If you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the last few months, you’ve probably heard or read something about the feud between actress Jameela Jamil and the Kardashians. Jamil, whose most notable performance is as dead celebrity philanthropist Tahani Al-Jamil in NBC’s “The Good Place”, has become a leader in the fight against the “fit tea” movement on social media, with a specific target on celebrity influencers like the Kardashian-Jenner family. Labeling the detox and fit tea industry as pseudo-scientific and harmful, Jamil has garnered a lot of respect and attention since tweeting out a petition to spread awareness.
Detox tea or “fit tea” was popularized over the past few years through social media influencers on Instagram, promising a quick solution to weight loss at a relatively affordable price. The catch? Many of these detox teas are laxatives in disguise, and can become harmful to the body if used regularly.
Look to #fittea and #teatox on Instagram and you will find a collection of nearly identical photos from thousands of accounts: skinny (usually white) women wearing athleisure and holding a bag of detox tea, boasting about their results using the product. While there is nothing inherently wrong with drinking some tea and expecting a faster metabolism, there is almost no scientific evidence linking these detox teas with weight loss or fat loss.
What is detox tea?
Flat Tummy Co., the most popular of the detox tea brands (and the one that the Kardashians regularly advertise on their Instagram accounts), boasts their products as a natural and easy way to lose weight and cut calories. One of their most popular products, The 4-Week Tea Cleanse, retails for $49 and promises to reduce bloating and detoxify your system. Among the ingredients is the Senna leaf, which is a laxative. While effective and safe in small doses, it can be potentially unsafe to consume for more than two weeks. According to the National Library of U.S. Medicine, longterm use of Senna can result in a dependence on laxatives by essentially ruining the normal function of the bowels.
According to The Independent, Flat Tummy Co. and other brands that contain Senna often label themselves as “all-natural” despite using the plant as a primary ingredient because it’s a natural supplement. Further, while Senna detoxifies the body through short-term use, these companies often encourage multiple uses and cleanses, which can be harmful to the body.
While Flat Tummy Co. is certainly the most popular tea cleanse brand on the internet with 1.7 million Instagram followers, it’s definitely not the only brand using these same tactics to sell their products. Skinny Teatox, for example, lists Senna as a “mild laxative” and includes both a 14 and 28-day program.
The real problem
If this decade is nothing else, it is the age of the influencer.
By sponsoring people with large social media followings, brands like FlatTummyCo., FitTea, and Skinny Teatox are able to take advantage of influencers and their audiences alike with their products. The idea is simple: if your favorite Instagram model is using a product, you’re more likely to use it so that you can look like them. While that concept is not new, advertising has never been as aggressive and personalized as it has become with social media. Just simply liking an Instagram post with a detox tea hashtag will bring more and more to you, along with sponsored posts directly from those companies’ accounts.
By presenting these detox teas as quick and effective weight loss supplements alongside a photo of a perfectly-shaped body, they are essentially labeling these bodies as more appealing and attractive than other bodies. Therefore, when women and girls (specifically teenage girls) interact with these influencers, they are dealing with unrealistic standards of beauty in a much more personalized way than simply seeing a commercial on tv.
The main problem with detox tea is that it’s a poison disguised as a potion. When brands label these tea cleanses as a healthy and safe way to lose weight fast, they’re lying to their consumers. Regular consumption of meal replacements is not healthy. Continuous consumption of Senna is not healthy. Any “supplement” that results in cramping and diarrhea is not healthy. All of these things are dangerous to the body and the mind.