Seems like today there’s a constant barrage of weight loss ads all over social media. Now, they’re coming under fire and things are changing and Pinterest is leading.
From dietary supplements to “amazing” pills, appetite suppressants, surgery and more, these ads are everywhere. Many of them use “triggers” such as BMI (Body Mass Index) and body-type shaming to get clicks and sell their products online. They can be psychologically harmful to many, including teenage girls who’ve little knowledge of how they’re being targeted. These ads play into their existing social anxieties and just make things worse. Some of these products even claim, without evidence, that their products can be applied to or worn on the skin.
Instagram recently shared online resources and some warnings to help people find better information around their options. Recently, Twitter came under fire for a constant barrager of ads from DoFasting, an app that helps you with intermittent fasting but has been widely criticized by people for how cringe-worthy the ads are. Some even saying things like “It’ll rid you of demons,” or “you’ll finally fit into your wedding dress.” Demons. Okay then. Wouldn’t want demons in your wedding dress.
These ads, many which target various body shapes using body-shaming techniques and guilt-motivated positioning. While they may just seem like harmless ads, they can be especially harmful to people who have eating disorders and body image issues. Says Amy Kaplan, LCSW a psychotherapist, “Ads regarding weight loss or a new diet technique, such as intermittent fasting, can be very triggering for people, especially those already struggling with low self-esteem or body issues.”
Now, social media platform Pinterest is taking major steps to curb these ads and support its audience, including strengthening its Creator Code. This isn’t the first time that Pinterest has taken steps to address this issue either. For a while now, Pinterest has banned ads for weight-loss and appetite-suppressant pills, related supplements, before and after weight loss imagery and procedures like liposuction and other weight loss surgeries. As well as ads claiming unrealistic body cosmetic changes.
Continues Kaplan, “Many companies do it well when creating ads for their product or service by focusing less on weight-loss numbers, fear techniques, and/or ‘ideal’ appearance images.” They instead use “messages and images of overall health, well-being, and positivity,”
It is certainly a bold step by Pinterest since their main revenue source is advertising and the weight loss industry spends a lot on advertising. It’s notable that Pinterest also created the Creators Code so that it addresses the issue with “Pinners” the name given to people who post a lot on Pinterest. These guidelines are designed to help make regular folks aware of the issues that can arise around weight loss. It also helps discourage the weight loss brands from paying influencers to promote their products and try to side-step the advertising rules. The Cod asks posters to be “be kind, check their facts, be aware of triggers, practice inclusion and do no harm.” Pinterest is providing additional tools with “positivity reminders” and encouraging adherence to the code through messages at different stages of creating posts. Pinterest is also using software to help with content moderation such as sensitivity to certain keywords, images that may be associated with weight loss issues and comment removal. What’s clear is that Pinterest really understands its community and has truly thought this through, including the nefarious tactics creepy weight loss scammers might use to work around the advertising rules.
Now, even TikTok is joining the charge against such weight loss ads as they’ve come under increasing criticism as well for promoting dangerous diets. TiTok’s new policy bands fasting and supplement ads. It is also putting restrictions on related weight loss ads such as for “weight management products” to users under 18 and not allowing ads that promote a negative body image. While TikTok’s approach isn’t as comprehensive as Pinterest, it is at least a starting point.
Facebook has had some restrictions for a while, such as banning before and after images and putting guidelines around words and images that can and cannot be used. Facebook pretty much stops there though and doesn’t offer tools like Pinterest to discourage users from posting sketchy content and there are workarounds to their policy that get posted online such as these.
These weight loss ads that often contain triggers and are designed to be as manipulative as possible are finally being addressed in social media channels, where Canadians spend an average of 2.5 hours a day. It’s important and it’s good. Let’s see where this goes.
Note: if you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, there are online resources the the Canadian National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) can help. Here is the website and they have a toll free number to call; 1-866-NEDIC-20 and 416-340-4156) and is open from 11am to 7pm Monday – Thursday and Friday from 11 am – 5pm. All times EST.
You might also find this article on finding kindness and compassion interesting.