Weight Stigma Awareness Week Heralds New Instagram Policies

Throughout the month of September, different organizations have been using their platforms to publicly address issues pertaining to diet culture and weight stigmatization. Two different companies have been at the forefront of the month’s wellness campaigns – the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and the social networking company Instagram.

Last Fall, NEDA merged with the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) in an effort to unify the eating disorders community. This year, NEDA is furthering these efforts by hosting their first-ever Weight Stigma Awareness Week. As defined on NEDA’s website, weight stigma is “discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s size. Weight stigma also manifests in fat phobia, the dislike or fear of being or becoming fat.”

While the campaign is being run by NEDA, the company urges people to recognize how much of an impact weight stigma has made on members of communities nationwide, outside of the eating disorders community. The campaign emphasizes the idea that weight discrimination affects people of all sizes, leading to fears of weight gain for those in any size body. Additionally, weight stigma can exacerbate eating disorders for those in bigger bodies, as the struggle to seek or receive treatment statistically comes with more roadblocks.

“I could imagine that social media has both a positive and negative effect on weight stigma,” said NEDA's communications manager Chelsea Kronengold. “There are many fat activists and organizations (including NEDA) that are taking a stand and spreading awareness about the prevalence and harm of weight stigma and fatphobia, yet influencers and companies that promote “thinspo” and “fitspo” are likely contributing to increased weight bias among their followers.”

On the topic of social media, Instagram rolled out new guidelines on Wed., Sept. 18, with plans to restrict posts promoting some weight loss products or cosmetic procedures. Once initiated, users registered under the age of 18 will be blocked from viewing any content that promotes diet products or cosmetic enhancements and includes a price or incentive to buy. The policy will also entirely remove any post that makes a “miraculous claim” about said products and includes a link to a commercial offer or discount code.

"Miraculous claims means they aren't sustainable,” said University of Sheffield lecturer in digital media and society Dr. Ysabel Gerrard. “Products like skinny teas, these have been publicly criticised as they offer short term solutions to something that naturally takes a lot longer. It's hard to blame social media solely for influencing eating disorders, but the content we see on social media is a contributing factor to how we feel about our bodies."

According to representatives of the social media platform, the new community guidelines were created in response to the increase of influencer marketing, a process by which advertisers pay Instagram members with high follower counts to promote their products. Over the years, the frequency of advertised diet teas, supplements, cosmetic surgeries and other products have shown a significant increase.

“We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media,” said Instagram’s public policy manager Emma Collins in an official statement on Wednesday.

While NEDA is less of a social media platform and more of an advocacy organization, the collective was involved in Instagram’s decision to implement their new guidelines, and NEDA’s Kronengold believes these changes fall in line with the hopes of NEDA’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week.

“We’re proud to have worked with Instagram (along with Jameela Jamil and I Weigh) on this policy,” said Kronengold. “This is certainly a step in the right direction!”

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