S1: That’s it.
S2: Welcome to the Waves Sweets podcast about gender feminism and this week, pineapple on skewers. Every episode you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we can’t get off of our minds. And today you’ve got me. Shannon Paul is a senior editor at Slate covering science and health and me.
S3: I’m Cristina Cauterucci, a Slate senior writer and host of the Slate podcast Outward.
S2: This week, we’re going to be talking about what happens when you cross a fruit basket with a floral arrangement. With a pandemic. With wellness trends gone off the rails. I’m talking about edible arrangements.
S3: That is the best summary of an edible arrangement that I’ve ever heard. Good job, Shannon.
S2: It contains multitudes. Christina, I’m really excited to talk to you about this because you’ve been working on a piece that I’ve been looking forward to ever since I first heard tell of it in a Slate meeting, you have gone long on edible arrangements. I cannot say that I’ve ever received an edible arrangement myself or someone.
S3: Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry to hear that, Shannon.
S2: But I think that as you write in the piece, something like 90% of their potential customer base is aware of edible arrangements. So they’re one of those things that I’ve seen out in the world and thought, what would it be like to get a little bit of pineapple in the mail? How did you start reporting this piece?
S3: So the piece is called What’s Eating Edible Arrangements. It’s out today on Slate. And this is like a very rare success story for me in the idle thought out in the world category of pitches. So a few months ago, I passed an Edible Arrangement store on the street, and I just kind of thought like, Huh, you don’t hear about edible arrangements much anymore. What are they up to? Like, I got one when I was in college, when I had strep throat, my parents sent it to me, you know, probably worried that I wasn’t going to be getting enough nutrients. It feels like a relic of the past because it’s so earnest and corny, but they’re still clearly around today. So I just started Googling around to see what they were up to. And what I found was actually a really fascinating story of this one note company in decline that has been recently, you know, around the pandemic, desperately trying to save itself by launching a ton of new product lines. So instead of just remaining the company that everyone knows about that sells these kind of tacky bouquets of produce edible arrangements, which is actually called edible, now, they want to be the one stop shop for any kind of gift you might send somebody balloons, flowers, baked goods. And as we’ll get into in this episode, they’re also making a bid on CBD. And listeners, if you want to read my piece, it’s called What’s Eating Edible Arrangements, and you can find it at Slate.com.
S2: Yes. If you heard the word edible and thought, huh, that sounds like a pot thing, guess what it is.
S3: Hemp thing, they would be quick to correct you. It’s not a pot thing. It’s a hemp thing.
S2: All right. We’re going to talk about all of that and, of course, the gender and feminism of it. All right, after this break. All right. I’m here with Christina Cauterucci, a senior writer at Slate, who has written a long and beautiful and well-reported feature on edible arrangements. It’s the story we didn’t know that we needed to hear right now for a small, tiny fraction of people out there who have not heard of an edible arrangement. Could you describe what it is?
S3: Sure. So I want to give you a little background on this story, too, because as I found in interviewing a reporter who’s been on the franchise beat for decades, this is really an iconic brand in franchising with a back story that its very proud of. So the founder of the company, Tarek Farid, emigrated from Pakistan as a child and he and his brother founded this company in Connecticut because they had started working at floral shops and they thought, well, what happens if we take a fruit basket and a flower arrangement and combine them? So as I write in the piece, it’s sort of like he took the worst parts of both things and made it into a product that somehow works. So it’s a bunch of morsels of fruit. So pineapples cut in the shape of flowers, wedges of melons, strawberries sometimes dipped in chocolate on sticks, stuck into a vase with a bunch of kale around the edges. It goes bad really quickly. You’re supposed to eat it the day you get it. According to the company at which if you receive an edible arrangement by a surprise, you might be a little bit pissed at the person who sent it to you because now you have to make room in your meal plan that day for an entire bouquet of fruit. But you know, it’s cutesy. It’s importantly, you know, non gendered and non romanticized in the way that flowers are, which I think contributed to its success. And you can get them in all shapes and sizes at any price point.
S2: Yeah. You were saying to me when we were talking about this earlier, the success of Edible Arrangements is the fact that you can send an edible arrangement to a man.
