As a young adult, I am influenced by many people and things within my fairly sheltered environment: my friends, my parents, my professors, bosses; the list is endless. Although anybody in their twenties' tend to share the same influences whether they grew up in the seventies' or the present-day, the bond between Instagram and YouTube celebrities and the normal people of the current generation that follow them is unparalleled. I am one of the greatest victims to the phenomenon of "influencer" culture, from watching Danielle Bernstein's every Instagram story as she talks through her outfits of the day, sporting LoveShackFancy dresses I would only dream to own, to obsessing over Arielle Charnas's two adorable daughters and gorgeous Hamptons home in an Instagram DM group chat with my friends. It is no secret that the fascinations my peers have with people we can only view through a tiny screen is bizarre. This does not stop us from talking about them, DMing about them, buying from their clothing collaborations with Princess Polly and Onia, and most of all, wishing that we could have the life that we see them having in their daily vlogs and posts in partnership with Net-a-Porter.
It is enticing to examine someone else's life through their picturesque Instagram feed, yet it is another thing to buy into it and to take everything they say as the word of a higher, omnipotent being.
An influencer I found myself somewhat recently interested in, Maggie MacDonald, is a twenty-two girl year old living in Boston, Massachusetts. I came across her YouTube channel one day after falling bored of my usual lineup of Olivia Jade (R.I.P.) and Lauren Elizabeth, desperately needing a new beauty or lifestyle vlogger to binge-watch. After watching one of her clothing hauls I instantly liked her; Maggie appeared innocent and genuine, a rarity in the world of L.A. YouTubers convincing their demographic of teenage girls (many of which can be assumed unable to afford a multitude of luxury items) that their various Louis Vuitton handbags are "investment pieces," as if dropping thousands on designer accessories was as blasé as purchasing a library card. Maggie's comforting girl-next-door disposition kept me clicking through her "day in my life" and grocery shopping vlogs, appreciating her seemingly laid-back lifestyle and love for healthy foods and clothing brands I shopped from every season.
It wasn't until the emergence of a new fad by the name of "food combining" that my perception of Maggie and influencer culture began to shift. This past May, Maggie released this video discussing a new lifestyle change she had begun to execute that involved food combining, which, as she states "is not a diet... it's not about losing weight, being skinny... this is truly about feeling your best and living a healthy lifestyle". As a viewer, this description sounds delightful- not to mention Maggie claims that her switch to food combining has led her to "[eat] more than [she] had in the past". Even better! More food! This "lifestyle change" claims to lack the restrictive behavior that most diets require in order to be successful, which automatically depicts food combining as a beacon of light in the sea of dangerous and miserable food regimes. Maggie states all of this in her video, noting how all of her information on food combining came from Kenzie Burke, a certified health coach who coined the Kenzie Burke "21 Day Reset," a wellness plan utilizing the principles of food combining to eliminate bloating and overall help her followers develop a more positive relationship with the food that goes into their bodies. Maggie finally goes into the details of food combining, explaining that fruit must be consumed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and should not be consumed at any other point in the day, while for lunch and dinner proteins and vegetables and starches and vegetables should be combined together in meals. Additionally, starches and proteins should not be mixed together, leaving those who dare order pasta with chicken in it at an Italian restaurant to suffer the consequences of feeling bloated. The logistics of food combining based on Maggie's explanation appear desirable enough, proving no mention of practices like carb-eliminating or anything similarly dreadful. Her comment section shows that all Maggie needs to do is reiterate how food combining has made her feel "so much lighter, leaner... like [her] head is clear," throughout this one video in order to influence the over 200,000 subscribers to jump on the bandwagon.
Although I was not one of the many interested in starting my own "21 Day Reset," I literally believed every word that Maggie said about food combining. I even began watching Kenzie's videos (which all but one have been recently been deleted off of her channel), and became fascinated with her claimed expertise on this new lifestyle taking over the influencer world. I have no background knowledge on how the digestive system works, except for maybe the basic biology lessons I have since forgotten from seventh grade, so of course I believed every. single. word.
Until I came across this video by another YouTuber a few days ago. Kelani Anastasi is one of the many girls influenced by the likes of Maggie and Kenzie, executing her own 21 Day Reset using food combining. Her video about her own experience with the lifestyle change displays an exact opposite of Maggie's food combining rhetoric, claiming food combining gave her a "flabby" stomach, a less prominent butt, and cellulite, which appeared peculiar to Kelani based on the fact she "[had] never had cellulite in [her] entire life". Based on the suddenness of the changes in her body, Kelani, despite wanting not to believe food combining had anything to do with them, knew something was wrong. Kelani claims that initially, she blamed these newfound symptoms, which included a backed-up digestive system and difficulty sleeping, on a recent change in birth control, to which her gynecologist instantly shot down as a possibility: "Have you switched up your diet lately?" was the big question from her gynecologist that left Kelani questioning whether or not food combining was the real deal.
Kelani explains in her video that a multitude of girls had messaged her privately telling their own horror stories with food combining, complaining of constant bloating, nausea, headaches, and muscle loss. What does Kelani have to say in response to these girls? "I'm enraged for you guys," she declares to her followers through the camera, "I'm mad at myself for believing all of it. I feel brainwashed... I was very jaded... This is the most restrictive way of eating that you could possibly eat". Kelani proceeds to shout out YouTuber Abbey Sharp, who is a Registered Dietician (RD) and whose channel features critiques of modern-day fad diets. With food combining being all anyone is talking about right now, it was only natural Abbey discuss Kenzie Burke's phenomenon. With over 200,000 views, Abbey's video questions Kenzie's knowledge of basic anatomy and how the human digestive system works, while also ridiculing the information Kenzie is relaying to so many of her followers: "These food rules seem really arbitrary at best, and really faulty and problematic at worst." Abbey also stresses the importance of getting health information from a real nutritionist or dietician, not a "health coach" whose maximum schooling lasts from "a few weeks to a month". All in all, both Kelani and Abbey expose the fact that not only is Kenzie unqualified to be selling her food combining regime to such a large population of young women, but she is also blatantly delusional.
After becoming invested in the fraudulence of the food combining movement, I realized, additionally, the sham of yet another phenomenon. The prominence of influencers is something that brands do not take lightly. The explosiveness of the influence of people like Maggie MacDonald and Kenzie Burke is the reason major companies like Aritzia, Net-a-Porter, lululemon, even FIJI water, race to develop partnerships with them, knowing that one Instagram post with their company's page tagged will be enough to send their sales soaring. Influencers, evidently, prove to be both a blessing and a curse, heavily depending on the industry each promotes. In the context of fashion, influencers like Danielle Bernstein and Arielle Charnas can serve as beneficial for young women and girls, emulating how individuality is not only important, but praised, based on the stories they tell of how they gained fame from simply creating and expressing their own personal styles on well-known platforms. On the other hand, health and wellness vloggers venture through dangerous terrain when they preach about using one method to lose weight and another to promote a "healthy" lifestyle. It is up to the popular influencers to choose how they want to impact the demographics that listen to them. Contrarily, it is up to the listeners, viewers, subscribers, and the ones who double-tap every Instagram post with the caption "#ad" to choose how they want to be influenced.