Despite the litany of social media controversies involving A-list celebrities targeting journalists, television writers, and non-celebrity users—and the corresponding discourse about these power dynamics—in recent years, celebrities are still wielding their influence in irresponsible ways for the most nonsensical complaints.
The latest is an incident involving Demi Lovato and a popular frozen yogurt shop in Los Angeles called The Bigg Chill. After calling out the business on her Instagram on Sunday for displaying and selling sugar-free cookies and other diet food items, the former Disney star is explaining her role in the dramatic saga after receiving backlash online.
“I walked into a situation that didn’t sit right with me,” Lovato said in an Instagram video on Monday. “My intuition said speak up about this, so I did. And I feel good about that. What I don’t feel good about is some of the way it’s been interpreted and how the message has gotten misconstrued.”
The incident, which unfolded rather quickly, started with a few paragraphs Lovato posted on her Instagram Stories calling out the company’s “harmful messaging” and enabling of “disordered eating.”
“Finding it extremely hard to order Froyo from @TheBiggChillOfficial when you have to walk past tons of sugar-free cookies/other diet foods before you get to the counter,” Lovato wrote along with the hashtag #dietculturevulture. “PLEASE DO BETTER.”
The “Dancing With The Dark” singer also posted a direct message exchange between her and The Bigg Chill’s Instagram account in which the store claims that it is “not diet culture vultures” and apologized for offending her. The store also defended itself on its Instagram Stories, tagging Lovato and writing, “we carry items for diabetics, celiac disease, vegan and, of course have many indulgent items as well.”
Still, Lovato refused to relent to this line of reasoning, messaging the company that its service was “terrible” and explaining that eating disorders are the second deadliest mental illness “to opiod [sic] overdoses.” Later on, presumably after the singer received some pushback on social media, she suggested that the company label their snacks as designated for people with dietary restrictions and vegans as not to “exclude one demographic by catering to others.”
While the singer’s claims that seeing the store’s diet options triggered her highly publicized struggle with bulimia obviously can’t be disputed, Lovato received accusations on social media that her callout of the women-owned small business was not only impulsive and uninformed, but irresponsible considering her aggressive online fanbase, which has a history of sending death threats to individuals Lovato has taken issue with.
This phenomenon—that’s pervasive among most stan communities of major pop stars—is actually something Lovato has addressed and condemned multiple times, unlike many of her famous colleagues including Taylor Swift, who recently exposed Ginny & Georgia actress Antonia Gentry to online hate after publicly complaining about being the subject of a joke on the show, and Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, who called out Daily Pop host Morgan Stewart and “bloggers” in general on social media after she accused the former of lip-syncing in 2019. In 2014, Lovato penned a lengthy message instructing her “Lovatics” to stop sending death threats to comedian Kathy Griffin after replying to someone who asked her who the “biggest celebrity douche” was on social media with her name. (A year later, in an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Griffin claimed that law enforcement had to get involved.)
Most recently, Lovato insightfully addressed the issue in her YouTube documentary series Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil, which premiered in March. In the third episode, her friend and former creative director Dani Vitale revealed that she received thousands of hateful messages and death threats on a daily basis after fans accused her of giving Lovato drugs before she suffered a near-fatal overdose in 2018. Lovato acknowledged that, although she has “amazing” fans, they can be “out of line” and “don’t always have all the information.”
“Lovato acknowledged that, although she has “amazing” fans, they can be “out of line” and “don’t always have all the information.””
Journalist Rachel Brodsky, who called on pop stars like Swift, Grande and Lana Del Rey to address the culture of harassment and doxxing among their online fan bases in an article for The Independent, called this moment in Lovato’s docuseries “frustratingly rare.” It’s disappointing then that this displayed awareness about the harm her fans are capable of inflicting didn’t extend to her own actions over the weekend, presumably because she was able to frame her callout to her 102 million Instagram followers as an act of service for people who suffer from eating disorders, despite how clumsily it was executed.
But as many have pointed out on social media, including the employees at The Bigg Chill, the manufacturing and selling of sugar-free foods is not inherently fatphobic nor encouraging disordered eating, considering that there’s a substantial number of consumers with medical conditions that make eating sugar dangerous or even fatal. Additionally, someone’s decision to opt for a sugar-free snack can be motivated by a handful of other factors that do not include having an unhealthy relationship to eating, like a preference in taste, maintaining a balanced diet, dental health or simply not wanting to exceed their recommended daily sugar intake, something that all human beings, no matter our size, have to consider. There’s also the obvious fact that diet foods and drinks are sold at practically any establishment that sells food, notably grocery and big box stores, and are not universally triggering for people who suffer from disordered eating.
Even when Lovato defended herself on Monday prior to her apology by posting a five-year-old photo from The Bigg Chill’s Instagram of a display of Eat Me, Guilt Free cookies (The Bigg Chill told TMZ that they no longer sell that product), her criticism would have slightly been better aimed directly at the snack brand’s arguably problematic marketing rather than the single-location business that most likely relies, in part, on partnerships with other businesses. Even then, a culture that makes physical size a moral issue and encourages women that being thinner is better cannot be attributed to one brand, particularly in a day and age when nearly every celebrity influencer is advertising diet shakes and detox teas and these fast-results products are able to scam consumers by misusing body positive and health-driven messaging.
Considering the number of noticeable faults in Lovato’s weekend crusade, releasing a thorough apology for initiating the entire incident would seem like an obvious route to take, a la Ariana Grande when she found herself at odds with a local donut shop in 2015. But Lovato still maintained a righteous stance, expressing interest in working with The Bigg Chill “to help align the messaging to where [she] feel[s] safe going in there.” Like many celebrities accustomed to a life of privilege and people adhering to their every request, she still fails to understand that a business aimed at a variety of customers is not obliged to adhere to her personal needs, particularly when she has the resources to have whatever food she wants delivered to her by a personal assistant or can simply go to another frozen yogurt shop where diet foods are not on display.
If anything, Lovato’s latest lapse in judgement, no matter how ridiculously distracting it was from more important news, shows that not everybody suffering from mental illness or oppressive beauty standards has the tools to be an effective voice for people with that shared experience.