S3: That is like my main thesis about why edible arrangements succeeded against all odds. Because like I said, I mean, it’s you can’t keep it out on your bedside table to look beautiful the way you can with flowers. Unlike a fruit basket, you can’t sort of spread out your consumption over the course of a week. So why do people like them besides the fact that they’re so whimsical? And I think it’s because yeah, you, you know, you might not send your male co-worker a bouquet of flowers, especially if you are a man, you know, because no homo, you don’t want two men to be sending men, flowers, whatever. But an edible arrangement is just so casual. All genders eat fruits. And I. The company has never said this, but I suspect that this is why. And, you know, I have one piece of Anik data to prove it, which is that my brother in law, who’s a man over the pandemic, whenever somebody on his team at work got COVID, you know, anyone he managed, he sent them an edible arrangement. He would never have sent them a bouquet of flowers, but a bouquet of fruit, you know, crosses gender lines.
S2: I would also from like in defense of this kind of like, you know, meaning neutral object or collection of objects and sticks. Like I would feel a little bit weird if a lot a bit weird if I got a bouquet of flowers from a man who managed me, even if I was sick. But an edible arrangement has a much more neutral quality to it.
S3: Yes. And I mean, I think this is part of the reason why their sales turned around during the pandemic. It seems healthy. So if you’re specifically getting something for somebody who is sick, it makes a natural gift.
S2: Yes. You also, though, described it as like an assignment with a deadline.
S3: Yeah, I was trying to think of other things that you might send, you know, a faraway relative or a friend or a coworker. And a lot of times you want to send something non-perishable because you don’t know what their schedule is like. You don’t even know if they’re home that day. And so flowers, at least in water, can last a while. And if they don’t sort of no big deal, a box of chocolates probably will last you for months on end if necessary. But when you send somebody an edible arrangement, you’re saying not only am I thinking of you, but I’m going to force you to think of me, because for the next 24 hours, you’re going to have to consume this entire bouquet of chopped fruit per.
S2: Your earlier point about the fact that you can send an edible arrangement to a man. I think that we should all, like, take home the lesson that if you’ve ever looked. In an edible arrangement. Or if you are hearing Christianity’s description and thinking that monstrosity, just remember sexism got us here. Strict gender binaries about what people can and can’t send to each other in the mail have landed us with edible arrangements.
S3: And here’s where this story, which otherwise bears no resemblance to anything else I’ve ever written in my life, intersects with my gender beat because I have reported on and written about the sexism of gift guides and like how nowhere are gender norms more visible than in holiday gift guides for a boyfriend or for girlfriend or for mom or for dad. Men’s gift guides are sort of famously reductive and depressing. It’s well, what can you get a man? Whiskey, stones, a knife, you know, a whiskey. Like, people really are at a loss when they try to think of gifts for men. If you go on the Edible Arrangements website, you know, they’ve actually put a lot of resources and brainpower into their digital marketing in recent years. This is part of their sort of turn around and they have all of these extremely specific categories that are clearly designed to capture search engine traffic. And so just sort of off the top of my head, there’s a category called Inexpensive Gifts for Women. Father’s Day Gifts from Daughter. So no matter what you Google who you are and who your intended recipient is, they’re going to give you an edible arrangement that you could send to somebody. I’ll note that the Father’s Day gift from daughter category contains two edible arrangements, actually one arrangement and one fruit platter, both of which contain bits of fruit chocolate dipped in the shape of mustaches, even though fruit is not in itself gendered. You’ve got to make sure it’s in the shape of something that is.
S2: You can see the algorithm like shaping the fruit on the platter, like into like gifts from daughter for dad mustaches.
S3: And or maybe a dad who works at Edible Arrangement. Or a man was like, I don’t want to get any, you know, fruit or a star shaped, you know, pineapple, like, give me something manly. And what is more manly? That’s still a simple enough shape that it’s legible on a cut out piece of chocolate dipped pineapple, then a mustache.
S2: Everyone knows that pineapples in any shape except a mustache are women, are girls and mustache.
S3: Pineapples are boys.
S2: We can sit here all day and make fun of edible arrangements. But this company has been very, very successful up until it had some rocky things happen over the past few years. Christina What happened to prompt the change from edible arrangements to just the first year edible.
