February 28, 2024 - 10:00am

The New York Times published a story this week about “body-positive” influencers who lose weight, and the fans who feel betrayed by their health journey. Accused of everything from “dishonesty” to “ableism”, formerly overweight content creators are met with disappointment and anger from the audiences who once loved them. 

At first blush, this story is predictable: we’re in a culture that valorises weakness. It’s filled with the familiar trappings of the worst features of “wokeness”: accusations of duplicitous behaviour from an angry mob for doing something that not even 10 years ago would have been seen as praiseworthy; the conflation of a toxic and oppressive “diet culture” and healthy weight loss to be able to do things as simple as “wipe [their] ass,” as one influencer in the Times article candidly described it. 

What’s striking is that it’s not that the audience is angry because they see these influencers as shallow, or leaning too far into “influencer culture”, because arguably that’s what they’re doing as fat women. They’re upset because, plain and simple, their favourite fat-positive influencer has lost weight. And they don’t care how, or why. (Ironically, one influencer the Times profiled was slipping back into disordered eating habits, and was not actually pursuing a healthier lifestyle. The audience neither knew nor cared: it was the act of losing weight in and of itself that was the betrayal.) 

The audience’s desire for these influencers to remain overweight also speaks to the nature of the industry. When you become an influencer, you are not being celebrated for who you are, but rather what you represent. In the case of Dronme Davis, an influencer profiled by the Times, the appeal was that she was a fat woman, not that she was Dronme Davis. 

There’s a misconception that your audience will love you for yourself. But it’s not about you, and never has been: it’s about what you’re an avatar for. For influencers, this is often a dehumanising discovery. They want to believe that their fans love them for themselves, regardless of who they are at a given moment. Sadly, that is not the case.

And it shouldn’t be surprising, either. If there is an influencer who gained a following by posting recipes and they pivot from cooking to make-up, they’re going to see an audience shift. But because of the parasocial nature of social media, it’s more difficult to comprehend when real people’s lives are at stake. It can even feel like betrayal.

Here’s another example. Every now and then, a political commentator will switch lanes, or go “off script”. Their career might survive, but they’ll lose part of their audience. They may also explode in popularity with the rebrand, yet only a small number of “ride or die” fans from their original base will remain as they evolve. Essentially, what they’re doing is rebooting their career, which then becomes something entirely different. Tim Pool, Candace Owens and Dave Rubin are three such examples. 

So what does this say about body-positivity influencers? Firstly, there is a toxic cycle going on here — the obvious, intuitive one. People don’t look to body-positivity influencers for change, but for validation. If they wanted change, they’d follow someone who’s already declared they’re embarking on a “fitness journey”.   

And secondly, it’s a harsh reminder that that’s show business, baby. It only feels personal. 

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit defaultfriend.substack.com.