From Detox teas to cosmetic surgery: Has social media advertising gone too far?

By Aoife McDowell / October 14, 2020
Has social media advertising gone too far?

Advertisements on social media are nothing new. It is common to see sponsored ads when scrolling through all social media platforms. However, across social media there has been an increasing trend in advertisements directly related to changing one’s body image. These images are directed mostly at teenagers and young adults. As a twenty-four-year-old myself I am not exempt from these types of advertisements. I get a range of advertisements daily, encouraging me to buy a wide range of beauty and diet products. As these products range from dangerous diets to cosmetic surgery, I ask has social media advertising gone too far? 

To demonstrate this, I decided to document some of the advertisements I get across my different social media platforms over the course of a few days. These advertisements are not from any accounts I have followed or searched for in the past.  

Instagram     

Instagram 2 Instagram 3 Instagram

 

Each of these advertisements are clearly aimed at changing one’s self-image. These types of images have been proven to be especially harmful to teenagers and young adults, particularly women. Last year,Instagram banned all advertisements like the ones above being shown to anyone under the age of 18. Although this is a step in the right direction, women from the ages of 18-24 (which make up 13.9 percent of more than a billion global active Instagram users) are still one of the groups most impacted by body image due to social media.  This is due to advertisements like the one above as well as influencers and photoshopping.

The lip filler advertisement also reflects a new trend amongst young adults wanting to change their bodies with cosmetic procedures. Research has suggested that social media is now partly responsible for the rise in younger people wishing to have cosmetic surgery. This study demonstrated that approximately 70% of 18-24 years olds would now consider having a cosmetic surgical procedure. 

A number of recent studies have found that women in their teens and early twenties who view social media regularly, report greater body image concerns compared to non-users. Therefore, these advertisements could still cause lasting damage even with age restrictions. 

TikTok 

TikTok 2 TikTok TikTok1 TikTok3

In September of this year TikTok put new restrictions on sponsored advertisements of diet and weight loss products. This was after a long wave of criticism towards the app for promoting unhealthy eating habits, in particular an advertisement for intermittent fasting which encouraged users to skip meals. 

Although TikTok has now banned these sponsored ads and put age restrictions on other weight loss products, users are still able to upload content focused on these products. This means that companies can post advertisements from their own accounts, advertising weight loss or cosmetic treatments.  

The main problem with TikTok is that it works off an algorithm ‘for you’ page, so even users who have never seen or followed can still end up on your feed. This means that, similar to sponsored ads, advertisements by individuals promoting cosmetic products can still show up on news feeds. This is particularly worrying on TikTok, which is primarily used by young adults and teenagers. Recent statistics show that of TikTok’s 800 million monthly users 50% were under the age of 34. 

Snapchat 

Snapchat 3 Snapchat 4 Snapchat Snpachat 2               

Perhaps most worrying of all was Snapchat. The above images are all tailored towards either fat loss or body image, with some shocking advice on how to lose weight. These were also some of the most frequent and harmful advertisements I experienced. The most worrying aspect was that there are currently only four countries that have age restrictions on advertisements like these: Colombia, Greece, Kuwait and the USA.  

Another alarming aspect of this is that Snapchat is largely used by young people. Recent statistics show that a staggering 90% of users are 13-24 years old. Images like the ones above go unregulated in most countries and can be seriously damaging to young people, especially teenagers. Social media advertisements such as these have been directly linked to poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression amongst teenagers and young adults.  

Has social media advertising gone too far? 

As proved by my own experiences, advertisements focusing on self-image are still very common across different social media platforms. Although these social media platforms have taken steps to regulate the amount of advertisements on body image,  it is clear  there is still a lot more that needs to be done. 

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Aoife McDowell

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