Facebook Advertisers Think You Should Diet (but only if you're a woman or a gay man)

It's no news that advertisers on social networking sites like Facebook employ user profile data to target specific groups by gender, age, and so on.   If you have an account on Facebook, you've probably noticed sideline ads for the bands listed under your 'Favorite Music' or ones for the television shows listed under your 'Favorite TV Shows.'  Pretty innocuous stuff.  But if you identify yourself as 'female' on Facebook, suddenly there are an overwhelming number of diet ads.  I find it a bit more offensive when advertisers deem females the automatic target audience for useless diets than when they assume fans of Arrested Development will be the most likely group to buy an AD tee.

 After I initially discovered that my being female gives advertisers the impetus to target me with diet ads, I edited my Facebook account, removing gender from my profile altogether.  The number of laser hair removal, make up, and pro-adoption ads declined significantly (no one promised me that I'd never have to shave again, I wasn't offered free Revlon products, and Jason and Maria no longer wanted to adopt my unborn child), but there still seemed to be a somewhat surprising number of diet ads popping up.  I realized that my profile still stated that I was 'Interested In: Men' (not sure why I even bothered specifying this in the first place).

I edited my profile again and removed my answer to the sexual orientation question.  Now that Facebook didn't think I was either a heterosexual female or a homosexual male (on Facebook, you're either male, female, or nothing at all, but that's a topic for another post), the diet ads decreased and I saw my very first sports-related ad on the site.  Long story short, Facebook advertisers taught me that women want laser hair removal and make up, both straight women and gay men need to diet, and neither straight women nor gay men like basketball.  Facebook advertisers, I already thought you were sexist, but now I know you're heterosexist too. *sigh*

 What do you all think?  Has anyone had similar experiences?

by Malori Maloney
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26 Comments Have Been Posted

same here

yep, I think I've read several articles dealing with the weight loss sexism of facebook. And as a woman I've noticed it too. I used to get ads for lonely female singles too. I don't pay much attention anymore, but if I do notice I will check the tab saying it's irrelevant to me. I don't have the interested in section checked because I was questioning at the time I created it and didn't want to mark both. Now I see no reason to suddenly announce to the world my sexual orientation.


I've also found a lot of ads targeted to the relationship status. When I was single, all the ads were for diets. When I added that I was in a relationship, all I got was ads to "get him to propose". My engaged friends get wedding planning ads. And married friends get fertility ads.


I'm removing all that information pronto.


I was so frustrated with the "Lose Your Muffintop!" or "Desperate to Have a Child?" ads that I changed my age to 101. Now I get ads for swanky vacations and various products for grandchildren.

Relationship status gives

Relationship status gives you similar results; I got tons of diet ads when I was "single" that turned into fertility ads when I was "married," and another friend corroborated this experience.

I once tried to get the acai-berry or other "magic effortless superdiet!" ads to go away by consistently marking them "misleading" or "not interested" every time they popped up, but they kept on coming, so clearly Facebook's advertisers are hell-bent on selling women pseudo-scientific diet crap whether they're interested or not.

yes yes yes

i changed my gender to "nothing" several months ago after several of my friends pointed it out to me (one friend pointed me towards a facebook group titled something like ban the facebook flat belly ads, though i can't remember if they specifically focused on the gendered nature of the ads). regardless, i now don't see ANY diet ads, which is curious in the context of you mentioning having identified as interested in men originally. i'm married, but perhaps they don't take a gander at your spouse's gender to try and figure out your own? i'll change my relationship status as soon as they start posting newborn baby ads. but i'm still not totally at the point where i feel like i can delete my profile entirely - it's still a thoroughly useful networking and keeping-in-touch tool.

it's quite irritating

The only thing that I actually like about facebook's advertisements is that the user is now able to rate the ad that they see by clicking on little "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" buttons below the ad. I have slowly but surely seen a decrease in the number of gendered and/or sexist ads since their ad rating system was implemented (just how slow and persistent these ads are is another matter). Unfortunately, this only decreases the number of these types of ads that I see, and does not eliminate dieting ads for, say, my eating-disordered younger sister (whose gender is listed).

As a "genderless" facebook user, I have had less personal experience with gendered advertisements (dieting, engagement rings, fertility, extreme sports) than I've had with ads that I found to be generally offensive, often because they were sexist (one ad encourages the user to earn extra money from home by doing their program and features a somewhat scantily-clad and heavily made-up woman in a dress made out of dollar bills, complete with fan also made of money).

For a while, I listed my

For a while, I listed my engagement to my partner, who many in the olden days would call my "lesbian lover," and got tons of "planning a wedding?" ads for photographers in my area. I had no other information listed. Now I use AdBlock.

I am especially disappointed

I am especially disappointed to see advertisements for American Apparel on facebook (a company whose sexist and anti-union ads Bitch has blogged about, along with other feminist and activist blogs). I have requested that facebook remove their ads from my account through their advertisment feedback, but I still see them on occasion. It seems that I'll have to write a more official request to facebook to make my point.

