Instagram’s New Policies are Doubling Down on Unrealistic Weight Loss and Cosmetic Treatments

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It’s safe to say we’ve all had our fair share of “Flat Tummy Tea” sponsorships and celebrities claiming their perfectly sculpted cheekbones and abs have nothing to do with in-office help all over on our Instagram feeds. The good news: We’re not the only ones fed up with the pressure these types of post instill in users, especially teens.

This week, Instagram announced a change to their advertising guidelines and policies, stating that users under the age of 18 will be restricted from seeing posts that may promote weight-loss products or certain types of cosmetic treatments. In addition to these restricted posts, some may also be removed in their entirety, if it “makes a miraculous claim about certain diet or weight loss products, and is linked to a commercial offer such as a discount code.”

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According to a statement from Instagram, recent influencer and celebrity growth on the app has prompted action to make the platform “a positive place for everyone” and to “reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media,” Instagram’s public policy manager, Emma Collins, said in a press release. The policy will affect both Instagram and Facebook.

While the policy shift also includes restricting content showcasing certain cosmetic procedures, the vast majority of experts in the field understand why. “Children, or those under 18, are impressionable and under a tremendous amount of stress regarding self image; adolescence is a time to learn to love who you are and not to be told who you need to be,” says Scottsdale, AZ dermatologist Anthony Nuara, MD. Troy, MI plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, MD adds: “Combine this with the plethora of unethical advertising and bombastic promotion of cosmetic surgery that is endemic on Instagram and Snapchat, and you have what we are seeing today—a massive influx of teens and twenty-somethings going to plastic surgeons’ offices in an attempt to ‘fix’ something that isn’t wrong or enhance something that doesn’t need to be enhanced.”

However, doctors contend there’s more work to be done. “How about the influencers who have obviously had cosmetic procedures? Are they also blocked because they are flaunting their body and facial features they are not obtainable without surgery or procedures?” asks Upland, CA, dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD, (better known as Dr. Pimple Popper).

Another point of contention: not all cosmetic procedures should be restricted, only those performed by those who falsely claim their expertise. “I agree that I do not want those who are under 18 to seek out any type of elective cosmetic treatments or unnecessary weight loss programs, unless medically indicated, but if we block expert sites and accounts that will potentially provide them with information of how and why certain celebrities and influencers look the way they do, then our children will be led to the conclusion that these looks are natural and achievable,” shares Harrison, NY dermatologist Jennifer S. Kitchin, MD. 

“We are in an age where many people believe that a quick internet search, a weekend course, and lots of Instagram followers makes them equivalent to a true expert,” adds Dr. Kitchin. “The fact is that these folks are not experts.”

“How about giving a purple verified check to board certified derms/plastics for cosmetics and a green check for weight loss docs,” suggests Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew J. Elias. “Promote the true experts on the discover page instead of ‘Samantha the expert’ sitting at Starbucks?”

Wilmington, NC dermatologist Kendall Egan, MD sums it up perfectly: “A lot of information found on social media isn’t true—rather than use social media to learn about procedures, it is always better to see a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss realistic outcomes and safety.”

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