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Spilling the Tea on Instagram’s Detox Tea Obsession

By CJ Tulong

Instagram users may have come across influencers or celebrities promoting so-called ‘detox teas’ or ‘slimming teas’, where the products are said to give instant weight loss results. However, the rise of detox tea advertisements have sparked criticism. One notable instance occurred in 2019 when Jameela Jamil, actress from The Good Place, criticised Khloe Kardashian’s Instagram endorsement of Flat Tummy Tea.[1] The actress wrote in response to Khloe Kardashian’s post:

“If you’re too irresponsible to:

  1. own up to the fact that you have a personal trainer, nutritionist, probable chef, and a surgeon to achieve your aesthetic, rather than this laxative product… And
  2. tell them the side effects of this NON-FDA approved product, that most doctors are saying aren’t healthy,

Then I guess I have to.”

A few months after the incident, Jamil was interviewed by Elle UK regarding her vocal criticisms towards the weight loss industry, which resulted in a petition calling Instagram to ban social media platforms from promoting weight loss products.[2] Jameela Jamil’s actions highlighted how social media’s influence can damage self-esteem in its users, especially young women.

There are two reasons why it is dangerous for influencers and celebrities to promote detox teas. First and foremost, these detox teas carry little to no scientific evidence that supports their claim. Some ingredients are dangerous when consumed in excessive amounts. Jebeile and Paxton note that products that are marketed as “miraculous weight loss” solutions such as detox teas contain laxative properties that can cause dehydration.[3] Furthermore, certain components cause severe side effects such as abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, and muscle spasms from electrolyte imbalance.[4]

Another concern is that detox teas perpetuate the ‘thin is beautiful’ narrative that negatively affects body image. While numerous studies have been conducted on the media’s influence on body image, Cohen et al. found that social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram further perpetuate the idealised thin body via curated messages and pictures.[5] Holland and Tiggemann also found that these curated images contributed to body image concerns.[6] As a result, the constant marketing of detox teas emphasises the idealised thin body narrative, which leads to young people struggling with their body image.

The negative influence of social media platforms on users’ self-esteem indicates that these platforms have a responsibility to their users. This leads into a serious question – are social media platforms doing enough to monitor their content? According to Jameela Jamil’s interview with Elle UK, Instagram began releasing two key policies revolving detox teas: prohibiting minors from viewing weight loss and cosmetic surgery-related products and banning posts with ‘miraculous claims’ on diet and weight loss. While both policies can be seen as a stepping stone into regulating Instagram’s content, there are concerns over users finding loopholes to promote unhealthy diet methods. According to Gerrard, a blanket ban does not eliminate negative contents altogether.[7] Therefore, social media companies should consider methods to regulate non-hashtag posts as well.

In short, there is nothing inherently wrong for those who want to improve their diet and exercise habits. However, one must be careful not to be lured by detox teas that promises instant results. We as social media users have the responsibility to exercise caution while online. While influencers and public figures have an impact on their followers, it is possible for the reverse to happen when their own followers influence them through critique and discussion. This is how we users can shift the narrative of social media’s beauty standards.

[1] McNamara, B. (2019). Jameela Jamil Called Out Khloé Kardashian and a Detox Tea Company For Promoting Unhealthy. Teen Vogue. Retrieved from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/jameela-jamil-khloe-kardashian-detox-tea.

[2] Blair, O., & O’Malley, K. (2019). Jameela Jamil Has Successfully Campaigned For Instagram To Change Its Policy On Diet Products. Retrieved 17 March 2020, from https://www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/a29099049/instagram-weight-loss-products-jameela-jamil/.

[3] Jebeile, H., & Paxton, S. (2019). In a virtual universe of ‘perfect’ bodies, Instagram’s new policy offers important protection for young users. Retrieved 20 March 2020, from https://theconversation.com/in-a-virtual-universe-of-perfect-bodies-instagrams-new-policy-offers-important-protection-for-young-users-123912.

[4] Cirino, E. (2019). Detox Tea: Side Effects, Purported Benefits, and How They Work. Retrieved 18 March 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/detox-tea-side-effects#side-effects.

[5] Cohen, R., Fardouly, J., Newton-John, T., & Slater, A. (2019). #BoPo on Instagram: An experimental investigation of the effects of viewing body positive content on young women’s mood and body image. New Media & Society, 21(7), 1546-1564. doi: 10.1177/1461444819826530.

[6] Ibid., 1548.

[7] Gerrard, Y. (2018). Beyond the hashtag: Circumventing content moderation on social media. New Media & Society, 20(12), 4492-4511. doi: 10.1177/1461444818776611.