Group Chat Podcast: Instagram's "Self-Care" Scams

News podcast about the self-care thread accounts on Instagram and this week's news headlines.

In this week's Group Chat ...

This week's Group Chat Question: What do you think about the self-care trend? Is it healthy, or just blatant capitalism? Somewhere in between?

Text the words "GROUP CHAT" to 929-236-9577 to share your thoughts.

We're everywhere you want us to be, including right here as well as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify!

Check out BuzzFeed’s other podcasts here and you can find transcripts for other episodes here.

Group Chat - 00:00

RYAN BRODERICK: So Rachel, a few weeks ago, you wrote kind of an insane story. As I edited it, I was continually blown away and upset. It’s called “these teens are making thousands of dollars promoting risky DIY self care tips.” How did you, how did you find this?

RACHAEL KRISHNA: So I kind of found my way into this because I was looking at like, threads on Instagram. Threads on Instagram are a really big thing right now. It's like, a little, three or four photos explaining how you do this thing. How you get smoother skin, how you dress in a certain way, how you organize yourself for the new school year.

ELLIE HALL: And how good are these tips, like.

RB: Are they valuable?

RK: They’re good as like, you know when we were like, growing up and in like, Cosmo magazine that kind of stuff, there was like, his how you do this basic thing. Here's how you like, customize your notebook for the new school year, you put some stickers on. It's the same thing over and over again. They're not really that inventive, but it was kind of like, now users like, Instagram a certain kind of photos. That updates it.

RB: Right.

RK: So I was looking into that, because I was just like, interested in it. And I was interested in the way that a lot of them kind of banner under this term self-care.

RB: Right, which means nothing, right?

RK: Yeah. It used to mean something. Self-care used to kind of be this like, radical idea that, Minority groups, young people, all these kind of people who have been essentially fucked over by the establishment need to use them, and could get medical advice, look after themselves by doing things like, yoga, using like, herbal remedies, it was kind of very big like, the 60s and 70s and like, the counterculture movement.

RB: Okay, but it's different now.

RK: Yeah, it's different now because like, everything in 2018 it’s become intrinsically linked to capitalism.

RB: Okay. So once again, it's capitalism's fault.

RK: Yeah, and so now self-care is it is still you know yoga, but it's also buying the expensive yoga pants. It's also still herbal remedies, but it's buying ten face masks that have like, these have tea tree and blueberry in, that cost you like, $10 like, a go. It's the kind of like, link to it.

EH: The fancy smoothies.

RK: Yeah fancy smoothies.

RB: Wait. So, our listeners might not know, you and I don't live in America.

RK: No.

RB: Ellie, you do live in America.

EH: Yes, I do.

RB: Are you subscribing to the capitalist hell-scape form of self care currently.

EH: Well, I do live in Washington DC and...

RB: Oh everything's very fine there.

EH: So yeah, but you know, I tend to think more of the self-care methods that Rachel was describing about you know, let's go for a nice long walk and let's do some yoga, or let’s, you know, take a mental health day off of work or something.

RB: So the free ones.

EH: Yeah.

RH: But even with free ones these days because of social media. They have like, the pressure to show that they're doing it. She can no longer really just go and like, and go to like, a cabin in the woods and read a book or something. You have to gram, it to show how carefree and like, light you are.

EH: How peaceful it is. Yeah.

RK: Yeah.

RB: And is that having an effect you think on these teenagers that are basically commodifying their own like, mental health.

RK: Yeah, because even the discussions around mental health, mental health and self-care very intrinsically linked, because the idea is that if you practice self-care it’s good for your mental health, and these young people have kind of grown up in this world where discussions around mental health, you know, it's a lot more open than it was even 10 15 years ago. And so. They kind of like, link everything to mental health, and they’re always talking about how it's good for your mental health. But then they’re using, they’re doing this all via social media because they're all extremely digital native. They've just grown up with a world where they don't know anything but Facebook Instagram Twitter.

RB: So Rachael like, how dangerous are some of these tips?

RH: Okay, so it's kind of like, two variations here. There’s like, bad advice. There's stuff like, here’s how you lose weight in 2 weeks and it's like, a bunch of like, routines that won't do much to your body. It's just like, do 10 sit ups a day and like, jump, or like. They’ll like, do a kind of jokey photo sets where it's like, here's how to feel beautiful. And the second one’s like, you're already beautiful but all the pictures.

RB: Wow.

RH: Are like, skinny light-skinned women.

RB: Right.

