Actress Jameela Jamil has had it with celebrities who hawk diet products on social media. For months, she’s been calling them out. In May, she said Kim Kardashian West is a “terrible and toxic influence on young girls” for promoting appetite suppressant lollipops. This week, she scolded Cardi B for crediting a laxative tea for her post-baby snapback.
“GOD I hope all these celebrities all shit their pants in public, the way the poor women who buy this nonsense upon their recommendation do,” she tweeted. “Not that they actually take this shit. They just flog it because they need MORE MONEY.”
She followed up her criticism of Cardi with a collage of famous “detox” tea peddlers with huge followings, including Kim and Cardi as well as Khloe Kardashian and Amber Rose. These women pose with laxative teas marketed as weight loss products while showing off their perfectly flat stomachs for viewers.
The problem Jamil is attacking doesn’t begin with the women or these ads. It arises from a sexist culture that tells women our bodies aren’t good enough and our worth lies in our beauty. Most of us can sympathize with the pressures famous women face to maintain a perfect image.
But Jamil is right to be upset with anyone who uses her huge following to sell unrealistic beauty standards and ineffective weight loss aids. And we should all be outraged.
Most of these stars have access to personal trainers, nutritionists, cooks and plastic surgeons who make their perfect bodies possible. The vast majority of women seeing these ads will never be able to achieve the same results ― even if they are drinking the teas and eating the lollipops ― because they don’t have the same resources as their favorite celebrity.
If there’s not an ongoing conversation about this reality, the women are selling false dreams, and those dreams have real-life consequences.
Promoting these weight loss products promotes a culture where disordered eating and body dysmorphia are the norm. It’s all in the names. Flat Tummy Tea and Skinny Tea are everywhere. Their names tell customers that this is the path to getting the body they desire. In reality, these products temporarily get rid of water weight, not fat, and they create bad habits.
These women are selling false dreams and those dreams have real-life consequences.
Laxatives have long been popular among people who suffer from bulimia and anorexia. Encouraging users to manage their weight with what is essentially a laxative is the type of thing you’d see in pro-anorexia communities online.
Many of these products do more harm than good. They can do enormous damage to someone’s mental and physical health. Tea peddlers endorse products without any mention of their dangers.
These teas usually contain senna, an herb with a laxative effect. Long-term consumption of stimulants like senna can create dependence. Dependent consumers have to continue using it or increasing their dosage to have regular bowel movements. What’s worse is the National Eating Disorders Association warns that laxative abuse can lead to dehydration as well as electrolyte and mineral imbalances that cause kidney and heart failure.
At first glance, Jamil seems like the wrong vehicle for this message. She’s tall, thin and beautiful. Perhaps, she should leave the beauty standard critiques for those of us who suffer the most. But when Jamil chastises celebrities for the impact they’re having on teens, she’s speaking from her own experience.
She’s been open about her teenage battle with anorexia. On the collage Instagram post, she wrote. “I listened to irresponsible celebrities and bought all these bad products and followed their TERRIBLE and toxic diet tips for how they maintained the tiny weight they were... and I fucked up my metabolism and digestive system for life.”
Her emphasis on the influence these women might have on young girls is justified. When the UK’s Royal Society of Public Health surveyed 1,500 teens, the respondents named Instagram as the most harmful social media app. They said it made them feel worse about their body image and contributed to anxiety and depression.
When Jameela Jamil chastises celebrities for the impact they’re having on teens, she’s speaking from her own experience.
And kids aren’t the only ones affected. Another study from the University of South Wales found that using social media for more than an hour a day is linked to decreased body image in adult women.
In the age of social media, women are altering their bodies more than ever before. Plastic surgery has increased in the United States by almost 200 percent since 2000. The normalization of these procedures is even more reason to be careful about the messages we send. When women are dying from botched surgeries to achieve the perfect figure, being conscientious of the products you’re selling should be a moral obligation.
It’s possible these celebrities don’t know about the dangers of the products they’re selling. Hopefully, they’ll take time to learn more and correct their course. In the meantime, the issue must be addressed. While we can’t expect digital celebrities to be perfect role models, when your livelihood depends on a community (comprised of mostly girls and women) trusting your influence, exploiting that relationship by profiting from their insecurities is unethical.
Every woman is a victim of our sexist culture, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to act decently. Kim Kardashian West, Cardi B and Khloe Kardashian aren’t hurting for money or ways to make it. Their diet product endorsements are brazen cash grabs, and they should be ashamed to sell women out for a quick buck.
Kimberly Foster is a cultural critic and editor-in-chief of For Harriet, a digital community for black women.