This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
“What I Eat in a Day” vlogs have become a YouTube staple. The genre and tag is a part of almost every lifestyle YouTuber’s profile, whether they have millions of followers or only a handful.
It seems easy to film — I mean, an influencer’s gotta eat every day anyway, right? — and it’s satiating for fans who are eager to consume any and all parts of their favorite gurus’ lives. It’s textbook voyeurism, which is always titillating, and the YouTube videos themselves are often edited with soothing music and feature cinematic shots of dainty and nicely curated meals.
There are a lot of reasons why these video constructs have become popular and normalized. I grew up reading glossy womens magazines that have also churned out similar content in editorial spreads, so the idea isn’t novel. It’s actually comforting despite its potential harm.
But the impact of watching countless “What I Eat in a Day” videos can be more damaging than soothing. And for that reason, I think it’s time we finally graduate from them.
Firstly, enjoying WIEIAD vlogs hinges on us believing creators are actually being truthful about what they’re eating. But for the sake of limiting some of these moral arguments because it’s hard to know and verify this stuff, let’s say most of them are authentic to an influencer’s real life. Even so, the standard set by many of the most-viewed videos is untenable. More often than not, the genre is populated by young, extremely thin white women whose lives are regimented around “healthy” eating. These are women who have access to a variety of foods and nutrition profiles. Their bodies, their lives, and their diets aren’t representative of the vast majority of people in the world today, who don’t have the means or time to be this disciplined and image-conscious about food.
This doesn’t mean these young influencers’ diets and lifestyles are not true and viable for them and others; it just means that their visibility creates a very narrow image of what food consumption looks like…and that it invariably ends up making me feel bad about my own choices. According to popular WIEIAD videos, “healthy” eating is limited to salads and avocado toast. And often the language used to describe snacking or more calorie-dense foods is steeped in guilt and self-punishment.
I don’t think I need to rehash The Dangers Of Narrow Beauty Standards 101, but the familiar messaging is always: Eat these things if you want a chance to have the ideal bodies these women have, and forgo the foods that are enriching to your body and soul.
Offering up someone’s diet as a form of entertainment sets a strange and harmful precedent for how we all compare ourselves to others we admire. There are simply five hundred other ways for a creator to build community and connection with their fans. For example, the “What’s in my Bag” video prompt is equally interesting and satisfying to watch with no risk of accidentally veering into sensitive issues like disordered eating or body image.
In last week’s newsletter, Paige Skinner wrote about the stickiness of influencers like Summer Mckeen speaking openly about her eating disorder and not being equipped with more responsible ways of talking about it.
“A lot of the advice she’s recommending would tend to worsen an eating disorder or trigger an eating disorder,” said psychologist Alexis Conason, who’s also a certified eating disorder specialist-supervisor. “The kinds of things that the average person thinks that they should do to be healthy or lose weight is not necessarily what we would recommend from a psychological perspective in terms of healing your relationship with food and improving body image.”
And these same kinds of triggers come up in WIEIAD videos. Although the influencers are not shilling advice on how to eat, sometimes the effects of presenting this very manicured way of eating can be similar.
If you’re an influencer who’s going to show us the foods you eat in a day, take that opportunity to also talk honestly about your relationship to food. How do you make the choices of what you eat? How do those foods make you feel — both during and after eating them? How do those foods inform your body image and your sense of self-worth? How do you define nourishment and satisfaction? What’s your relationship to guilt and food?
If influencers rise to the challenge, something interesting might finally come out of WIEIAD video trends.
Until next time,