RH: And so it's kind of like, you know messing with like, the mental perception there, with everyone being like, well why aren't you putting different women in here. Why don't you put in like, a variation. Then there's advice on these platforms which could generally like, cause physical harm. Apple cider vinegar really big one which we keep going back to because it's so popular. It has popped up for years in this kind of like, home remedy like, do it yourself face masks, you can use that as a toner and the skin toner. The issue of it is, if you use it too much if you use it, like, too heavily in one go it can cause burns on your skin. And that's similar to a lot of other products sold in these like, affluent skincare regimes like, you can get burned you can cause serious skin damage from that.

RB: So I have a question and I feel like, it's very easy particularly for me to be like. Teenagers are all all have a brain disease and are all crazy. But like, that's not really true because I teenagers have always always been stupid and like, especially on the internet and you can you can just watch it play out like, Ellie did a lot of great work around like, girls who fell in love with Isis members via Tumblr like, two years ago. Like, this is not a new phenomenon.

EH: No.

RB: But would you say it is safe to call? like, let's call it like, visual living like, aesthetic like, really insane aestheticism. like, this does seem new to me.

RK: Yeah, well, I mean like, the reason that this lives on Instagram is because Instagram is so heavily aesthetic like, you see people heavily curate what they put on Instagram to the extent where they like, they won't post like, a nice picture of their boyfriend because it doesn't have the right filter on it which fits the aesthetic where they're going for like, the black and white or blue filter on their page. They won't, they will take a photo of a thing just because it fits a certain aesthetic. And then with these like, self-care pages, you kind of see that taken to a real extreme, where these pages are trying to teach people to live to this aesthetic. It's like, here's how you look like, the skinny white girl with a yellow hoodie and who's got a balloon above her always cuddling a sunflower.

EH: What's really interesting to me, I I read Rachael’s story and I wanted to start looking into you know, if this was a thing on other parts of the internet. Pinterest and Instagram have so much more of this misinformation or even if it's not misinformation, it's there's no real way to call people out on something because people often on Instagram won't scroll through the comments. Pinterest, you know, there's really no way to comment and it that's different from a site like, Reddit where if you want to exchange makeup tips or skin care tips and you're wrong,

people will call you out on it.

RB: Oh, yeah, okay.

EH: And people will let you know link out to studies and say no don't do this. do this. Don't do that.

RB: It's interesting that you mentioned Pinterest and Instagram. because I do think that Instagram is being treated very similar to the way people used to treat Pinterest which was like, I mean, let's be let's be totally, cards of the table. They’re sites populated by women. So people just like, aren't taking them seriously.

EH: Yeah.

RB: Do you think that like, this type of misinformation floats through these sites because everyone's like, oh, it's for teen girls like, who gives a shit. Do you think there's a bit of that attitude when it comes to moderating these sites?

EH: I think so, especially with Pinterest. Pinterest has many many many anti-vax boards on it.

RB: Oh, no, I run a few of them.

EH: Oh okay, but yeah that mean that that's an example of how you know what this platform that people don't take seriously can be spreading horrible misinformation that has real-world effects on people and you know beyond you know, oh, I used apple cider vinegar on my face and now I have burns which is horrible, but you know.

RB: Okay. Well, let's let's let's talk about the moderation because I think, so I sit across from you in our London office, and I've listened to you fight with Instagram for weeks now over all of this stuff.

RH: A couple things it boils down to as well, Instagram’s a really huge platform. And so they I think in a way had no idea that this kind of stuff was going on.

RB: Shocking.

RH: They didn't really seem to you know understand the kind of like, misinformation going on here. And then. This is kind of a second point to that was that Instagram is what they call was self-referring platform. And that means that if someone sees something they don't like, they need to refer or report it, you know flag it whatever, and then the moderators will go through it and try and work out if it's a bad thing or not. We've seen that completely misused with things like, women's nipples on Instagram already where someone reports a woman breastfeeding and Instagrams like, well, it's a boob so off you go. But it kind of comes under scrutiny here, because the a lot of dermatologists, I spoke to dermatologists and like, you know actual doctors for this piece who were like, yeah, I've seen all this. I get into fights about it myself on Instagram.

RB: That was one of my favorite parts.

EH: Yeah in your story?

RH: Yeah.

RB: That's like, amazing that like, a doctor would be having teenagers bully them over genuine practical medical advice.

EH: A doctor getting but actually’d on Instagram by a teen is…

RH: Or just like, you know, these like, self-care mums as well, the GOOP mums, who are like, putting all this stuff on there. And it's like, an army of Gwyneth Paltrow's army fighting like, these like, scientists.