S3: Yeah, I like to say they pivoted from Yeah. Arrangements to edible because they were really coasting on that signature product for about 20 years. Then in 2017, their sales started to decline. For two years in a row, their sales dropped by double digits, which, you know, that’s a company in freefall. And they started freaking out. They hired a new CEO, the guy from Tropical Smoothie Cafe. He didn’t work out. So they fired him like within a year. And this was meanwhile the first CEO who wasn’t the founder. So it was a really big deal for them to bring on outside help to begin with. But what really marked a change was when they realized that their competitive advantage was not that unique product, because, in fact, one 800 flowers was starting to sell fruit arrangements too. But their last mile delivery infrastructure. So Edible Arrangements is a franchise company. Think of like Pizza Hut or something. There’s a million Pizza Hut. When you call it Pizza Hut, it directs you to the Pizza Hut nearest you, the edible arrangement nearest you has delivery people on staff to bring you an edible arrangement the very next day. And even before the pandemic, but certainly accelerated by the pandemic, there had been this shift toward in-home delivery. People aren’t going around and, you know, stopping by the florist as much anymore. They’re ordering things to themselves or to their friends for delivery next day. They’ve come to depend on that. So edible arrangements thought, well, how can we capitalize on this capacity? We already have to make that happen for people. Well, let’s start making more stuff. So if one 800 flowers is going to sell edible arrangements, we’re going to sell flowers and we’re going to sell balloons. And, you know, hot sauce and cookies and they’re making their own cheesecakes. They were starting to launch these products and sales were starting to tick up again. The pandemic hit. And they started to sell boxes of fruits and veggies because people were ordering groceries more. And so really, this brand turnaround that that Edible was already establishing kind of got a boost from the pandemic in the moment where people were Googling, you know, send gift to friend like they never had before.
S2: Yeah. You had all of these people stuck at home and getting sick and a lot of other channels to buy. Things were clogged up or not accessible. Like you certainly weren’t going to the store buying something yourself and putting it in a box to send to someone.
S3: Oh, no. And it’s funny, I, you know, went on the website to look at these produce boxes. And so many of the comments were from during the pandemic, people saying, you know, I sent this to my daughter and her boyfriend or I sent this to my aunt who lives in a nursing home. And I think it was like a new way to show people you cared and also were probably worried weren’t getting enough food or healthy food.
S2: That’s kind of sweet, sending someone a box of potatoes because, you know.
S3: Yeah. And potatoes. I mean, the vegetable thing was really a weird fit for them, but no weirder than, you know, CBD, I guess.
S2: All right. Next, we’re going to get into the CBD of it all and the wellness part of edibles and their arrangements after the break. But if you want to hear more from Christina and myself on another topic, check out our Wave’s Plus segment. Is this feminist where today we’re debating whether workout selfies are feminist or rather, are they do feminist? In this segment, we’re going to be talking about how the fruit on a skewers company started selling CBD. So edible, formerly known as Edible Arrangements, changes their name. They start selling bananas, brownies. And the thing that you might commonly associate with involves not psychoactive compounds, but a substance found in marijuana and also hemp. How did they manage to wedge CBD into you into this edible universe?
S3: So it actually kind of tickles me. How they got into CBD. So just a little background on CBD in the 20 tens. Some states were legalizing pot. There was a surge of new marijuana retailers opening up and registering as businesses. And then in 2018, the farm bill legalized the production of hemp, which opened the door for a lot of other businesses that maybe weren’t so interested in the getting high part of things but wanted to capitalize on wellness trends. Started making CBD products. Both CBD retailers and pot retailers were using the word edible in their marketing because a lot of them were making gummies and lollipops and brownies and edible arrangements thought it was diluting their brand because they had actually trademarked the word edible and they were looking at legal options to basically take these brands to task for using their trademark. So the CEO and founder Tarek Fareed actually wrote about this in a blog post, and he said that he wanted to see if anything could be done to protect our brand name from being abused by those within the drug community. It was during this process that I began to educate myself about the various varieties of hemp. So he claims that actually his desire to stop, you know, drug users from associating edible arrangements with pot led him to realize that CBD has some great health properties. And this could really be a beneficial addition to the American medicine cabinet or, you know, a supplement to our daily consumption of foods. The company already had the intellectual property for edibles, so they started a CBD business called Incredible Edibles. Fabulous name. Love it again with the CEO. You can’t beat it. They thought at first that what people are really going to want is a traceable product from respected producers of CBD. So they partnered with a Connecticut farm to grow the hemp. It was actually a pilot project with the state Connecticut Tobacco Farms, where switching over to hemp because demand for tobacco was falling CBD was this booming new industry. So edible basically agreed to buy the hemp from these two acres of farmland that had switched over from tobacco to make a CBD powder. And they launched incredible edibles with it.
