I think I speak for every qualified fitness / health professional (any pretty much all other industries apply too here) when I say. Please stop following and listening to celebrities for your health and wellness (any) advice.
Seriously, when will celebrities realise that when they say something, people will listen and follow their advice despite the fact most don’t know shit about what they are talking about. Usually, and I know that a small number are. But on the whole, most influencers are not qualified / scientifically informed about the absolute sh*te that they are promoting.
Stay in your own lane
When I was completing my Exercise Rehab masters, one of the things that was reinforced all of the time was to stay within our scope of practice. It is something that I feel is completely overlooked when it comes to celebrities and the rise of the influencers.
Take my favourite (as in my favourite peddler of shit) good old Gwyneth and her “wellness platform” Goop. In my opinion, Goop (and Gwyneth) is emblematic of a culture obsessed with beauty, thinness and fad diets, yet packages it all up as “wellness and health”. I can’t even comprehend why anyone actually believes , let alone buys the stuff she is selling! I mean come on, candles that smell of vaginas? Who needs that in their life?. You’ve probably seen all the uproar this past week when she opened up about her daily eating habits on a recent episode of The Art of Being Well?
It is understandable to see why registered dieticians and nutritionists are absolutely raging when she is promoting the likes of bone broth as a lunch option. Or that surviving on coffee till midday is nutritious.
Someone needs to tell her to stay in her own lane! And that lane couldn’t be further from wellness!
What’s the problem?
A UK-based study found that social media influencers with cult-like followings gave incorrect health advice 90% of the time! 90% of the time, their advice is boll*cks. That is unbelievable, especially given the following size that some of these influencers can reach.
Research tells us that constant exposure to unreliable / inaccurate nutrition advice from influencers has been a key driver of the increased rates of orthorexia and body dysmorphia, both of which correspond with increased social media use. This is terrifying!
Influencers must know that they act as role models and therefore have a significant level of influence, power and hold over their young audiences. How can they not know this? Or do they simply not give a sh*t?
I’d hazard a guess for most it’s the latter.
In 2019, there was an undercover documentary team who asked three big influencers to be involved in a social media campaign. The campaign was to promote a weight loss drink containing cyanide called Cyanora!! The programme was about raising awareness about the dangers of celebs blindly endorsing anything that provides a pay cheque and that they can hashtag #ad
Sadly, yet unsurprisingly, all three influencers agreed to promote the product. Despite the fact that it openly promoted it contained Cyanide. Despite the fact that they had never tried it themselves/could genuinely promote it as having worked for them. These people are absolute scum why are we giving them a platform?
This is exactly what I keep trying to explain to my teenage (TikTok obsessed) daughter.
Like many young people, she is influenced by the 90% of people who are promoting inaccurate, opinion based/financially fuelled advice and recommendations online. Despite my best efforts, I am never going to win. I’m a 40+ woman with about 1k followers arguing that these influencers are full of shit. Versus some hot young TikTok influencer with 2 million followers and skin (filtered) to die for telling her she can look like her too. The difference is, one of us has qualifications and experience, and the other, influence.
At Christmas, my daughter was “skinfluenced” by a well known TikToker telling teenage girls how to keep their skin young, fresh, unblocked and looking like hers! I mean, photoshop and a good filter is why hers looks like that, but that doesn’t sell products. According to her it was a mixture of products including Retinol, various kinds of anti aging products, alcohol and acne creams.
To cut a VERY long story short, my daughter and her friends bought these products on a shopping trip to town and applied them. All of them eager in anticipation of waking up with skin as promised by the influencer.
(MUM POLICE – Before you start, YES, I know I should be more vigilant about 1) her tiktok use and 2) what products she is buying/putting on her face. However, we are where we are and I don’t need your judgement )
Considering she had lovely, clear normal skin. She woke up with her face covered in rashes, areas of skin burn and unbelievable dryness and peeling of her face!! What the influencer had failed to share, is yes, some of these products are great. When used on the right person, with the right conditions and the right skin. But they most certainly were not suitable for 13 year olds who make up most of her audience.
This reaction not only continued for 6 weeks, but triggered a chain of other skin reactions on her face, leading to an infection requiring a strong course of antibiotics.
Unfortunately for my daughter, this infection spread to her eye and she developed a serious eye infection requiring hospitalisation and could have resulted in sight loss!
Now believe me I know that I have to take the lions share of responsibility here and I do! Let me make that clear. HOWEVER, where is the responsibility with these influencers? Not just in the case of my daughter, but the case of the promotion of disordered eating, fad diets, dangerous exercise regimens? Misinformation and blatant lies about the habits of these influencers are spread like wildfire over different social media platforms. The problem is, those of us who might be qualified to debunk/challenge them get lost in the noise as we just don’t have that same following to even scratch the surface in challenging them.
We need more celebrities like Jameela Jamil who will call out this bull shit, even when it comes at a risk to her career/brand partnerships. It terrifies me the level of influence these people can have, especially over young people. I’ve seen first hand on a small scale the damage it can cause. Up until that point I would have hand on heart, sworn that my kids wouldn’t be influenced by bullsh*t online. Not my kids, they don’t buy into this crap. How wrong was I?
What can we do about it?
Well, we can start to call it out and challenge some of the lies and misinformation that these people are promoting/advising! Just look at the online fury this week with Gwyneth Paltrow – she has since had to come out and make a statement backtrack) on what she said in her interview. Boom! She was called out and was held to account.
We need to do this more often and not let people get away with toxic influence.
I appreciate that we don’t all have the following to be able to call out the likes of Gwyneth and trigger a response, but there are a few things we can do.
Here are a few tips
- Are they a registered dietician/ nutritionist / skincare specialist? (qualified in whatever field they are promoting)
- Do they provide any “reliable” sources for any claims they make?
- Are they promoting products that you have to pay for? (that they have an affiliate link for)
- Is the influencer directly or indirectly promoting the “do X like me and look like me” idea?
- If it sounds too good to be true…..it’s probably too good to be true.