RB: Well, it sort of blows my mind that you know, you you see. Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's insane self care industry thing selling the same stuff as Alex Jones. Which in my mind means that this isn't, this is a much larger social issue than I think the three of us are probably prepared to even grasp at the moment, right? Because if if everyone on the Internet is deciding that they want to live in an alternate reality where like, you know, putting cocoa on your skin will open its pores because it's like, aesthetically pleasing to photograph like, that's a really weird breakdown in like, culture, right?

RH: It's a breakdown in well the dermatologist again who I was speaking to made a really good point, you know, the original self-care movement like I said, came out of this distrust of like, higher authorities and everything like that. And it's kind of happening again now. The kind of pieces are in the same place as it were almost 40 years ago, where a lot of people distrust traditional medicine, they distrust like, authorities telling them what to do. And because of the internet and like, a lot of the information on the internet people are like, I can work it out myself.

I have so many friends, young women who build their own skin care routines and put on a lot of stuff on their face like, as in like, five six step skin care routines in the evening. Four steps in like, the morning and you ask them why they do it and they don't understand why they're doing it. It's because they see these things online. They see that there's you know, three different oils now for your face, whatever whatever and they do it themselves instead of like, just going to a doctor or going to a professional and being like, “what do I need to do for my skin?”

EH: I think that's part of the problem too with the regulation of this. across the board when you're talkin about you know, whether it's makeup tips or these supplements that are being sold by Alex Jones and by GOOP and are also you know on these Instagram pages. For most people if you take this advice, you're not gonna get anything out of it, you know, you'll you'll probably just take a few more vitamins, or maybe you'll get lucky and what you put on your face doesn't make you break out. So if you personally have no horrible effects from it, you have to have a lot of I would say, a lot of willpower and character turn down a company approaching you.

RH: Oh yeah.

EH: About something that you're not sure about or you've tried once when they're like, hey here is you know, $25,000 if you put this on your Instagram page that has a million followers.

I mean, that's a lot of money.

RH: But the point I made to that was which we found in this piece is that a large amount of these teen influences aren't making $25,000.

RB: So how much money are they making?

RH: So if I can kind of put this in perspective for you, because I spoke to someone who works within kind of like, the PR, the influencer industry and I was like, what do the big names get like, what does Zoella get for like, her Instagram post and this kind of thing. And Zoella, that’s a ballpark has 10 million followers on Instagram.

EH: Who is Zoella, I'm not a teen.

RB: Oh no no no, it’s also, it's also okay because you're not British either. Zoella is I would argue the biggest British online influencer.

EH: Okay. Good for her.

RH: So for like, a general Instagram post so well as going into like, the tens of thousands of pounds. So tens of thousands of dollars of dollars.

RB: Right.

RH: You know $34,000 like, big for just one post.

RB: Per post.

RH: Yeah.

EH: and what kind of stuff did she advertise. I’m curious.

RH: Anything it's all kind of again, like, aesthetically self care lifestyle stuff, candles, makeup, nice little jumpers that look really cozy, slippers, you know like, that kind of stuff which is very kind of like ooh.

RB: I will say that like, the UK side of this tends to be a lot more twee. It's a lot of like, it's like, I love to drink tea in my cozy flat and like, it's like, very like, aspirational like, white lady stuff.

RH: So, these teens. I'm going back to that how much they're making for it. These teens are making about for a post I would say about 20 quid.

RB: Wow.

RH: So 30 dollars.

EH: Not that much.

RB: Yeah, I think that was something that reading your piece I was sort of most horrified by. I was sort of hoping they'd be more cynical. Yeah, I'd be I was sort of being like, oh, this is awesome. like, it's a con they're going to make their money and that's it, and they're like, no we think we're generally providing a good service for people and we like to do this.

RH: I'm sure there are those in there who are just gaming it like, I'm not gonna doubt that there probably are a bunch of maybe, slightly older than these kids. Most of them that I spoke to are about 16. There's probably a bunch of about 18 to 20 year olds who have seen this go big and are now gaming it to do this. But there's a kind of like, what if I can make a career out of this sort of thing. I'm seeing it more and more on Instagram the way that people use Instagram particularly. It's like, what if this is how I make my career.

EH: So of the teens you talked to who were who were running these you know self care pages. How much of it for them is, let me make some money off of this, and how much of it is I genuinely want to help people, you know have perfect skin, lose weight, if you have more energy.

