You can now filter out weight-loss adverts on Instagram
Katie Budenberg tells Woo about the fight against triggering diet ads and making the internet more inclusive
image Jonas McIlwain
words Eve Walker
Until recently, the option to filter out weight-loss adverts was not available on Instagram. Yet the platform has actively filtered other triggering ads and content that mentions alcohol and gambling for quite some time.
Body neutral influencer Katie Budenberg started a petition to include weight-loss in the ad filter feature, which would “make Instagram a safer, and therefore a more inclusive, place for those with a history of disordered eating and/or body image issues.” The petition gained over 30,000 signatures, and a few months later, Instagram seems to have listened.
With the social media platform already being rife with edited photos, weird face-morphing filters that slim the face and change features, and over 83 million #weightloss posts, it can be a dangerous place for anyone struggling with their body image. Although you can control your feed with who you follow, filtering out triggering adverts is a much needed feature to keep your feed as body neutral as possible – in other words, to accept your body for what it is – a vessel.
For many people, social media provides a safe space and the support of an online community, which can be a lifeline for those recovering from eating disorders or disordered eating. Now, it‘s finally possible to see less adverts that are at odds with this healing.
So how does it work? Open your settings, go to “ads”, and then “ad topics”. From there, you can search any topics you want to be hidden. By clicking on the search bar, options will pop up; if you don’t want to see weight-loss content, click on the button for “Body Weight Control”, and then “see less”. There are sub-categories you can ask to see less of too, including diets, weight-loss clinics, and body fat analysers.
We speak to Katie about social media, people to follow that bring her joy, and why she started the petition to make this feature available.
What made you decide to start the petition?
Katie Budenberg: It was just after Christmas and New Year when I was scrolling on my phone and couldn’t seem to escape the onslaught of ‘new year, new you’ diet ads. I was so frustrated that these ads were so targeted at the shame a lot of people feel after eating a little more over Christmas; these companies are going to benefit off the internalised stigma we all feel about gaining a few pounds. I thought to myself ‘URGH, I wish I could turn off these ads’, and then it occurred to me: this should be a thing.
I did some digging around Instagram’s settings and found that they already had the software to filter out some ads, but the categories did not yet cover weight-loss or diets. So it was time to ask instagram to do so; and that’s when the petition was born.
How do you think weight-loss content affects young people, especially now that calories are displayed on menus in the UK?
Katie Budenberg: I think it affects young people hugely. I know for me that I would refer to diets and ask to go on one before I was even in secondary school. Children absorb more than you think they do; when family members chat about always wanting to lose weight and more calorific foods being “bad”, they absorb that information.
Children watch TV shows and films where only the villains or quirky side characters are sometimes fat. Children see all of the adverts that only include slim people. Children see all of the airbrushed images on the front of magazines and on TV. No-one has to tell you ‘fat is bad, thin is good’ because it’s so heavily implied through simply ignoring that larger folks exist or worse, them constantly being the butt of the joke.
Once you hammer home to a child that being fat is an awful thing and imply to them that eating calories high in food is how that happens, then naturally they will start to avoid and fear those higher calorific foods. And from my experience, fear around food never results in anything positive.
While social media can play a huge part in triggering people with body issues or eating disorders, as a body neutral influencer, do you think there is a place for social media to contribute towards positively affecting our relationship with our bodies?
Katie Budenberg: 100 percent. Your social media timeline is what you make it. No-one is making anyone follow anybody who makes you feel bad about yourself. Unfollow them! Mute them! Social media is here for our enjoyment and entertainment so if your feed isn’t bringing you joy then change that. Don’t follow the people who edit their pics and make you feel like you have to do that too; follow people who give you great information about the world and great tips for your mental health. Follow people to celebrate their back rolls and can teach you to accept yourself too! Follow people who celebrate eating yummy food and show you how to cook delicious meals too!
Here are some of my favourite humans to follow and who bring me joy about my body every day:
We have to take back the power with our feeds.
What other steps do you think Instagram (and other social media platforms) should take to protect people’s relationships with their bodies?
Katie Budenberg: My wish would be that all edited images came with a warning. ‘Warning: this image has been photoshopped’.
Because, in my eyes, that’s the most dangerous thing: believing something is real when it isn’t. Believing that an influencer’s skin is really that clear. Or believing Kim K’s waist is REALLY that small. Once we know we are being deceived, it is a-lot easier to realise that we don’t need to try to be like them too, because it’s physically impossible. If influencers don’t even look like they do in their photos then we have no chance!
But when we believe the lie, we think it’s amazing and we pursue it. I know myself that I have fallen victim in the past to false advertising. The worst was when I ended up buying a coffee that was meant to lose weight and all I lost was a lot of my time on the toilet! If I had known the before and after photos I was seeing were probably edited, or at least weren’t showing the whole story, I probably would have steered clear.
What do you do when you’re feeling negative thoughts about your appearance creeping in?
Katie Budenberg: I remember that my looks will never determine my worth and what I am worthy of. It helps me so much to really separate the two in my mind. That way, I can feel like the ugliest person ever and still feel loveable, likeable and worthy of success and happiness. Soon, my looks aren't on my mind because they become irrelevant.
If I’m still feeling self conscious about it, I love to out logic myself (I have a philosophy degree, I feel like that really explains why I think like this). If I’m going to meet a friend, they will not have a better time with me if I’m more attractive or skinnier. No-one has a chat with me and afterwards says “i had a really lovely chat with you because you’re super slim”. Or, at least, I would hope that they don’t. Your value is not linked to your body. You are super interesting and cool and worthy no matter your looks or weight. So who cares if the image in the mirror doesn’t bring you joy; you don’t need that. That reflection is the least interesting thing about you and it can never define you.
So I guess I like to avoid trying to make myself feel better about my body, but instead I devalue my looks, which in turn makes them irrelevant and not something to be upset/care about!