Diet Culture and Emily Mariko’s Salmon Rice Bowl

Trigger Warning: Food, Calories, Eating Disorders, Diet Culture

If you search the hashtag “#WhatIEatInADay” on Tik Tok, you’ll find a wide assortment of creators participating in a trend where, as the hashtag suggests, one simply posts all of the food that they consumed in a day. This hashtag boasts 10.6 billion views, so it comes as no surprise that the trend has many different variations. “What I Eat in a Day” can be followed with different editions that appeal to different audiences. College students may want to showcase the dining options at their schools (check out this girls breakfast at Yale), other creators such as this woman can share the fun foods that they eat on a vacation – the options are endless. However, as often is the case when talking about food on social media, there is a subsection of this trend that feeds into a toxic and dangerous diet culture that my generation has grown up with in the age of social media: What I Eat in a Day, Model Edition. 

As shown by the above, a quick search on Tik Tok for “Model eats in a day” produces an endless stream of video thumbnails of mostly white and always thin girls showing off their physiques. Already, this lack of representation raises some red flags. With only one body type showing up over and over again in association with modeling, it isn’t hard to see how, to a young, developing girl, thinness can become equated with health and beauty. While I don’t know the individual circumstances of each of these creators, Tik Tok consistently pushes these types of videos onto the feeds of vulnerable young girls, who come to desire a specific body type that may not be healthy for them. Not every girl looks like a Victoria Secret model, but that doesn’t mean that they are not healthy and beautiful. Clicking on these videos, one will find days full of restrictive eating habits with dangerously low calories. This pushes the message that if you eat like these girls, you will look like these girls. Let’s take a deeper look at an example.

In this video, we see a girl with very little body fat, eating maybe 1300 calories total throughout the day. That meets the daily caloric recommendation for a toddler. Furthermore, this specific video contains a very unbalanced diet – there is hardly any protein present, which is a macronutrient of key nutritional importance. Granted, this video only depicts one random day, so perhaps more protein is included on other days. However, by choosing to share this one specific day as her “What I Eat in a day as a Model”, this creator perpetuates the message that models typically eat in this way. This sentiment is furthered by her caption “PLEASE REMEMBER THIS IS WHAT WORKS FOR MY BODY!! EAT WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR BODY!” While this may be a well-intentioned disclaimer, it suggests that this eating style is how she has achieved this body type, when in reality there are many other factors that contribute to one’s physique (diet, exercise, genetics, bone structure, muscle composition, hormones, age, etc.,). It is not healthy to consistently eat like this, but to an impressionable young girl, adopting this style of restrictive eating often becomes seen as the only way to achieve the physique that so overwhelmingly dominates the mainstream narrative. This wildly distorts the concept of healthy eating, and can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia (a fixation on not eating to lose weight), orthorexia (a disordered eating pattern focused on the need to only eat “clean” or “pure” foods), and many others. 

However, the sheer size of Tik Tok as a social media platform (>750 million users) means that in coexistence with this toxic diet culture are some creators who are trying to promote healthier and more normal eating habits. One of these creators is Emily Mariko, a 30 year old influencer who posts aesthetically pleasing videos of her making substantive, hearty meals with high nutritional value, that aren’t just plain salads or rice cakes. Mariko has been an influencer for years, but recently blew up after posting this video making a salmon+rice bowl. The video has garnered over 80 million views and 7.7 million likes since being posted on September 21, 2021, earning Mariko’s Tik Tok page 9.4 million followers.

The combination of her satisfying videos and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle leads the Tik Tok algorithm to push Mariko’s videos to the same audience that consumes videos highlighting and encouraging disordered eating habits. Mariko is not just showing girls what healthy eating looks like, but also that food is not the enemy. Foods like white rice have been villainized by years of fad diets that cut out perfectly normal foods from “acceptable” eating. Avoiding carbohydrates, fats, and processed foods is a common attribute to many restrictive meal plans in order to minimize caloric intake, but Mariko is showing her audience that these foods can and should be included into one’s daily eating. However, it is important to recognize that while Emily Mariko may be encouraging healthier eating habits than the restrictive lens of diet culture, Mariko holds a lot of influence because she, as most other successful fitness/lifestyle influencers that contribute to diet culture, has the thin/lean physique and small frame that diet culture has pushed on society to be the “goal” body type. In a hypothetical alternate universe where nothing except her natural body type changed, I wonder if Mariko would experience the same successes as a food/fitness/lifestyle influencer. 