RH: I think there is a focus on money. I'm not gonna lie. I spoke the smaller influencers that I spoke to, his goal was that he wanted to grow his page. But because then you get better sponsorship deals. The bigger page you get, you know the better sponsors, the better like, apps that will work with you the more likely you are to like get like, actual products on the page, but they always kept going back to the fact that they thought they were doing something good. Like, they weren't making money in a bad way. They weren't being these bad people who you know exploit people and make money and then not like, doing a boring like, working at a checkout job.

They're trying to do good and through that, they are making a career and making money.

RB: So I guess my last question with all this as I sort of process the end of the world here is like, is this sort of a trend that will get worse and get bigger and get crazier or do you think this is something we look back on what we're just like, remember that weird time or like, everyone was just like, doing weird Instagram pages for no reason.

RH: The core of these Instagram pages we've seen before. like I was saying, it's the same advice that we saw in the teen magazines that we all read like, 20 years ago. And so I don't think the course is going to like, change. Social media platforms as we’re kind of seeing as we have seen a kind of like, momentary if this does if it doesn't stay on Instagram, it will go somewhere else at some point. These teams are ready to use you know, Pinterest, We Heart It. There'll be another platform and they'll move on to that or they'll do it in a different way.

EH: I mean it’s starting on Twitch.

RH: Yeah.

EH: I noticed.

RB: Really?

EH: Oh, yeah people do like,

RB: Are teen girls doing it?

EH: Teen girls will do sponsored like, makeup tutorials on Twitch.

RB: Wow.

EH: It's not like, people are ever going to want to stop looking good.

RH: Yeah.

RB: We just all have to agree to become uglier. Thank you guys this is great.

EH: You’re already there Ryan. Don't worry about it.

Push Alert - 17:33

JULIA FURLAN: So now we have Push Alert, which is the podcast version of your phone going bzz bzz bzz bzz 45 times with bad news, because it's 2018. Tom Namako, breaking news editor, captain of the ship. Hello.

TOM NAMAKO: Hello. Hello. My phone gooses all the time.

JF: Yeah. I know.

TN: It’s a it’s a terrible phone.

JF: So today's push alert is all about Me Too. So our first story is a Buzzfeed News Exclusive,

hello. Um, we reported that Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the New York attorney general's office to suspend its investigation into whether or not the 2015 investigation into Harvey Weinstein was mishandled.

TN: So this is not a great look for Cuomo. He made a big deal when this investigation was opened and then it took our reporter to kind of get a tip that he had to confirm, to find out that it was suspended.

JF: Wow.

TN: People, you know kind of have the right to be skeptical about this. We're now especially after Me Too, we are in this world where powerful people are generally being treated with distrust, when comes to sexual assault allegations. We've seen things like NDA's and all kinds of ways to you know, to.

JF: Manipulate the victims and protect the powerful.

TN: Exactly. And now one way that Cuomo is going to have to really explain an answer for this is tonight, where he's going to face off for the first time against Cynthia Nixon in a debate. And there's just no question he's going to be asked about it.

JF: I can't wait. I'm going to be watching.

TN: Yep, same.

JF: Louis CK, disgraced comedian who had exposed himself to several women he worked with against their will, performed at a comedy club for the first time this week. It was his first gig since he left the spotlight disgraced, and he had a standing ovation before he even started his 15-minute set. Tom, tell me what the push alert is here.

TN: So this has set off a big back and forth in the comedy community, and we especially have some very, you know, very talented women comedians who are like what is going on here.

JF: Absolutely.

TN: And and it raises the question of did he, you know in all theory serve his time? Did you know is was his disappearance long enough, you know.

JF: Right it was like 10 months, right?

TN: It was around 10 months. I think it was like nine months and he wasn't criminally, you know investigated, or.

JF: Oh, key detail here is that he admitted to doing this?

TN: Yes, exactly. So you have uh, Megan Amram who says, you know “I literally cannot think of anything cooler than not giving a white man a second chance with options for a third and fourth.”

JF: Right. I think my favorite tweet about this from Sarah Lazarus was, “I'm still on the same shampoo bottle as when Louis CK's timeout started.” Oh so good. So true as a frame.

TN: But you’ve got like Padma Lakshmi who says, you know not falling for this Louis CK quote unquote “triumphant return narrative,” after years of him humiliating women who worked for and with him.

JF: These discussions are ongoing and I think it's really important that they're happening in public, and they are layering nuances on top of nuances.

TN: Absolutely, absolutely.

JF: Tom Namako, thank you so much for being here. I can see that your phone is already blowing.

TN: It is blowing up. Thank you for having me but I have to get out of here. Sorry. It's it's all lit up.

JF: Bye, Tom.

TN: Bye.

This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That’s Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, Ahmed Ali Akbar, and Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch.

Topics in this article

Skip to footer