S2: It’s interesting because when I talk to researchers on, you know, the prevalence of all of these compounds or the the ease with which we can buy all these compounds like CBD or Delta eight or hemp derived Delta nine. It’s not the compounds themselves that they’re worried about so much. It’s the fact that, like all of these retailers are popping up. And selling them in an unregulated way. And so it sounds like it should be a really useful solution to be like we’re going to grow hemp plants on this like one farm in Connecticut, like you can like theoretically like drive to like see your home plant before it goes in a bottle. But it didn’t work out from a market perspective.
S3: No. I mean, they don’t speak about exactly why or how they made the transition away from the sort of farm to gummy hemp model to just let’s buy powder from whoever and put it in our supplements model. But, you know, you can extrapolate that the fact that they made that decision to switch from one to the other meant that the first option was not producing the business results that they had anticipated. So the way I interpret that is that they realized people didn’t care what farm their CBD was coming from. You know, this isn’t like eggs where fancy wealthy consumers want to know that their chickens got to have a fun life. This is a wide range of people from, you know, your organic produce, consumers who pay a premium for their food products to like random people who read an article about how it can help their hypertension if they take CBD to stoners who really haven’t ever questioned where their pot is coming from, wanting to sometimes not be high and just have the alleged, you know, relaxation or whatever effects of CBD.
S2: And speaking of random articles purporting various health effects out of all arrangements, has involved itself in this portion of the edible ecosystem as well.
S3: And yes, this is one of the weirder rabbit holes that I went down. So long story short, edible arrangements. Franchisees were not super excited about selling CBD in their stores. They thought it was a very bizarre turn for the brands to make. And in some states it involves jumping through some regulatory hoops. They’d have to register technically federally, you’re not supposed to be adding CBD to food products. So in some places it’s still this sort of legal grey zone and edible ended up selling its products mainly now on a website incredible edibles dot com unrelated to the edible arrangements stores there’s one brick and mortar location in North Carolina but it’s it’s mainly operated on this website where I did purchase a pack of gummies. They were fine. And on this website, again with they’re just incredible SEO marketing, which I’m going to credit the founder’s daughter who’s their head of ecommerce with this, if you go on their blog, it’s just a treasure trove of how much CBD should I take for autism? Can CBD help treat COVID 19? You know, what’s the benefits of CBD for diabetes? There’s something purporting it has benefits for asthma, for IBS, for migraines, Parkinson’s disease, not to mention the 50 best CBD cat treats, which is a little bit less potentially objectionable, in my opinion. But you’ve research this to Shannon. To me, this type of marketing again, although they don’t explicitly say it, the fact that they’re doing it suggests that there are a lot of people out there searching for these terms and hoping that these conditions that are sort of famously difficult to treat, some of them don’t have cures or treatments available. People are desperate for a way to treat themselves because they feel like they’ve been failed by their doctors. Their symptoms aren’t being relieved by traditional Western medicine, and they’re looking to this unregulated substance that it’s basically like, well, since you haven’t told me it can’t treat asthma, perhaps it can.
S2: Perhaps it can. Yeah, I find this all fascinating from a science reporter perspective. So CBD has been FDA approved to treat one condition. It’s approved as a seizure medication and not for all seizures. Specific kinds of seizures and situations like have other seizure meds have failed for you and definitely like not in the sense that you should go online and buy CBD. It’s actually like a specific medication that your doctor can prescribe and that you can get like you’d get any other drug that your doctor prescribes. And then there’s been a lot of preliminary research into its potential other uses as a drug, particularly in the realm of stress and anxiety and. Emily Willingham, who’s a journalist friend of mine and the author of a book called The Tailored Brain, which is all about what substance is and practices and like, you know, green puzzles and whatever can actually help sharpen your mind and make you calmer and more alert and productive. And what’s all hooey? And she has a chapter where she goes through the evidence on CBD and your brain. And some small studies show that it helps a little bit. Some small studies show that it doesn’t help. At least one study showed that it made things worse. My favorite study is one that was published in 2021, in which there are 43 participants. Just to give you an idea of the sample sizes here. The researchers asked all of the participants to, you know, put a tincture under their tongue and hold it there for a little bit, which is what you do with CBD oil. And they told half of the participants, this is just a random oil. And they told the other half this has CBD and the half that were in none of the oil had CBD. It was all just like regular I don’t know what kind of oil, but just plain oil. And the half they were told that they were taking oil with CBD in it. They experienced increased sedation, as the researchers put it, so it helped them sleep. And in the group of people who were told that they were taking CBD out of those folks, the ones that came in believing like, yeah, I’ve heard of CBD, I know it’ll help my anxiety. I know how to help my stress. They reported decreased anxiety and stress. And I think that just kind of sums up a lot of it’s a compound with potential, but it’s also one where there’s a strong placebo to it, especially if you believe in it.