No, Emily Mariko is not singlehandedly ending the toxicity of diet culture. But what she is doing is using her platform to actively normalize nutritional and substantive eating to an audience that contains the same media consumers that are hit hardest by the toxicity of #WhatIEatInADay: Model Edition. 

4 thoughts on “Diet Culture and Emily Mariko’s Salmon Rice Bowl

  1. I think you do a great job bringing out the nuances of social media influencer culture. I particularly appreciated how you gave influencers you mentioned the benefit of the doubt as appropriate (i.e., that one “what I eat in a day” video could happen to feature less protein than another day’s video), but at the same time, didn’t back down from highlighting the dangerous effects these posts can have.

    This article reminds me of the outrage many felt when Frances Haugen released internal Facebook documents that revealed how the company was not only aware of how social media (i.e., Instagram) was negatively impacting one in three teenage girls’ “body image issues,” but did nothing to address the algorithmic flaws that were leading to increases in anxiety and depression.

    As much as Facebook/Instagram has been in the spotlight, all social media sites use algorithms to show users more of what they’re already viewing. As this article points out, sometimes, the posts or topics users view can significantly impact their lives in a negative way. As a result, I think the overarching question is, should social media companies be allowed to continue employing these algorithms? Or, should companies be responsible for halting users’ further exposure to objectively harmful posts/content (for example, preventing a teenage girl who is demonstrating signs of “body image issues” from being fed additional pictures surrounding an “ideal” body type).

    Like

  2. I appreciated the point you made about both the negative and positive sides of social media. I personally felt that it’s easier for people to be negatively influenced by social media. For example, Emily Mariko uploads positive videos of substantive, hearty meals with high nutritional value. Yet, since she is a model, it is easy for viewers to compare themselves with her. When viewers eat the same food, it is likely for them to expect a change in their bodies. Once it doesn’t happen, viewers’ thoughts become toxic and dangerous.
    Reading Rachel’s comment, I was thinking about how algorithms can be used in a positive way. When viewers are continuously exposed to objectively harmful posts, the algorithm catches that and gives either a warning or a report to the system.

    Like

  3. I thought this blog post was incredibly insightful, especially the ending questions of whether Mariko would’ve achieved the same success if she was a different body type. I think another question your post raises is the responsibility we should place on individual content creators. A lot of the content creators who are posting videos glorifying unhealthy diets might also be struggling with their relationship to food themselves. Especially in the modeling industry, it’s easy to see how girls could be pressured into fitting a very specific mold – and thinking they need to deprive themselves of health and nourishment to do so. There’s an interesting tension between content creators as cultural change-makers (responsible for the consequences of what they choose to project) and as people.

    Given this context, I think that it’s important to have sympathy for these thin “model” girls, recognizing that although they perpetuate diet culture, they also might be a victim of it. In the vein of Rachel’s comment, I think it’s important to push accountability onto the structure that push these conceptions of an “ideal” body type/diet in the first place – media agencies, social media companies, modeling firms, etc.

    As it is right now, the cycle definitely feeds itself (no pun intended). More posts promoting unhealthy diet culture get pushed onto people’s feed, which pressures more people to engage in (and post about) that diet culture. I think meaningful change must include the algorithm, and therefore the company.

    Like

  4. I think this post is a great continuation of public conversations about the content that is peddled to teenage girls across platforms. There has been extensive public conversation about Instagram doing this, but the way that you shift the focus to TikTok and show that this issue is across platforms, and unfortunately trends, is really great. Specifically, I like how you discussed that not every girl has to look like a model, and the diets that these influencers are using are negatively influencing their followers. This felt especially true during your description of the girl who ate the caloric intake that is recommended for a toddler, which is a very useful example that puts 1300 calories into a context that is necessary for discussing eating disorders.

    I thought that the best part of your article is how you pushed past the negative trends and found how some creators, specifically Mariko, are combatting these issues while still making quality content that is, importantly, ending up on the same “for you” pages as the model content. Highlighting the solutions and the positive content creators make is a great way to frame this issue.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s