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  • Finding Instagram glory through sugar and carbs
  • Finding Instagram glory through sugar and carbs
    Deliciously Stella (2015) ©
CASE STUDY

Deliciously Stella: satirising the #eatclean craze

Instagram is awash with wellness bloggers posting pics of macrobiotic salads and Lycra-clad abs. How’s the average person expected to keep up? Bella Younger glamorises an alternative lifestyle with Deliciously Stella, choosing crisps over kale and a deep-fat fryer over a NutriBullet.

Location United Kingdom

Scope
Today’s social landscape is an absurd one; social feeds populated with perfect lives clash with news streams of a planet in peril. Collective anxiety is rising, resulting in a growing fixation with ‘wellness’ – an approach to health that sees little distinction between mental and physical spheres. But the pursuit of good health can be stressful, and as fitness enthusiasts flaunt their seemingly perfect diets and bodies on social media, how is the average person expected to keep up?

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Deliciously Stella is the creation of British comedian Bella Younger – an Instagram, YouTube, and stand-up comedy performance that highlights the absurdity of the wellness movement. Its name is a riff on Deliciously Ella, the popular London-based lifestyle blogger whose clean-eating cookbook sold over 32,000 copies in the first week of its release. [1] In contrast to Ella’s macrobiotic salads and raw date brownies, Younger’s Stella sings the praises of all things cheap and cheerful. In pitch-perfect tone, she appropriates the shared language of lifestyle bloggers – a Heinz ketchup face mask pokes fun at DIY skin care remedies, Haribo blackberry gummies are ‘foraged’ from the local corner store, and a deep-fat fryer is her ‘miracle all-in-one’ kitchen gadget, ahead of a NutriBullet.

Younger’s irreverence has struck a chord with many people, earning her over 127,000 followers on Instagram and a segment on BBC Three. “At first, the character was essentially just me. Someone who eats and drinks too much and rarely visits the gym,” she says. “Now she is definitely a parody of a wellness blogger.” [2] Though the stand-up comedian tours Deliciously Stella regularly, it’s Instagram – the native medium of the #eatclean brigade – where she continues to find the most resonance, bringing a bit of schadenfreude to the 62% of people aged 18 to 34 who say social media platforms increase their feelings of inadequacy. [3]

Posting what’s normally left off your feed is seen as keeping it ‘real’ Posting what’s normally left off your feed is seen as keeping it ‘real’
Deliciously Stella (2016) ©

Context
“While the vagueness of clean eating may seem like a drawback, it is what has made the trend so popular,” writes Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi. [4] This movement has come to dominate how many people think about their meals, with 18 of the 20 best-sellers in Amazon’s Food & Drink category focused on ‘healthy eating’. [1] By adopting the #eatclean rhetoric, Stella shines a light on how the fad is built on unverifiable science that’s vague enough to be leveraged by influencers who aren’t experts.

Deliciously Stella is riding the snackwave – an online, Gen Y-driven movement that champions foods like pizza, burgers, and instant noodles as both indulgences and a fashion statement. As ‘clean eating’ is as much of a lifestyle as it is a diet, ‘snackwave’ comes with an associated mindset as well. “The ‘snackwave voice’ alternates between immensely confident and self-deprecating,” write journalists Hazel Cills and Gabby Noone. “Snackwave is about taking pleasure in foods that are deemed off-limits for women who want to stay thin and traditionally attractive. Food becomes cartoonish and goofy, rather than a constant test of whether or not you’re treating your body the way the world (i.e. men) wants you to.” [5]

Snackwave is about taking pleasure in foods that are deemed off-limits for women who want to stay thin and traditionally attractive

Hazel Cills and Gabby Noone

Though it began as a niche behaviour, brands have been harnessing snackwave both on- and offline. Since the movement’s 2014 peak, fast food chains have been engaging with Twitter users through an irreverent tone referred to as ‘Weird Corporate Twitter’ by writer Kate Losse. [6] It’s what has Denny’s tweeting non-sequiturs like, “What if you cut open a watermelon and it was just filled with spaghetti and marinara sauce?” or Taco Bell sighing, “I wish I was full of tacos instead of emotions.” Weird Corporate Twitter is a precursor to apps like Hero, which let users chat to brands over messenger interfaces like they would to their friends. While this casual tone has been used to increase brands’ online relevance, it also signals to consumers that they’re responsive – an advantage in a context where 83% of customer service inquiries made on social media go unanswered. [7]

