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Opinion: how the fitness industry is finessing you

Instagram influencers are on the front line of misinformation
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EMILY MARSHALL/THE VARSITY
EMILY MARSHALL/THE VARSITY

As an unprecedented online school year begins, many students at the University of Toronto and other schools alike may find themselves feeling the need to escape the endless cycle of schoolwork. Many find that release in fitness, but with gyms being scary places as COVID-19 case numbers rise globally, home fitness has become a necessity rather than a privilege for some.

Herein lies a flaw in fitness that influencers and companies pick apart: since many people don’t have expensive exercise equipment at home — or lack the motivation to start working out in general — they start looking for ‘quick fixes’ to their workout needs. These ‘solutions’ range from snake oil “detox teas” to waist trainers and much more.

What is a detox tea, you ask? In short, they are teas that promise “boosted metabolism” and the ability to melt away stomach fat by “detoxing” your body of nasty elements. While this sounds like a groundbreaking medical discovery, these teas are about as scientific as some of the stuff your aunt shares on Facebook — not at all.

In March of this year, detox tea brand Teami was forced to return $1 million to consumers by the Federal Trade Commission after the brand was found to be selling products that promised weight loss and disease treatment “without reliable scientific evidence.”

However, this came after Teami made over $15 million from its product line. Teami products were promoted by a variety of influencers, the most popular being rapper Cardi B, who, as of September, has 76 million followers on Instagram.

While it can be easy to ignore these products if you live under a rock, they are a common sight on social media platforms, especially Instagram, where influencers are paid generously — upward of thousands of dollars — to promote teas as a method of shedding those last few pounds.

While it’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of products that promise the sun, moon, and stars to their customers, the major problem lies in the celebrities who use their platforms to push these unrealistic diet products. Flat Tummy Co is another example of these companies, perhaps most famous for its collaborations with the Kardashian-Jenner family, who make upward of six figures for an ad.

With Kim Kardashian West having 189 million followers and the other family members having equally exorbitant follower counts, it’s clear that they have a massive audience that will listen to their advertisements and purchase some of Flat Tummy Co’s products. For example, the Appetite Suppressant Lollipop was the subject of a 2018 study that debunked it as having no effects on weight loss. Not only will followers waste their money, but they will also fall victim to unrealistic body standards.

The misinformation pushed by these companies only stands to make them and their influencer army profit while the customer is left disappointed and, often, wanting more. There’s clearly a moral dilemma in profiting off of the desperate while pushing blatantly unscientific products.

In sum, as students shift to online classes, it’s a reality that they’ll get distracted and check out their social media feeds. When you check out the latest post from your favourite influencers, it’s important to think critically — if it seems too good to be true, it just might be.

The best way to keep up with your physical fitness in the middle of a pandemic is to find new ways to work out from home when you can make time for yourself. When you have to force yourself or sacrifice time from other activities, it’s very easy to fall victim to believing that a magic cup of tea will help you lose weight.