Inside the out-of-touch comments about health from influencer Emily Oberg

Healthy eating isn't quite as easy as Emily Oberg makes it sound. (Photo illustration by Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

In an unsurprising display of privilege, another influencer has made insensitive posts on social media, sparking backlash. Emily Oberg, founder of athletic streetwear brand Sporty & Rich, fell into controversy recently when she posted a now-deleted image comparing fast food with “real food” on the brand’s wellness Instagram page.

Sporty & Rich is known for its minimal aesthetic, and its Instagram account acts as an extension of Oberg’s — aesthetic but still attainable.

Oberg also has an interest in wellness. An array of fruits and vegetables frequent her personal Instagram stories, and Sporty & Rich Wellness Club — the brand’s second Instagram page, which was recently made private in the wake of the controversy — often offers health advice.

The post in question was a graphic contrasting the prices of common unhealthy foods — like frozen pizza, candy and Happy Meals — with the prices of “real food,” such as chicken breasts, apples and instant oatmeal.

She also shared this graphic on her personal Instagram story, adding, “Stop making excuses !! Being healthy isn’t just for the privileged!”

The graphic’s caption, titled “You Don’t Need to be Rich to be Healthy,” also elaborated on Oberg’s view. 

“The subject of needing to be rich and/or privileged in order to be healthy is discussed and debated constantly,” she wrote. “Sure, wealthier individuals have advantages when it comes to health and wellness, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be healthy for low income families.”

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The post sparked a lot of backlash across social media, and instead of being open to criticism and comments, Oberg first turned off comments and then made both the wellness account and her personal account private — an indirect admission of guilt in the digital age. 

With buzzword-filled, vapid phrases such as “Health is Wealth,” and “Be Nice. Get Lots of Sleep. Drink Plenty of Water.” plastered on T-shirts and hats, as well as the dark irony that Oberg is against vaccinations, it seems like her message gets more and more shallow with every selfie of influencers and fans donning the clothes in the midst of a global crisis.

What makes the whole thing even worse is that Oberg felt the need to give her followers a health lecture about why there are no excuses for buying junk food, even if they’re poor, in the middle of a pandemic that has caused a 14.7 percent unemployment rate in the U.S. 

Although Oberg probably meant to help those with lower incomes, in the end she just alienated them. Besides the problem of food deserts, some people just don’t have the time to prepare meals from scratch. It’s a sad reality, but it’s the world we live in.

Oberg apologized for this post on the Wellness Club’s private Instagram, writing, “I don’t nor have I ever lived in a food desert so it’s best I not speak on this subject at all. My sole purpose with the post was to provide options on how to make healthier choices, something I am very passionate about and why I started this platform in the first place.”

The most striking point in Oberg’s apology is near the end.

“My post was meant for people who DO have the option to choose a healthy lifestyle, not those who have no option or choice,” she wrote. “Being healthy has been made to be a luxury, but I hope someday we can work toward changing that and make it accessible for everyone.”

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While an apology is a step in the right direction, her rhetoric is still very harmful. For a person whose brand is “health is wealth,” Oberg should be educated on more health-related topics than just fruit bowls and boxes of instant oatmeal.

It’s alarming that someone with so much influence — over 330,000 Instagram followers — doesn’t understand the power she has. People look up to influencers like Oberg. They want the minimalist, healthy lifestyle. They want to be sporty and rich.

What Oberg doesn’t realize is that not everyone was afforded what she has in life that’s allowed her to be sporty and rich. Not everyone can move from Canada to New York City for a job, become the creative lead of a popular streetwear brand, and go on to start their own brand.

What Oberg doesn’t realize is that her lifestyle isn’t everyone’s lifestyle, and she should own up to the fact that she isn’t a random millennial with 500 followers. She has a platform that influences the way people think about fashion, health and wellness.

And backtracking in an apology on a private Instagram account is not a good look for Oberg or her brand. Her first step should be taking her own advice and making health accessible — instead of shaming people for purchasing unhealthy foods, Oberg could have instead made a post about quick, easy, and cheap meals for people low on money and time.

Until Oberg and other celebrities and influencers realize the power their words have, we’ll keep having conversations about the accessibility of health and wellness and how their actions impact it.

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