Sometimes, algorithms reflect insecurities we didn’t know we had.
Diet and exercise content is big business for the creators and advertisers on social media. Engage with these posts, even mindlessly, and you’ll see more of the same.
Can just ONE girl on my Instagram explore page not have abs please
— Brooks Brennan (@Bruxy_B) April 29, 2017
If you’re sick of seeing chiseled abs on your Instagram Explore tab, toned glutes on your TikTok For You page or weight-loss shakes on YouTube, you’re not alone. Social media companies have come under fire for the way their apps prioritize images of idealized bodies — Meta has repeatedly denied claims that using Instagram adversely affects teen girls’ body image. In recent months, companies including Meta and Google have rolled out tools that purport to give users more control over the ads or algorithmic content they see.
Actively curating what content we see helps protect our well-being, since so-called thin-spiration and fit-spiration often do more harm than good, health experts say. One study linked exposure to images of extremely thin or fit creators with worse symptoms among people with eating disorders. Multiple others found that both thinspo and fitspo are associated with lower levels of body satisfaction among adults.
When asked about the proliferation and impact of body-focused content, Meta pointed The Washington Post toward a company blog post from 2021. TikTok declined to comment. Google spokesman Farrell Sklerov said the company’s Ad Center lets users control which ads they see.
“For people who want us to limit ads on sensitive topics, like weight loss, or see fewer ads on topics they are simply less interested in, like food or fitness, they just need to choose the options that are right for them,” Sklerov said.
Here’s how to pare back on body-focused content on Instagram, TikTok, Google and Facebook:
Go to your profile. Tap the menu icon with three lines in the top right corner. Select Settings -> Ads -> Ad Topics. Search for “Body Weight Control,” then choose “Show less ads about this topic.” Continue punching terms into the search bar — such as “diet” and “fitness” — until you’ve covered your bases.
For recommended content, tap the three dots in the upper right corner of a recommended post. Select “not interested.” Then, choose “don’t suggest posts with certain words.” This lets you filter out posts with particular terms or hashtags in the caption. Start with “fitness,” “weight,” “workout” and “gym.”
Keep in mind these keyword filters won’t catch all the content you’re trying to avoid. Some creators purposefully avoid content filters by swapping “WL” for “weight loss,” for example. After blocking the term “fitness,” I still saw content with hashtags like #LegDay, #TonedBody and #AbsAreMadeInTheKitchen. Keep building out your blocked-word list based on the content that slips through.
To control what types of ads you see, go to your profile and tap the menu button with three lines in the top right corner. Select “settings and privacy” then scroll down to “ads.” Tap on “how your ads are personalized” and check if any of your inferred interests are diet or exercise related. If so, tap on that interest and select “turn off.”
To adjust your feeds, return to “settings and privacy” and scroll down to “content preferences.” Choose “filter video keywords,” then add the words you’d like to filter. TikTok says this will remove videos from your feed if they contain the keywords in their hashtags or descriptions. Start with “fitness,” “weight,” “workout” and “gym. ” For individual videos, you can hold down your thumb and select “not interested.”
Go to MyAdCenter.google.com. Here, you can view what information about you Google uses to target ads, as well as what types of ads you see. First, go to “customize ads” in the left-hand menu. Click on the “sensitive” tab, go to “weight loss” and turn off the slider.
Then, go to the “topics” tab. Select the minus icon on topics you want to see less, maybe fitness or food.
If a particular ad or brand is hounding you, go back to the left-hand menu and choose “my ads.” Here, you can see the ads and brands you’ve been served recently and ask to see less of them. You can also give feedback in real time by clicking on the three dots next to an ad and selecting the minus sign next to the ad topic.
Before you leave, go to “manage privacy” in the left-hand menu and review which types of data Google can use to target you. I, for instance, didn’t want ads based on my marital status, income or homeownership. Remember: This ad center only controls what you see, not what information Google can collect and store about you.
On a mobile device, tap the menu button with three lines in the bottom right corner. Go to the gear icon in the top right corner to access your settings. Scroll down to the “permissions” section and tap on “ad preferences.” Select “ad topics” at the top, use the search bar to find “body weight control” and tap “show less ads about this topic.” Also search for “fitness,” “weight” and “diet” and turn off as many categories as possible.
You can tap the “ad settings” button at the top to adjust what information Meta uses to show you ads. Under “activity information from ad partners,” I told Meta to stop using my activity on other sites and apps to target ads. Under “categories used to reach you,” I removed some of Meta’s creepy guesses about my life, such as my household income. And under “audience-based advertising,” I blocked ads from a few weight-loss focused women’s magazines by tapping on the brand name, on “you may have interacted with their website, app or store” and then “hide all ads from this advertiser.”
For recommended content, tap the three dots in the top or bottom corner of a recommended post. Select “show less.”