S3: Meanwhile, I think I went into CBD thinking it was a bunch of hooey. And so when I tried an oil or a tincture, it didn’t help me at all. But then I tried something called Dad Grass, which is a smokable CBD product that I tried when the company sponsored the outward podcast. Rolled like a joint. Smells like a joint. Tastes like a joint. Smoked like a joint. And when I smoked it, I was like, Wow, this is the first time I felt the effects of CBD. I’m so relaxed. But then I thought, you know, perhaps it’s that literally everything my body is experiencing right now is telling me I’m smoking pot. And so I’m expecting to feel it also a lot more quickly than I would with an edible, which if you eat a gummy and there’s weed in it, you know, you’re not going to feel it for 45 minutes to an hour. So a CBD, it’s like, oh, I ate a gummy not going to remember. I took it in an hour because the effects might be so subtle that I’m going to think it didn’t do anything.
S2: I should say also, like the fact that researchers find that on average it doesn’t do anything for anxiety. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t outliers around there. So like, if you’re listening to this and you’re like, I’m fully convinced that I have a reaction to this and, like, think it’s a great way to spend my money. Like, amazing. That’s, that’s good. Especially in the realm of, like, when you’re just dealing with, like, I take this to calm down, not like I take this to, like, treat my dog’s cancer or whatever.
S3: I’m curious what you think about the ethics of something like a company like Edible Arrangements, having blog posts that suggest CBD could be a treatment for autism or for fibromyalgia. And, you know, they do link to studies that have mixed results and they pull out in the blog post that, yeah, 49% of participants did see, you know, a decrease in disruptive behaviors when they gave this to their autistic child. 29% of people who gave the placebo saw that. So that isn’t better results from the CBD, but it’s far from proven and far from an unequivocal positive result from that study. Do you think companies should be marketing their products that way?
S2: No, obviously, no. This is like when I was rereading Amelia’s chapter on CBD last night. I definitely got that feeling again where it’s like, Oh, if you’re a company trying to market CBD like a scientist looking at this like totality of evidence would say, We don’t have enough information yet. Or like you, maybe you shouldn’t buy this, or maybe you should only buy this if you have like 50 bucks to flush down the toilet. But if you’re a marketer looking at that evidence, you can say, oh, well, in this small study, in this small study, and in this small study, we saw these effects. So I’m going to like pick those up and then ignore the rest. That is obviously unethical and particularly. When you’re talking about conditions like autism or asthma, where I actually do not know enough to speak to like how to treat those things. But regardless whether you’re using like Western medicine or like newer, less explored things or modalities that have not been validated by science, you should be working with like a doctor or other professional who has like your overall well-being in mind and not like these are SEO spammy articles which are designed to suck you in. It’s almost hard to have a response off the bat to your question of is this ethical? Because you know, no. But it’s also just so deeply how this world works. This happens with vitamins. It happens. It happens with weight loss treatments where they could help some people in specific situations with specific risk factors a little bit of the time under medical supervision, the market applies them with this broad brush where they apply to everyone and they’ll work for everyone. And hey, you might as well try it.
S3: Yeah. I also think it’s telling that incredible edibles on its website contains phrases like feel good food. Free self-care isn’t selfish, self-care equals self-love. You know this it’s with a lack of sort of accepted medical literature to back this up and being very careful not to contravene marketing laws for first supplements and for food products, they’re marketing it as something that people with disposable income can just add to their self-care rituals and and to make themselves feel good in ways that a skin cream might, that maybe it doesn’t matter exactly what the medical literature says, but if it makes you feel nice, you know, why not spend your money on that in the same way that you might spend it on something else? I think where it diverges from that ethically is the suggestion that it can actually treat medical conditions and it becomes pretty exploitative because people with those medical conditions who might not have a ton of disposable income but are compelled by virtue of their need for treatment to spend money that they don’t necessarily have on unproven treatments. Gets you into some hot water? I think.
