The Instagram Diet: Ads on Social Media

Instagram has undergone extreme changes since its creation in 2010. Thanks to the buyout by Facebook, Instagram has grown tremendously with the help of its parent company’s resources and business strategies. Particularly, Instagram has become a hub for successful marketing campaigns for health and beauty products.

Instagram is clearly focused on showing the best version of people which includes their physical appearance. The layout of Instagram makes it easy to compare yourself to others based on appearance, comments, likes, etc. The health and beauty industry has clearly taken advantage of the users’ focus on being attractive and showcasing their best life by using lifestyle influencers to advertise their products.

A small list of the many popular “health and beauty” companies that advertise on Instagram via influencers include:

  • Sugarbear Hair​
  • FitTea Detox
  • Flat Tummy Tea
  • Waist Trainers (various companies)
  • Care/of vitamins
  • Crystal Clear Skincare Tan Drops​
  • BooTea​
  • Vitamin Buddy​
  • Hairburst​
  • SkinnyMint​

Here’s an example of a typical sponsored post:

To break down the post, usually the influencer is smiling and posing in a flattering way, the product is clearly shown and the caption must include #ad, which is a newer development in Instagram’s sponsored posts regulations.

These posts are potentially dangerous, both physically and mentally.

"Potentially" is the key word. Hair vitamins won’t kill you. But, things like waist trainers and fat detox tea, while they are probably ok to be used cautiously, are not things to be used with little to no research. Waist trainers have even been known to damage organs. Especially because these sponsored posts are reaching young people, care needs to be taken. A young person seeing their favorite Youtuber or celebrity drinking tea laxatives might influence them to think they should too. As a twenty-year-old, I look at these posts and know to take them with a grain of salt. But, 12-year-olds going through puberty and middle school might have different societal pressures that make them want to believe those tricks work.

Growing up, “ideal” body types were seen in magazines or in infomercials on TV. I heard of diet pills and different fad diets, but nothing impacted me enough to actually want to find ways to get them. It went through one ear and out the other most times. And maybe I was lucky, but I think the real reasons it didn’t affect me as much were 1) I usually didn’t know the person who was in the advertisement, 2) I wasn’t watching the commercial or reading the magazine over and over again and 3) I couldn’t see comments from thousands of people complimenting their body. On the internet, however, things are there forever and kids have so many opportunities to fall down a click hole of diet products and convince themselves they need them. Yes, they could just shut off Instagram, but that’s not realistic. There is a level of social capital that is associated with being connected on social media – kids who aren’t on Instagram or Snapchat are considered weird and may feel left out. According to Instagram, users under 25 are spending more than 35 minutes on Instagram a day. That’s enough to be exposed and absorb many of these self-esteem damaging messages.

I get so frustrated thinking about grown adults selling kids and teenagers dangerous and unnecessary diet products. When it came out that waist trainers had the risk of damaging internal organs, everyone stopped posting their ads. I wish influencers had done their research beforehand so they could have avoided selling potentially dangerous products. Even if they aren’t immediately dangerous, they promote this idea that we (mostly women) need a “flat tummy” or a “small waist,” which can be damaging to the psyche of a young person. Kids are getting access to social media younger and younger, and while you can’t shield them from everything, you hope people will be responsible for what they advertise. For example, the Kardashians, who all make millions of dollars, can afford to research and curate what they advertise to their millions of followers. They aren’t relying solely on Instagram for their income.

There is nothing wrong with people making money on Instagram, it’s an easy, lucrative stream of revenue for a lot of influencers. As a consumer, I just hope that the influencers I follow genuinely use and believe in the products they are selling. That’s a large and probably unattainable hope, but I do believe some influencers have good intentions.

I can say all I want about sponsored posts but I’ve never been offered $150,000 to make an Instagram post. I can imagine for a lot of people that it wouldn’t matter what the product is because it’s easy money. However, I think it’s important to educate ourselves on what we are being advertised and how we are absorbing it. We can’t protect teenagers and kids from everything, but we can instill self-confidence and critical thinking skills to look at ads and know how to absorb them by asking questions. Do we trust who it is coming from and why? Did you do more research? Read product reviews? Ask people who have tried it? Why are they posting these ads? If you were in their shoes, would you do it too? These are all questions we should ask and teach young people to as well.

Don’t let yourself be fooled.