What do popular Instagram posts of food communicate about the morality of health in Neoliberal Capitalist Societies?
This slideshow of appropriated Instagram posts demarcates the visual identity and linguistic tropes attached to contemporary moralising rhetoric around food, which has become a mainstay of social media platform Instagram’s pictorial oeuvre. This simplistic division of foods into those which are good and those which are bad is often accompanied by deeper moral judgement of ways of living and a quasi-religious partition between the clean and the unclean. Such damning ideology is symptomatic of the neoliberal agenda of individualisation, which places full responsibility for physical and mental health and wellbeing at the level of the individual; an ideology which conceals the social and economic complexity of the choices we make about our food and lifestyle. Long before Instagram, in 1980 Robert Crawford coined the term ‘healthism’ to describe how the ideology of health has been used since the 70s to support a neoliberal agenda:
healthism situates the problem of health and disease at the level of the individual. Solutions are formulated at that level as well. […] by elevating health to a super value, a metaphor for all that is good in life, healthism reinforces the privatization of the struggle for generalized well-being.1
The ideology of health conceals the impact that social inequalities have on the health of individuals from marginalized communities. Commodified and spectacularised, the ‘healthy body’ acts as a sign-value for success, a strong work ethic and self-control; viewed as a productive resource and medium for creating ‘bodily capital’.2 By the same token, the unhealthy, shamed body: traditionally working class, poor, and other marginalized people; ‘are subjected to the “bio-power” of experts who impose upon these bodies judgments that explain their pathologies and failures’.3 On Instagram this logic is further codified into the semiotics of food, and underscored by accompanying hashtags. These hashtags sparingly spell out the user’s values through direction to others on how to behave, whilst also serving to affirm allegiances with virtual communities bound by these shared values through incantation like repetition of use.4 Through the use of hashtags a seemingly innocuous image of a meal is incorporated into a wider, ongoing dialogue about bodies, health and personal responsibility, and a private act becomes a public statement.
1 Robert Crawford, ‘Healthism and the medicalisation of everyday life’, Int J Health Serv 1980; 10(3): 365–88, p. 366.
2 Shari L Dworkin and Faye L Wachs, Body Panic: Gender, Health and the Selling of Fitness, New York: NYU Press, 2009, p. 104.
3 ibid., p. 14
4 Zara Worth, ‘Shared Meals: Instagram as a space for virtual feasting and rites of incorporation’, FEAST Journal, 2018, Available at: http://feastjournal.co.uk/article/shared-meals-instagram-as-a-space-for-virtual-feasting-and-rites-of-incorpora tion/#note-34