This is an interesting case study in how smaller changes and policy tweaks, in relative terms, can have a big impact on user behavior online.

Last year, as part of an expanded push to reinforce body positivity within its app, Pinterest banned all ads with weight loss language and imagery, which was a significant stance within the broader, visual-focused social media sphere.

So what impact has that had, and has it helped improve discussion and engagement in the app?

According to new data from Pinterest, it has had an impact, with ‘weight loss’ searches decreasing by 20% (May 2022 versus July 2021), while searches for ‘quick and healthy meals’ are up 65x, and ‘healthy food motivation’ searches have jumped 13x.

As per Pinterest:

When we implemented our weight loss ad ban a year ago, our hope was to continue building our platform as a safe and welcoming environment where all Pinners feel free to be who they are regardless of body shape or size. Now a year later, we are seeing a positive response from users, demonstrating the true impact such a policy can have on online behaviors and perceptions.”

Of course, some of these results are relative to overall usage (Pinterest had 444m active users in July last year, and has 433m now) and the specific search terms used for comparison.

But even with these factors in mind, Pinterest has highlighted some interesting usage shifts.

  • “how to change your mindset” searches increased by +50%
  • “positive self affirmations” searches increased by 5X
  • “loving myself searches” increased by +36%
  • “accept your body quotes” searches increased by 3X
  • “body positivity searches” increased by 2X
  • “curvy body reference” searches increased by 5X

These would also be somewhat influenced by broader societal trends, but it is interesting to consider the impacts that Pinterest’s ban on weight loss content could be having on broader engagement and interaction trends within the app.

Could seeing fewer ads that shame users for their size then lead to a more positive environment, where people can feel more comfortable exploring new trends and behaviors?

The results here suggest that this could well be the case, which is interesting to consider in terms of broader social media trends, where airbrushed, heavily edited, highly staged depictions have become the norm for many users.

That can definitely have negative mental health impacts. Research has shown that 32% of teen girls felt worse about their bodies when using Instagram, as the app reinforces beauty norms that may well be unattainable for many people. That’s also, reportedly, part of the appeal of TikTok, in that it’s more focused on unpolished, realistic depictions of how people actually look, but even then, AR filters and effects can alter appearance, and have an impact.

Maybe, then, a broader ban on weight loss ads could be of benefit, as at least one measure to help normalize representation in each app.

It seems like a small step, but as Pinterest’s stats show, it can have a significant impact.

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