S2: So. Actually, those edible arrangements story starts in this really hilarious and weird place of like fruit on skewers, you know, men can send them to. And it ends up in just this completely like dregs of the Internet exploitative mode around this substance that they’re saying is a form of not just self-care, but medicine.
S3: I mean, and there’s a whole nother part of the story about how franchisees actually feel exploited by the company, too, in a totally different way. But you’ll have to read the article on Slate.com to get that story.
S2: Before we head out, we want to give some recommendations. Christina, what are you watching right now?
S3: I am super into the second season of the flight attendant on HBO. I watched the first season in, you know, the heart of the pandemic and was totally hooked. It’s starring Kaley Cuoco as a party girl flight attendant who in the first season wakes up next to a guy that she slept with, but he’s dead and she doesn’t remember what happened. And so she goes on this sort of globetrotting mission to unravel the mystery and also clear her own name. Season two has her working as a CIA asset because they’re like, Wow, you’re actually really good at this whole tracking down crime syndicate members thing. It’s super funny and light hearted. It co-stars Zosia mamet and Rosie Perez, who are hilarious. And it’s actually got a pretty, I think, nuanced and sensitive portrayal of alcohol addiction, too. So even though it’s it’s incredibly funny, you know, it tugs on the old heartstrings as well. And I remember in the pandemic, watching these incredibly beautiful shots of Bangkok and Rome and feeling like it transported me to a different place. And now even even as travel is back for me at least, I’m really enjoying seeing them go to Iceland and Berlin. And I feel like the show is made to be described as a romp and I highly recommend it. What about you?
S2: I am going to recommend Harry and David Fruit Baskets, but.
S3: I love it.
S2: I have not had a Harry and David fruit basket. Or should I say a portion of a Harry David fruit basket? It is a very rare occasion when I get sent an entire one just for me. I have not had one since the holiday season, when somehow I’d had a Harry and David pair before. But somehow last December I just crossed paths with several boxes, boxes and baskets of Harry and David Fruit. And obviously this episode reminded me of it.
S3: How you crossed paths with them. They were walking down the street and so were you. And you plucked a pair out of the.
S2: Box and I stole a pair out of it.
S3: So glamorous.
S2: Well, like my my boyfriend’s boss, who is a man, sent him one one showed up at the Slade office, and in fact, they showed up at the Slade offices, not addressed to the edit team, but addressed to another team that was here. And I like waited with bated breath for like other people to like, do the legwork of figuring out if we could have some of this box or if the team who it belonged to would come in and are like, Whoa, we got the pairs. And I was it was just so like, I still felt like being out in the world was a little new. And then there are these pairs here and the whole thing was just fantastic and the pairs are fantastic. And I looked it up and the cheapest box without shipping or other fees is like 40 bucks for about seven pairs. And so they’re not cheap. But I’m just saying, like, if you have to send someone a gift for an occasion and maybe not, you’re a little skeptical about a book formerly known as Edible Arrangements. Consider Harry and David Pairs, particularly if you’re sending something to me.
S1: That’s it.
S2: That’s our show this week. The Waves is produced by Shannon Roth.
S3: Shannon Palus is our editorial director with Alisha Montgomery, providing oversight and moral support.
S2: We’d love to hear from you. Email us at the Waves at slate.com. The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topic, same time and place. Thank you so much for being a Slate Post member. And since you’re a member, you get this weekly segment. Is this feminist? Every week we debate whether something is feminist. And this week we’re talking about workout selfies. Cristina, we’ve both read this piece by Virginia Sol Smith, a journalist who writes about science and body image and misconceptions around weight loss. And she wrote an essay titled No One Needs Your Workout Selfies for her newsletter Burned Toast. This struck a chord with me because I’m someone who posts the occasional workout selfie, and I posted one on Sunday, in fact, after I ran a half marathon. As Virginia Smith writes, When we post workout selfies, we add to that litany of, quote unquote, good bodies. We are challenging the norm. We’re asserting our right to be counted within the norm. We’re making it known that we have, in fact, earned those mugs. And, of course, she’s talking about the litany of, quote unquote, good bodies that parade across our phone screens every time we open up Instagram. Unless you’ve kind of consciously curated your algorithm and your followers so that influencers and normal folks who are trying to post pictures of themselves looking hot or sweaty don’t show up on your screen. Christina, do you have any feelings about workout selfies?
