Instagram has the power to ban weight loss ads – so why doesn’t it?

Instagram already allows users to filter out potentially triggering topics like alcohol. But weight loss? That’s still a free-for-all.

Fitness Instagram is a hive of inspiration and aspiration. I’m not the only person who has found a new class, healthy snack or dreamy gym kit from sponsored content, adverts and community posts on the platform. But most of us know that there’s also a darker side to the ‘gram, where diet culture is rife.

It’s for that reason that a petition to allow Instagram users to filter out weight loss adverts has been set up, and it’s almost at its target of 35,000 signatures. Founded by Katie Budenberg, the campaign is seeking to make the platform “a safer and therefore more inclusive place for those with a history of disordered eating and/or body image issues”.

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Weight loss is huge on Instagram. #WeightLoss hashtag has over 80 million posts; ##WeightLossJourney boasts nearly 47m and #WeightLossTransformation has in the tens of millions. It’s a dream market for diet companies and weight loss products.

While that in itself may not be an issue (everyone’s entitled to do what they like with their own body), the problem comes when you’re forced to see ads that may potentially be triggering or alienating.

Weight loss ads and features are easy to spot in traditional media, but they’re far more surreptitious on Instagram. Rather than blatant diet culture-y front pages and features in magazines, we’re now bombarded with images of photoshopped and filtered influencers pretending to chew “metabolism-boosting” gummies or posing with slimming teas on our grids (accompanied by a single ‘#ad’ in the comments). Full-page advertisements pop up between Stories when you may least expect them. 

Instagram is so popular because it allows us to curate our world online; ambushing users with ads from the highest bidder contravenes that assumed user power. It’s especially jarring when Instagram seems to be the home of #bodypositivity and anti-diet culture content.

“The aim of a weight-loss ad is to make you feel inadequate in your body,” explains Budenberg. “To some, these ads may be harmless and they can scroll on but for some these ads are triggering and dangerous.

“We are asking that Instagram adds the option to not see weight-loss ads; this setting already exists for other potentially triggering topics, such as alcohol and parenting, and should be extended to weight-loss.”

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If Instagram decides to go ahead and allow users to filter out damaging adverts, it won’t be the first platform to take a stand against diet companies. Last year, Pinterest banned weight loss ads in an apparent bid to promote “body neutrality”. Strong Women found, however, that even after that ban was implemented (and widely promoted), the platform was chock-full of weight loss posts from companies and creators.

While it’s heartening to see someone take a stand on Instagram, one wonders if Instagram is really going to make an effort to stop rogue advertisers from capitalising on our body hang-ups. The introduction of the Covid fact-checking widget on all Stories and posts to do with the vaccine has proven that the app has the power to intervene and make content safer… it just chooses not to do so. It could easily introduce a similar widget to pop up at any mention of weight loss, metabolism boosting, fat burn – pointing users towards the NHS site or some other reputable source of information. 

Sign the petition here.

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Images: Getty

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