Influencer Manon van den Bos warns against breast implants

06 Sep 2023

Manon van den Bos (25) had an eating disorder and breast implant surgery. When the Master's student in Communication Science developed health problems as a result, her attitude to her own body changed. She became active on TikTok and now has 35,000 followers. Body normalisation is one of her main drivers, although she also talks about things like taking part in dating programme FBoy Island. ‘I'm an open book.’

Manon van den Bos posts on TikTok nearly every day. In her videos, she offers advice on how to enlarge your eyebrows, and shows that it is best to wear low-rise trousers if you don’t have much waist. She has a tip for women faced with catcallers, she says in one of her posts. ‘Just stare at their shoes, for a really long time, as if there’s something wrong with them. This makes them insecure; they think there’s poo or something else on their shoes.’

Van den Bos can rightly be called an influencer. She has 35,000 followers and a management team that helps her negotiate with companies. She views the whole thing as a nice job on the side, she explains on a sunny terrace in the centre of Nijmegen. ‘I earn slightly more than the average student.’

Her income doesn’t come from TikTok itself, but from advertising for companies. She does advertisements occasionally, about twice a month. ‘I recently reported on a paid visit to a restaurant in Amsterdam. What I do is take my followers along for a day in a vlog. I show them how I get ready and travel by train. It feels more natural to show my whole day, rather than just the restaurant.’

Negative impact

Manon van den Bos. Photo: Duncan de Fey

The enthusiastic Achterhoek-native found social media interesting even as a child. ‘I’ve always loved beauty and travelling. I was also interested in the private lives of lots of Dutch celebrities. I followed everyone.’ At 16, she was a fan of the handsome Dutch-Iranian influencer Negin Mirsalehi. ‘I looked up to her; I wanted to be just like her.’

And that’s where things started to go wrong. Social media brought Van den Bos viewing pleasure, but also had a negative impact on how she saw herself. This was reinforced by her upbringing. ‘I come from an environment where people are very concerned with looks and health. I was never allowed too many sweet drinks or chips. When we went on winter sports, we were given sandwiches.’

Seemingly small comments had a lot of impact. ‘When I was 12, an aunt pinched my cheek. She said I hadn’t lost my baby fat yet. Later on, someone said to me: if you lose five more kilos, you could be a model.’

‘Someone said: if you lose five more kilos, you could be a model’

She smiles at the waitress who puts a cappuccino in front of her. Her whole demeanour shows that she’s doing well now, but she’s had some difficult years.

At 19, Van den Bos left for Indonesia. ‘I went off the radar for six months to work on my body. I wanted to become the thinnest and best version of myself.’ She became a sports addict and developed an eating disorder. She speaks with apparent ease, but that is her strategy for being able to talk about it at all. ‘I was starving myself. When I got back, my family couldn’t criticise anything about my body, although they did comment on the tattoos I got in Indonesia.’

Soon after that, she had her breasts enlarged because she was insecure about her cup size. She quickly began to suffer from shortness of breath, fatigue, joint pain, and panic attacks. ‘I was heading straight for a burnout.’ At first, the doctors didn’t know where the symptoms came from. She was put through the medical mill, saw a psychologist, an internist, and a heart specialist. She eventually heard about research by Henry Dijkman, a lecturer and researcher at Radboud university medical center. He had discovered that all breast implants were unsafe. Soon after, Van den Bos was diagnosed with breast implant illness. This completely changed her perspective on how she was treating her body. ‘I thought: I should be happy with what I have.’

Obsessed with losing weight

Two months before her implants were due to be removed, she started posting TikTok videos. To do this, she drew inspiration from influencers like Monica Geuze. ‘I appreciate people who share everything, including their difficult moments.’ Van den Bos posted ‘What I Eat In A Day’ videos. Soon she had two thousand followers. ‘My posts were mainly about body normalisation. I wanted to show that you can eat a full tub of Ben & Jerry’s if you feel like it.’ Many young women are allowing themselves to be led by the perfect picture, and this needs to change, she says. ‘Half of my girlfriends have at some point been obsessed with losing weight.’

‘I wanted to show that you can eat a full tub of Ben & Jerry’s if you feel like it’

In April 2021, a day before she was due to have surgery, she shared on TikTok that she was going to have her implants removed. In that video, she says: ‘For anyone considering getting breast implants, my advice is: Don’t do it!’ People loved her story and within a week she had ten thousand followers. Her story also reached the mainstream media. ‘I hope I’ve spared a lot of women the misery.’ After the surgery, her symptoms disappeared.

Manon van den Bos. Photo: Duncan de Fey

Van den Bos’ posts are not just about body normalisation. She wants to share a part of her life, often in a light-hearted tone. When she and her boyfriend broke up, she started dating, and made videos about it. ‘It’s fun to share those experiences. I tell people everything – I’m an open book.’ This too has won her a lot of followers.

Her participation in FBoy Island, an HBO Max dating programme, brought her additional followers. ‘Because of the title, many people think it’s like AliExpress’ Love Island. They also think I’ve got no brains, to which my answer is: come and see for yourself before you judge.’

Van den Bos had several reasons for participating. ‘I found it interesting to be part of this kind of production. I also wanted to show that it’s fine to be a size L and 40; you don’t have to be a size XS to take part in this kind of programme. But to tell the truth, it was also a distraction from grieving for my father.’

Her father had died shortly before filming began from the muscle disease ALS, from which he suffered for a year and a half. ‘It was good that they had a psychologist on the set who could support me when I was struggling.’

Van den Bos is now in a different phase of the grieving process. She wants to get involved in ALS research. For example, she is taking part in the Dam tot Damloop to raise money for the ALS Foundation Netherlands. She also plans to share her story on 3FM’s Glazen Huis programme this winter. ‘It’s great that they’re coming to Nijmegen this time, and that the charity they’re focusing on happens to be the ALS Foundation.’

Intensive counselling

What about her studies? Doesn’t TikTok take up all her time? ‘No,’ she says, as she sips mint tea, ‘it really is a side job. I devote 70% of my time to Communication Science, and 30% to social media.’

‘I like the idea of setting up my own social media business’

Her studies fit in well with her work. First she completed the HBO study programme in Commercial Economics in Enschede, but she wanted more. ‘Something more creative, with journalism, social media, and marketing. That led me to Communication Science.’

She learns most from project-based courses in which you help real companies draft a communication plan. ‘Setting something up independently, going through and discussing all the steps, I learn a lot from that.’ She was offered intensive counselling in the context of her study programme because of her breast implant illness and her father’s illness. ‘This personal approach was really great, and it helped me a lot.’

After her Master’s programme, she hopes to do some presenting, for example at BNN, or a YouTube series. ‘I also like the idea of setting up my own social media business.’ In any case, she plans to continue with TikTok for a while. Sometimes people recognise her on the street. For example, some students once approached her on Nijmegen’s Faberplein. And in a café, a group wanted to take her picture. ‘They only approach me once they’ve had a drink or two, but that’s totally fine by me. Students are also my target audience.’

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