S3: This is really interesting to me because my wife lifts weights. She’s done CrossFit in the past. She’s coached CrossFit in the past. Then when the big blow up with the CrossFit founder being terrible happened, she stopped working out. So really important for her. It’s like pretty much her main hobby, something she’s really proud of. And I know she has a community of friends who sort of cheer each other on with their social media posts. And I thought about that when I read this piece because I don’t work out that much and I don’t post workout selfies, but I’m clearly familiar with people who do. And I’ve I’ve seen both sides of what she’s talking about. I’ve seen people who really get something out of posting and of seeing their friends posts. And I’ve been the person seeing, you know, ideal bodies, quote unquote, ideal, you know, traditionally commended bodies, able bodied people, white people, thin people, posting their photos and feeling a little bit less than actually right now. I have started shopping for bathing suits for summer, and my Instagram ads are pretty much all photos of these kinds of bodies in swimsuit ads. So this is an an especially great week for me to be talking about this. But the site that I come down on is that this piece is identifying a real problem and it’s blaming the wrong thing for that problem. So social media inspires feelings of jealousy, of FOMO, possibly self-loathing that I would say is the fault of the platform and not the people posting. The solution to that problem is right there in the hands of the people who feel bad when they see those things. You know, the block button is right there. The unfollow button is right there. I feel like this is a slippery slope and usually I’m very skeptical of slippery slope arguments. But even in just thinking about what Virginia’s argument says and what that would mean if extrapolated just a little bit further, I mean, like should send people be posting photos of themselves in the summer at all with their bodies exposed, like should able bodied people be posting photos of themselves walking down the street in a city they’re visiting on vacation? You know, there’s there’s many things that can make people feel bad about themselves or encourage feelings of worthiness or unworthiness. That I think would be absolutely ridiculous to to argue against. How do you feel?
S2: That’s interesting. Yeah, I think that I think that I mostly agree with you. But I want to argue back on a couple of points. The fact that you’re getting a bathing suit ads with, you know, very normative bodies is just a sign of how claustrophobic these platforms are. Even if you like block and unfollow and curate your feed. So like there’s like only cute animals or like therapist quotes, which is what I do when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by, like, the general litany of, like, hotness, like, coming into my face. Every time I interact with the app you still have, you’re just like living your life and trying to get like, you know, something to put on your body so that you can go in the water. And this summer you’re still going to get these ads. And obviously that has nothing to do with the workout selfies of it, like me not posting my little selfie after my half marathon isn’t going to do anything about the ads on someone else’s screen. That’s totally out of our hands. I also think that I do blame some individual actors. All right. My instinct was to blame some individual actors. And the individual actors in the workout selfie Sue NAMI that can be created on Instagram are the people who I blame are the workout influencers, the people who are basically I’ve come to regard influencers as like freelance models where freelance models and copywriters where they get products and then they create ads around them and then they try to blend in the ads with the rest of their lives. And, you know, oh, I’m just casually here with like my workout watch, you know, looking cute and like, more likely than not then. And those people can make me feel really bad and really I wish those people would not post. I guess though that yeah. Like I should just unfollow them.
S3: Yeah. I mean, because people are clearly getting something out of those posts, right? Like maybe it’s, it’s sort of a double edged aspirational thing where some people follow them because it inspires them and also maybe makes them feel bad about themselves. But some people must love working out. And, and I think working out in particular versus food is, you know, a hobby, too. And it doesn’t just involve, you know, doing things to burn calories or build muscle or whatever, but involves like having fun outside or dancing and and things that where maybe the workout part of it is secondary to one’s reasoning for participating. And so when you see somebody posting something with their workout watch or their like super skimpy workout outfit and they look super ripped, I mean, isn’t that kind of what they’re there for and why people are following them? To a certain extent?
S2: I’m thinking like, okay, like it’s true that I feel bad if I see a lot of if I, you know, maybe not having a great day and then I go on the app and see a bunch of runners, like looking really skinny and posting split times that are faster than mine. And I think that it’s just true that if you’re the person who has that happening on their Instagram feed, it’s it’s hard to unfollow. It takes energy. Like, I like those accounts. I get joy out of reading them for other reasons. I like talking about running. I like watching people talk about running. If I’m not in a bad mood, like it’s nice to have hot people around. Like it has a lot of qualities of like fun to it. And I think that the like it is a tougher call to action to say like maybe like we should actually spend time like really thinking about social media apps and like unfollowing and etc..