Engagement ring ads

I get a lot of engagement ring ads or promise ring ads. They annoy the crap out of me, along with the "The Hills Diet" ads and the "Supermodel Diet" ads. Lauren Conrad (from The Hills) is actually suing a company like that for using her name and image for their promotions without her consent.

From laser hair removal to real estate

Following your great article, I removed my gender from the Facebook information page. Indeed, on the right hand side of the page, that very moment, there were three ads: one for losing weight, another for laser hair removal, and a third about some obscure French clothing designer (I live in Paris). So, I remove my gender, log out, log back in again and guess what? Now all of the ads are related to real estate issues: about rental agencies, estimating the value of my apartment, and "reducing humidity" at home. So, thank you soooo much for the suggestion!

No gender distinction in diet ads in my case

My boyfriend and I were equally plummeted with Acai berry diet ads on our facebook accounts--and we each have our genders listed. He also is listed as interested in women, so facebook knows he's straight. I didn't list my preference, but it made no difference.

Other than that, I've mostly see adverts for web games involving the TV show "Lost" (listed in my favorite tv shows).

You guys might be interested in this plug-in for Firefox. It replaces any ads on a page with random art. ALL of them. It's pretty great.


Myspace is guilty too

I don't have a facebook but I am glad this article was posted because I was going to switch from myspace to facebook for this very reason. Myspace also floods women with dieting weight loss ads. They target your specific age too, "19 and overweight?". As if we don't see this enough.

I also removed my gender

I also removed my gender from my profile long ago, because I was so sick and offended with the diet ads and engagement ring ads. I heard that for married women, many of the ads are for baby stuff. I always wondered what sort of ads men get..viagra?

Responding to Facebook

As someone who doesn't appreciate mindless consumerism, I tend to be annoyed by internet advertisements in general. On facebook, I've found a sort of secret pleasure in constantly clicking the thumbs down icon on the ads. When they ask for the reason, I always mark "other" so that the little box comes up that allows me to explain why. Since I've begun sending countless notes regarding their assumptions about my interests (that are based on my gender), I haven't really gotten many offensive advertisements. :)


I went to change my sex on Facebook shortly after reading this. Upon going back to the homepage, I was confronted with a pop-up thingy at the top saying this was confusing (to readers?). Please select the one that fit best:

Jennifer has changed HER profile.
Jennifer has changed HIS profile.

I couldn't really even change my sex. They wouldn't let me. Though not showing my sex on my profile (but clicking 'her' profile), I get fewer diet ads. But they're still there. And baby ones because I'm married.

Facebook Gender Ad Profiling

Not only does facebook target me with diet ads because I'm a woman, ever since I identified myself as being engaged I have been bombarded with wedding adverts along with the diet ads.

The absolute kicker: my fiance NEVER gets wedding advertisements on his account. If it wouldn't send all my friends and family into a tizzy and lead to a million questions, I'd remove the listing just to get rid of the ads.

'Offensive' works

I've been able to get rid of the diet ads without changing my profile, I just consistently rated them as "offensive." It took a while, but eventually they went away.

Just changed my status!

Well, removed mention of my gender. It's kind of silly anyway when you think about it. Clearly, I am who I am in my pic.

So yeah, it would be great to get less of those disgusting diet ads. It never occurred to me that I was seeing them because my gender was listed as female.

I changed my gender to male

I changed my gender to male even though i am biologically female. I think it's pretty funny, I never get annoying ads now. But it does refer to me as a "he" in the newsfeed. I kind of like it though...maybe I am having a gender identity crisis? No, I just don't care that much about facebook. But I hate that they force people into two categories.

More ads based on being single

As someone who is listed as "single" I also get a lot of ads for online dating services - the "meet cute guys here!" sort of stuff. SO annoying. It's like they assume that if you're single, that you're desperate to meet someone. What happened to being "single and loving it"?

The Facebook ads I see most

The Facebook ads I see most often are "Meet cute gay girls" and on Myspace, all of the ads I see are about Christian bible type things because on my profile I talk about what bull shit religion is.

i took my gender off

I took my gender off facebook, and when it asked if i wanted to be "her" or "his", i clicked, in the bottom right corner, "close this window". facebook now refers to me as "Gabriella changed their profile".
my ads are much much less gendered! they focus on college and little sharper-image type gadgets.


I find a suprising number of the ads on my facebook are quite useful to me. Bands I enjoy coming to town, local NGO'S and the Government of Canada ads pop up frequently (though most of the time the ads are for get-rich-quick schemes)
Maybe it's because the Canadian ad Council has more restrictions on these things? Maybe it's because I'm under 19 and most of facebook's target advertisers for the demographic are not about weight loss or singles online.

Just something I've noticed.

I decided not to use

I decided not to use Facebook. My Facebook is restricted to my real-life friends and select family members. My brother was in a Facebook group called something like "My immigrant parents beat me with random objects" since he was in college . Then my dad got on Facebook. He actually printed out the page, which my brother had basically forgotten about and showed it to my mom. Who was mortally offended and refused to talk to my brother for weeks. =)))) Since then he realized that it's hard to lead the double-life.

Facebook Advertisers Think You Should Diet (but only if you're

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