On July 1st, news broke that Pinterest is banning weight loss ads from its platform. They’re the first major social media platform to do this, so kudos to them for making the move. But frankly, I’m a little underwhelmed by the news (and I imagine I’m not the only one). It’ll take far more to make social media less triggering, less fatphobic, and more weight-inclusive.
This post originally appeared in my weekly QUIT YOUR DIET newsletter. For more like this, subscribe (for free!) here.
Here’s what the official Pinterest weight loss ban states.
According to the platform’s newsroom, their updated policy will now prohibit:
- Any weight loss language or imagery
- Any testimonials regarding weight loss or weight loss products
- Any language or imagery that idealizes or denigrates certain body types
- Referencing Body Mass Index (BMI) or similar indexes
- Any products that claim weight loss through something worn or applied to the skin
All of this is in addition to weight loss-related ad content that is already barred from Pinterest, including:
- Weight loss or appetite suppressant pills, supplements, or other products
- Before-and-after weight-loss imagery
- Weight loss procedures like liposuction or fat burning
- Body shaming, such as imagery or language that mocks or discredits certain body types or appearances
- Claims regarding unrealistic cosmetic results
It’s a solid policy. It’s enforceable, since Pinterest controls which advertisers (and which ads) get to play within their ecosystem. And, it’s nothing to sneeze at. The weight loss services industry is currently worth about $2.6 billion in the U.S. alone. (That’s not counting other wellness products that aren’t explicitly geared to weight loss.) And those companies love to advertise on social media. So, Pinterest taking a stand against them may very well have an impact on their bottom line.
But the news begs several questions: How is Pinterest the ONLY major social platform to have this policy? Why did it take this long? How much of a difference will this really make? To answer, we need to look at why weight loss ads are so terrible in the first place.
Weight loss ads are served without consent.
Here’s what I mean by consent in this context. When you follow another user, you agree to see their content. And if you don’t want to see it anymore, you unfollow them and it goes away. (I’ll get into Discover pages later.) But with ads, that’s not the case. They can show up anytime, without your consent. Often, the algorithm feeds weight loss ads to people who regularly view wellness content. Even if that wellness content is all about body acceptance, the anti-diet approach, or eating disorder recovery. I try to report every weight loss ad that I see, and the same ones keep popping up regardless.
All of this is REALLY not fair to users. It’s also not fair to content creators who are trying to help others heal from diet culture, only to have their messages disrupted by a video sponsored by Noom or “detox” tea.
Weight loss ads are a total scam.
Here’s another thing those ads don’t tell you: It’s nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off long term. (That is, for more than 2-5 years.) Most weight loss companies cite extremely short-term results to sell products — ”the average user loses X pounds in Y days!” — without also mentioning that weight loss immediately stalls after that, and that eventually the lost weight comes right back.
They’re extremely fatphobic, which makes them discriminatory.
In America, 69 percent of adults fall above the “normal” weight range. (That category in and of itself is stigmatizing. This is why I recommend always working with a HAES dietitian who doesn’t classify people based on weight.) And, weight loss ads explicitly tell people in larger bodies that their bodies are wrong. That they’re less worthy. That they should be different. That’s discrimination, even if most people won’t acknowledge it. The reality is that someone in a fat body has very little chance of ever shrinking their body — and that’s fine. They still deserve respect. They don’t deserve to see WW ad every time they get on Instagram, telling them that they’d be better and happier if they just lost weight. (Which, again, they most likely cannot.)
All of this to say: Weight loss ads are really bad. They should be banned from every platform.
Pinterest banning weight loss ads doesn’t magically turn the social platform into a safe space.
Here’s the rub: The most fatphobic, predatory, triggering, shame-inducing content on social media comes from users, not ads. Yes, you can unfollow someone who says something triggering, but what if their content shows up in your “Discover” feed? What if you’re deep in an eating disorder, or disordered behavior, and you seek out this kind of content without realizing how much it harms you? What if you’re a pre-teen or teenager who takes an extremely thin influencer’s “What I Eat In a Day” video as gospel? All of this is a far bigger problem than ads.
Some platforms have made halfhearted efforts to combat this. TikTok links to resources from the National Eating Disorders Association when someone searches certain hashtags, like #edrecovery. Instagram puts age restrictions on certain diet and cosmetic surgery posts, although it’s not clear how they determine whether something is age-appropriate or not. But none of this is enough.
Platforms must actively promote body inclusivity.
Social media platforms will say that they can’t control what users post. That’s true. But they do control the algorithms that determine what type of content gets seen. They also shadow-ban certain content, which means that they make it less visible without telling the creator. According to several reports, this happens far more often to people with marginalized identities than to those who fit the stereotypical [white, thin, young, straight] mold of an influencer.
Pinterest banning weight loss ads is a start. But all platforms must play a more active role in promoting more diverse, inclusive content. The platforms’ own campaigns should feature more diverse bodies. Discover pages should reflect the true diversity of the platform, instead of just showing a certain type of person. Algorithms themselves should stop prioritizing tags like #weightloss and #bodytransformation.
None of this would solve the problem completely, but all of it would help.
Weight loss content won’t go away until we stop looking at it.
Realistically, weight loss content will never go away. Not in our lifetimes. But if you’re angry about all the diet culture bullshit on Instagram, and if you don’t think Pinterest’s new policy is enough to move the needle? There’s something you can do.
Unfollow people who are constantly posting about diets, weight loss, body-focused fitness, and restrictive eating. Stop clicking on articles about these things. Definitely stop buying diet books. It’s easy to be annoyed with the influencers who sell this stuff, but the truth is that they wouldn’t do so if we didn’t buy into it.
I’m not Polyanna-ish enough to think that my own “unfollow” makes a big difference. And again, I don’t think this is a problem we can fix quickly. But diet culture is out of control on social media and elsewhere, and the first step to combatting that is to stop following along with it.