S3: Yeah, I mean, I think about all the other things that social media makes me feel bad about. Like I have professional jealousy of people who are posting about their book deals or their new jobs or, you know, these incredibly young journalists who are writing phenomenal pieces that I think myself incapable of. I’ve muted some of those people because it was making me feel bad about myself for for no good reason. You know, it wasn’t that they were being insensitively braggy about their accomplishments, but I recognized that it was just my own reaction that was unhealthy and I muted them because of that. Or, you know, if, you know, during the pandemic when some people were traveling and I was like, I want to be doing that, or I have a Friday night where I’m not doing anything. And then just like classic FOMO situations like content warning, friends, you know, like content warning, I’m having fun. It just feels like and I know this is this issue is a little bit more fraught because it touches on the possibility of eating disorders and also just general fat phobia. There’s just so many ways that social media can harm someone’s self-image that I don’t think it’s helpful or correct to tell people to stop posting this one particular thing when probably the rest of the things they’re posting are also making people feel bad about themselves. You know, people’s make up selfies make me feel like my skin isn’t good enough or. But to your point about the influencers, I do think it’s helpful to have a double standard here where if you’re an influencer and you have hundreds of thousands of followers, you are clearly an arbiter of culture and taste and are affecting a lot of people’s lives. If you don’t, I don’t think you have the responsibility to curate your posts, to adhere to, you know, the the emotional needs of the people who have the least healthy relationship with social media.
S2: To that earlier point, one of the great things that I have discovered is that you can, in fact need a friend like you.
S3: And they never have to know.
S2: They will never find out. You can mute a friend and then you can go check it on their page. Like when you feel like whatever it is that could be making you jealous or annoyed, like, won’t make you jealous. Like, I don’t know about you, but my, like, my ability to withstand anything I see on social media really rises and falls. Like, with what kind of day I’m having?
S3: Oh, 1,000%.
S2: So, like, and that’s actually, like, almost a nicer way to keep up with your friends for me to, like, say, like, hey, like, let me just, like, check in on what Christina is doing now. A lot of it is this constant tension of, like, social media is where I spend so much of my time and I also want to launch it into the sea and never think about it again. And I think if anyone is to blame for this, it is certainly not individuals who are not making money off of the platform.
S3: Right. And it also feels a little bit like. There’s no ethical posting under fat phobic, racist, you know, heteronormative capitalism. So there’s a part of the piece of the Virginia soul Smith piece that says even when? Even when. It’s fat people posting working out because it’s fun. She writes that there’s a tension because when as fat people are we pursuing movement on our own terms and when are we performing it as a good fatty who needs to let everyone know it’s okay that I’m fat because at least I’m healthy. And that to me is just so tiresome. And because it it it raises the question of is it ever okay to post anything? And can we ever have fun and or do we need to psychoanalyze our motivations to the point that we don’t ever want to post anything ever again? Because our intentions are not 100% pure? The image of yourself that you curate and post on social media is always going to be the best possible image that you can create of yourself. It’s always a little bit of bragging, even when it’s self-deprecating, it’s bragging about how self-deprecating you are. So I think the more you think about it, the less you’re going to post. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s feminist. But I don’t think it’s I don’t think any of these things, especially if it makes you happy to share joy with friends, should prevent you from posting because you think somebody might be offended by the fun you’re having.
S2: One of the things she mentions in the piece is Peloton and how people will post about how much they love this instructor or that instructor. And I am once really skeptical and annoyed at Peloton culture and also I’ve been on a total Peloton kick for the past two months. I use the app on a treadmill at the gym and I listen to the instructors say, Oh, like the like, you’re amazing just for showing up. Like, pretend you’re a leaf blowing in the wind when they’re like having you run, you know, however fast. And it is really, really positive just for my brain, like however embarrassing and cheesy or sometimes. Yes, achievement focused it is. You know, the Peloton instructors all could be like movie stars. It’s but working out is like the reason I’m not like huddled under my desk at all times is.
S3: If it keeps you out from under your desk and on this podcast, I’m glad you do it.
S2: Thank you so much. Workout selfie is a feminist because they bring you the way. Is there something you’re dying to know if it’s feminist or not? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.