Instagram’s Fatphobic and Sexist Advertising Needs to Be Called Out

Gillian Sisley

No matter how many times we hide ads about weight loss and shapewear, Instagram keeps bombarding us.

For the last couple of years, I’ve begun intentionally clearing up the sexist ads on my Instagram feed.

Because I’m a woman, a lot of these ads are related to weight loss or products that help women appear slimmer. The biggest ones I see, on repeat, are ads about shapewear.

For some women, shapewear makes them feel more comfortable and confident in their clothing. And, by all means, go for it. Whatever makes you feel sincerely happy and comfortable in your own skin is something I 100% support!

I personally don’t like to use shapewear — not anymore, at least. I used to, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t wear it for me — I wore it because I felt I had to. These days, I find shapewear unenjoyable, and have shifted to choosing comfort over “fashion" in recent years.

Plus, I have a muffin top and, as controversial as it may be, I don’t hate it. In fact, I think my muffin top is cute. It’s part of my body, it’s always been there, and I’ve learned to just love my body for exactly how it is, because it’s doing its best and that’s pretty damn good in my eyes.

I jog three times a week, and I eat a healthy, balanced diet. I’ll never be a size 4, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be close to a size zero to feel worthy in my own skin.

I’m more than happy with my body.

But social media, like society, wants me to hate my body.

The ads on Instagram are incessant.

“This will make you look 3 dress sizes smaller!”
“Lose that tummy with this magic shapewear!”
“Drop 10 pounds without any extra effort!”

What I find most upsetting about these shapewear ads is the way they use the models to sell their products. They put women who are not that much bigger than me in skin-tight dresses that hug all their lovely curves. Then they have those same women look down at her body, including her muffin top, and appear completely and utterly disgusted with what they see.

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In comes shapewear to make a woman at least tolerate the look of her body again! Hurray! *not*

It’s so upsetting to see the women in these ads being paid to look down at their bodies in sheer disgust. It feels so wrong, and so exploitative. It is tapping directly into harmful insecurities perpetuated by our toxic society, and making money off of shaming women for just being naturally ourselves.

While the product may offer confidence to the women who choose to wear it (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), the evident fatphobia and insinuations of disgust towards curvier women in these shapewear ads just sets my teeth on edge.

And they won’t stop.

There’s such a thing as ethical and responsible marketing, and these brands are missing the mark by miles.

Despite my settings preferences, Instagram is still throwing an onslaught of this content at me time and time again.

I must have chosen to hide these sorts of offensive shapewear ads dozens of times. Each time, I select, “It’s irrelevant” as my reason, and go about my day.

I want to be clear that I don’t hide all shapewear ads just for the hell of it — only the ones that I find offensive and unethical. Only the ones that I feel are toxic and dangerous.

But each and every holiday, just about every few months, the ads come back. All from the same companies. And thus my dance with Instagram of ‘hiding’ these ads starts all over again.

I get to see those same, poor women looking down at their bodies with visible disgust in themed, body-tight dresses for July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, you name it. Everything under the sun. And if it’s not one company, it’s another.

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There they all are, showing up on my feed to remind me that society thinks I should hate my body, and that it’s horrific to have a muffin top or any visible rolls.

I’m so tired of it. I’ve had to start going the extra mile to block the accounts sharing these ads, because Instagram won’t take my digital reports seriously and apply them in such a way that the algorithm will do its job.

No, instead, exclusively because I’m a woman in a particular age range, the onslaught of ads attacks every new month, telling me that my body isn’t good enough the way it is. Telling me that I should hate my body. It just continues, and I’m sick of it.

Science has already proven exactly how harmful social media can be to the self-esteem of young women and girls.

Sure, I’ve had a complicated go with my body. Just about every woman has — we’re raised in a world obsessed with policing women and telling them how they should look and act.

That said, I’m lucky in that I have never suffered from an eating disorder. But I know people who have. I can appreciate how triggering and harmful these messages can be for those who are struggling with their self-image and mental health.

This onslaught has to stop.

The team at Facebook, which owns Instagram, are fully aware of the damage that Instagram causes to the self-esteem and mental health of young girls and women. They are aware, and yet, they care about making a quick buck over the health of their young, impressionable users. They’ve had this information from various studies and surveys since 2019.

Facebook aware of Instagram's harmful effect on teenage girls, leak reveals

Rates of anxiety and depression among young women are skyrocketing, and those same teens themselves are highlighting Instagram as a major factor in this trend.

In 2017, the YoungMinds and the Royal Society for Public Health even singled out Instagram as one of the major contributors to negatively impacting the mental health and well-being of young people.

We have to do something about this. We have to demand change. This must stop.

Final word.

The body positivty movement has a long way to go. And advertisers have even farther to go in terms of ethical and safe marketing practices.

With the research that already proves how dangerous social media is toward the well-being of young people, and especially young girls, you would think that stronger protections would be put in place to ensure the well-being of some of society’s most vulnerable population.

However, in our capitalistic, money-obsessed society, we can’t hope for as much any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we stop talking about it.

We have to keep this conversation going. For the well-being of women now. For the well-being and prosperity of young girls online in the future. For the hope of better mental health for generations to come.

Social media is here to stay — there’s no changing that. And with that in mind, social media marketing isn’t going anywhere either.

Unless we demand more ethical and stringent marketing practices from online platforms, especially when it comes to our children and young people, global mental health will continue to plummet with life-long, lasting effects.

Young people deserve better. We all deserve better.

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Online solopreneur. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about trending news, viral Reddit content, and anything else that tickles my fancy.


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