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What's Disappointing About Demi Lovato's Recent Instagram Posts

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s Associate Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

For many years, Demi Lovato has been beloved by the mental health community for being an outspoken mental health advocate. From making a bold statement at the Democratic National Convention to publishing a book of inspirational quotes for people struggling with their mental health, Demi has always had some powerful things to say.

But recently, some of her Instagram posts have been raising more than a few eyebrows for sending mixed messages to her audience. Her posts have also raised the larger issue — what responsibility do celebrity mental health advocates have in keeping their messages safe and consistent?

In April, the singer posted a picture of herself holding a tumbler filled with detox tea, advertising a “30 day detox challenge.”

In her caption, the singer wrote, “This year is all about #selflove <3” and encouraged fans to be their “best” selves by offering them a promo code to join her detox “challenge.”

Not only have detox programs been debunked, they are also part of the harmful diet culture people with eating disorders may be particularly vulnerable to. As a celebrity who has been open about her struggles with an eating disorder, Demi has a responsibility to her fans who look up to her as a recovery role model.

Using promotional language like being your “best self” while hashtagging terms like #selflove and #healthylifestyle, sell the lie that dieting will bring instant lifestyle and self-satisfaction — when in reality that’s not how it works. In a study at University College London examining the link between weight loss and happiness, it was found that dieters may be at an increased risk for depression.

But it’s not just this post that sent an inconsistent message. Last month Lovato posted a selfie with a caption that read:

I rarely post pics with my belly button showing because I’m normally insecure about showing my full stomach, but I’ve been working really hard… so I thought I’d post this cause I’m feeling myself right now!!

While it’s not a bad thing that Demi posted a picture of herself when she was feeling particularly confident, in the caption, the small word “but” carried a big implication.

Instead of sharing a photo and captioning it, “I’m feeling myself right now!” she added that she normally wouldn’t have shown her tummy, “but [she’s] been working really hard.” The unfortunate implication here is that you can only post a picture of  yourself if you’ve “earned” it through exercise. What’s more, to some this post may have sounded like: “I can only feel good about my body if I look like this.”

In a study examining the impact of media on eating disorders, it was found that after viewing media images of the “slender body ideal” the female subjects reported significantly more negative body image. The study found that this was especially true in subjects under the age of 19.

As a star who rose to prominence via Disney, her fan base is comprised primarily of young folks, who are particularly impacted by the effects of social media. In the same study, the researchers noted “many children and adolescents cannot discriminate between what they see and what is real.” And while we can’t say if the photo was filtered or photoshopped, it isn’t “real” in the sense that it sets an unrealistic expectation for fans who don’t have the same access to celebrity trainers and expensive diet plans Demi does.

Because Demi is a celebrity who has positioned herself as a voice in the mental health community, it’s important for her to send consistently safe messages to her audience. When posts equating “self-love” with “weight loss” are mixed in with ones celebrating recovery, it can send a confusing message — and fans may wonder, which message am I supposed to believe?

But this conversation isn’t about shaming Demi for her Instagram posts or discounting all the amazing work she has done for the mental health community. At the end of the day, we know celebrities and mental health advocates are only human. But the reality is “Lovatics” are listening, and it’s important we talk about the impact and look at the media we consume with a critical eye.

So Demi, if you’re reading, here are three things we ask you to keep in mind as a celebrity mental health advocate:

1. Remember your platform is power — for better or worse.

Your Instagram following is about 60.9 million. This is great when you are posting inspirational content or building your brand, but when you post things that contradict your mental health advocacy, the community notices.

2. Be mindful of your advertising deals.

Because you’ve positioned yourself as a mental health advocate, people expect more from you. Skip the detox tea endorsements in favor of advertising deals that don’t send an inconsistent message.

3. Don’t contradict your past mental health messaging.

While it’s normal for celebrities to change their image as they progress as artists, people don’t usually respect celebrities who have flip flopping views. It’s OK to take a step back from advocacy if you need to, just don’t contradict the hope you’ve given to people by sharing your own story — it’s the quickest way to alienate a big part of your fan base.

To any celebrity who is talking about mental health and giving a voice to those who have been silenced, thank you. But with advocacy comes responsibility. All we ask is that you please keep the mental health community in mind.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Photo via Demi Lovato Instagram.

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