Snackwave aesthetics come alongside the rise of athleisure, bringing aesthetic style to what was previously only functional. “Women aren’t always buying these clothes with the intention of hitting the treadmill or yoga mat,” writes Leigh Weingus for the Huffington Post. “They’re often wearing them because they’re comfortable, attractive and make them feel good about themselves.” [8] The crossover appeal is evident in McDonalds’ line of athletic gear, which sees hoodies and joggers emblazoned with psychedelic burger and french fry patterning. It’s a blatant acknowledgement that athletic gear has never been less athletic – Brits spent £250 million on unused health and fitness clothing last year – reaching a wider market as streetwear and loungewear. [9]

The vagueness of ‘clean eating’ has people growing sceptical of its benefits The vagueness of ‘clean eating’ has people growing sceptical of its benefits
Deliciously Ella (2016) ©

Insights and opportunities
Younger is no stranger to using her own persona to deliver social satire. Another of her projects, Champagne Socialist, is a quasi-autobiographical look at life as a ‘lefty bleeding-heart liberal’ hailing from a family of wealthy Tories. But her use of Instagram as a platform for performance isn’t an anomaly. Gen Y art star Amalia Ulman staged an intricate nine-month performance on the social channel, duping the majority of her 90,000 followers into believing it to be ‘real life’. [10] Gen Z teens have been wise to how social media lets them construct identity from the start, with many operating at least two personal Instagram handles – a well-curated public account, and a private ‘finsta’ to share ‘ugly’ selfies and inside jokes with friends.

Stella is an obvious caricature, but her willingness to expose what most people would leave off their feeds makes her seem ‘authentic’. MTV has even dubbed it ‘the most honest and hilarious Instagram account’. [11] Many users continue to perceive interactions on social media as ‘real’, and the compulsion to present a perfect self is widespread; 40% of teens say they feel pressured to exclusively post content that makes them look good, and a 2013 study revealed that one in three people experience ‘mainly negative feelings’ while using social media. [12][13]

But user-generated content can also break down stigmas and encourage conversation around what may have previously been off limits. While Deliciously Stella is primarily entertainment, the questions it asks about our relationship with food are serious. As ‘clean eating’ rises to the top of the fad diet heap, concerns are being raised about its connection to disordered eating habits. “Orthorexia [the fixation with eating healthily] can become as obsessive as bulimia or anorexia,” says psychologist Dr. Vivian Diller. [14] Part of the power of social media is its immediacy – the response to a rising movement can be as quick and widespread as the movement itself. According to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, “a striking aspect of social media sites such as Twitter is that a spontaneous burst of protest can be initiated by one individual in a single post and widely shared.” [15] With wellness now part of the background noise on social media, it may come down to voices like Deliciously Stella to champion imperfection online.

instagram.com/deliciouslystella

Alex Quicho is a writer and cultural researcher in London. Born in Boston and raised in Manila, she writes about identity, futures, and soft power in art and design.

Sources
1. ‘The unhealthy truth behind ‘wellness’ and ‘clean eating’’, Vice (May 2016)
2. ‘Meet Deliciously Stella, Instagram’s anti-hero’, Suitcase (April 2016)
3. ‘Social media users feel ‘ugly, inadequate, and jealous’’, The Telegraph (July 2014)
4. ‘How clean eating devoured the diet’, The Guardian (August 2016)
5. ‘Snackwave: a comprehensive guide to the internet’s saltiest meme’, The Hairpin (September 2014)
6. ‘Weird corporate Twitter’, The New Inquiry (June 2014)
7. ‘Report: 83% of holiday social customer service inquiries will be ignored’, SocialTimes (November 2015)
8. ‘Why women spend hundreds on athletic clothes they don’t actually wear to work out’, The Huffington Post (December 2014)
9. ‘Britons spent £250m on unused health and fitness clothing last year’, City A.M. (March 2016)
10. ‘First look: Amalia Ulman – Excellences and Perfections’, Rhizome (October 2014)
11. ‘Deliciously Stella is the most honest (and hilarious) Instagram account’, MTV (October 2015)
12. ‘Some teens face pressure to post popular or flattering content’, Pew Research Center (August 2015)
13. 'Jealous of your Facebook friends? Why social media makes us bitter', Forbes (January 2013)
14. ‘Is ‘eating clean’ becoming a dirty habit?’, Refinery29 (January 2016)
15. ‘The role of social media in reducing stigma and discrimination’, The British Journal of Psychiatry (June 2016)

Author
Alex Quicho