Instagram influencers selling shit-your-contraceptive-out tummy ‘teas’ in the name of weight loss is a modern cliché at this point, never far from our Explore pages. Despite feeling like it is older than time itself, however, the influencing industry – essentially a branch of advertising – is still a young one. As such, it is only just getting to grips with its rules and regulations, which the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has been quick to start setting in recent years.
It figures, then, that every now and then someone will push their luck in their quest to make millions from selling charcoal toothpaste. This was the case this week, when a number of Instagram ads by influencers including Katie Price, TOWIE’s Lauren Goodger and Georgia Harrison (who appeared on Love Island 2018) were banned for being irresponsible.
In the cases of Price and Goodger, this was because of ads for “ten calorie shots” from a company called BoomBod, which promises “weight loss in a week” (I am not an expert but I’d imagine that yes, when your meals consist only of ten calories a pop, you might well lose weight extremely rapidly!). Harrison’s ad for V24 weight loss gummies was also banned for encouraging unhealthy attitudes.
The kicker here is that both Goodger and Harrison were also cited by the ASA for having edited the photos with which they sold weight loss items to make themselves look slimmer. RE: Harrison, the ASA commented: “We were concerned that the photos of Georgia Harrison in both ads appeared to have been edited to make her waist look artificially thin with the result that the images were not representative of her real body shape. We considered that was particularly irresponsible in the context of an ad for an appetite suppressant that presented her as an aspirational figure.”
In translation: she, and indeed all the other celebs who use FaceTune to make their ads more convincing, are taking! the! piss!
THIS SEEMS KIND OF EGREGIOUS BUT NOT ENORMOUSLY SURPRISING
If you’re selling weight loss products, it seems like honesty is pretty important. Without even going into the fucked-up culture that makes people think they need them in the first place, any adverts for items that are inherently preying on people’s vulnerabilities should probably not also be, you know, lies.
Except: social media is inherently a lie. Nobody actually looks how they do on Instagram, and nobody’s life is as nice as it looks on the internet, either. We all know this. So when that collective understanding collides with the standards demanded of traditional advertising (i.e. “don’t lie”), there are naturally going to be some problems.
AS USUAL, THE REAL WINNER IS CAPITALISM
I’d argue that while it’s shitty to sell weight loss products in the first place – particularly “appetite suppressants” that prey on people’s insecurities, and are, to put it lightly, dystopian – it’s important to point out that the people who do so are caught up in the same, oppressive web of beauty standards as the rest of us (though fairly obviously they benefit much more from them than most people).
Beauty standards, like everything else, are a result of consumerism – and thus: the capitalist culture which benefits from body insecurity is the real winner! As usual! The ultimate pisstaker!
GOOD CULTURE WE’VE GOT HERE!
Instagram and Instagram culture in 2019 encourage a certain type of cognitive dissonance. “Buy this product that will make you beautiful!” you are told, by a woman who may well use the product, but who has often also had expensive surgical procedures conducted on her body. Usually, it is these that have made her beautiful in the obvious sense you see in the square on your phone, and not her use of Cutie Pie Hair Nail Ear Nose And Throat Gummies®.
Though most consumers at this point are savvy enough to recognise what cosmetic surgery looks like – especially the kind that's popular on Instagram – it remains so aspirational that lots of people will happily buy stuff from people who match a beauty standard defined by filler and surgery, perhaps just to feel closer to that lifestyle themselves.
While there’s nothing morally wrong with altering your body to make it look the way you want it to, you stray into murky territory when you suggest that you achieved your look using a product you've been paid to advertise, with little or no reference to the cosmetic procedures that have also helped. It’s murkier still when you use photo-editing apps to fairly obviously make yourself look thinner – the desired result of lots of the products.
It’s good that the ASA banned the BoomBod ads, but this is essentially only the tip of the swivel-up lipstick (for example, when the Kardashian-Jenners advertise their beauty products, the photos used sometimes don’t even look like real people). It has an entire, entrenched Instagram culture to contend with if it is to enforce these rules across the board.
Honourable mention: The Conservative Party, whose recent #GetBrexitDone social video looked like it was made by your graphic designer boyfriend as part of a series of tasks for a Boiler Room job interview.