How Targeted Weight Loss Ads Can Haunt Future Brides

Alysia Cole, 34, a wedding stylist in Chicago who often works with plus-size brides, has seen the effect of these ads on her clients, many of whom are recovering from eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with diet culture. The ads, she said, feed the weight-related insecurities that many future brides have, and that many of them developed even before their engagements. “What you see on Instagram is this unspoken thing of, looking your best is equivalent to looking your thinnest,” she said.

Some of the ads focusing on weight loss products and services have become more subtle, Ms. Cole said. It’s not about weight loss anymore — it’s about maintaining “wellness” or “taking care of your health.” Marketing weight loss as health, especially as people pay more attention to personal well-being amid the Covid-19 pandemic, creates a sense of personal responsibility that is harder to ignore than if it were just about aesthetics.

After gyms closed during the Covid-19 lockdown, Jazmine Fries, 25, a wedding planner in San Antonio who was a health care worker at the time, was not able to prioritize working out for a couple of years. Then in the fall of 2021, when she became engaged, she started seeing recommendations for wedding Facebook groups specifically focused on weight loss topics like juice cleanses and advice on how to lose pounds fast.

As a wedding planner, she often fields questions from brides about whether they should buy dresses closer to their wedding date — when they plan to have lost weight — or sooner.

“Naturally you’re going to have more eyes on it,” Ms. Fries said of wedding gowns. “Therefore, it’s much more pressurized in terms of, Am I going to pick this dress because I love it, or because it’s going to photograph on me?”

Ms. Cole and Ms. Fries both agree that a large part of the pressure to lose weight comes from the fact that weddings are photographed and documented on the internet more now than ever before. Weight loss still remains a common aspiration in the wedding industry, they said, and the quiet voice of a targeted ad doesn’t help.