyles posted online. The photos people post are only an instant in their lives — they could be taken when they have the ‘morning-skinny,’— the slim look when they’re fresh out of bed, or at a certain angle that defines their muscles and makes body fat look invisible. Many influencers and celebrities also have access to other resources such as personal meal kits, trainers, nutritionists, and even plastic surgeons who play into their appearance. It is not just the advertised products that do the trick. 

Actress Jameela Jamil pointed this out once when she called out Khloe Kardashian for promoting a Flat Tummy Tea ad on Instagram. In addition to touching on the many extra resources those who promote the products have to achieve their figure, Jamil also touched on the obvious — the harmful ingredients and side effects of the products. 

Most weight loss products, fitness plans, and diets that are promoted on Instagram are not FDA approved and have serious side effects. The Flat Tummy Tea simply functions as a laxative, a substance that loosens stool and increases bowel movements, which can lead to long-term health complications. It also has serious side effects, such as cramping, stomach pains, diarrhea, and dehydration. 

Person on a weight scale Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels Perhaps the Kardashians are asked to promote these brands since they are the face of entertainment — they are well-known, appeal to the general public, and are attractive. Although it is common knowledge that the products being promoted are harmful, a recognized face behind the promotion could easily lead to a purchase.

Also, the Kardashians have been the golden standard for the ‘ideal’ body type among adolescents, specifically with their hourglass figures and well-defined curves. Their full-body pictures paired with a caption and tags of the products they claim to use leads to their young followers craving to look the same after comparing their own body and putting trust in these public figures to promote the products that work. 

This is not only bad for their physical health based on the ingredients, side-effects, and basic functions of the products, but also because these products don’t necessarily deliver the desired results. When adolescents use them and do not see the outcome they want, they will think their bodies are the problem instead of the product itself. 

Woman staring at phone at night Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels Influencers and celebrities have created a sense of trust and dependency with their posts — they connect with their followers on a personal level when promoting their products for maximum effect. This chain of events eventually leads to negative self-esteem, dysphoric body image, and even feelings of envy among young followers.

Whether it’s 13-year-olds who are just getting started on their journey figuring out who they are, what they look like, and how their bodies work, or college students seeing ‘perfect’ bodies on Instagram, fitspirational marketing harms everyone as it forces people to make comparisons they never thought to make. It inadvertently creates standards for people to measure up to, and they will feel a sense of shame if they don’t. 

Some may argue that social media marketing in regards to fitness, diets, and weight loss products isn’t inherently bad because it can have positive outcomes, which is true. These fitness lifestyles and communities work well for a lot of people. However, it is important to acknowledge that the fitspirational promotion has a direct link to negative mental, physical, and emotional health. 

Pexels Overall, the promotion of diets, weight loss products, and fitness on influencers’ Instagrams negatively affects their impressionable adolescent followers. With new and advanced forms of social media growing at an insurmountable rate, there is not enough information available to bring light to this issue. 

Brands should see the data and evidence and be held accountable for their unsafe products. Social media boards also need to be aware of their negative effects. They need to be aware of the dangerous products being marketed on their platforms and must include warnings and fact-checks to prevent direct harm to their users. 

Additionally, parents need to be aware of the effect their children's social media may have and the products they buy and consume. A parent should be aware of their child purchasing a Flat Tummy Tea because they saw a Kardashian promoting it on Instagram. Proper health and nutrition must also be taught in schools to get rid of the misconception of an ‘ideal’ body — everyone’s body is different and each body has its version of what it looks like when it is at its healthiest. 

women with different body types Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels Thin does not necessarily mean healthy and fat does not necessarily mean unhealthy. These societal changes must be implemented step-by-step to prevent the skyrocketing decline in mental, physical, and emotional health in young people who use social media. Social media has the power to be a positive space and influence among young adults if used properly. The first step is making sure that the marketing aspect along with misconceptions about ‘ideal’ bodies and health are changed to prevent further negative effects among adolescent users.