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TikTok’s Influence on Body Image

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

By Mary Grlic

Image via PureWow

TikTok claims that they “strive to create an environment where our community feels comfortable, confident, and safe to be exactly who they are while expressing themselves freely”. However, much of the content on the app fails to create a safe space with many individuals struggling with body image. This often contributes to body dysmorphia and unhealthy eating habits in many young kids.

TikTok was initially released in 2016, and since then, has amassed immense popularity. Users see the app as a great way to interact with others, share funny or nostalgic videos, dance to viral trends, and keep busy, especially when stuck inside during quarantine. Whilst the app seems completely innocent, and to some quite stupid, many content creators post body-harmful content that deeply affects many young teens. These “thinspo” (thinspiration) videos reach many users who spend nearly half of their time scrolling through weight loss related content on their For You Page (FYP).

A common example of TikTok thinspo is the “What I Eat in a Day” video, where creators share what they eat throughout the day. Many of these videos are flawed with dangerous habits like calorie counting, intermittent fasting, restrictive eating, unhealthy trends, and unsustainable diets. This can negatively impact many viewers to think that they must follow this diet as well or cause stress related to eating, leading to an eating disorder.

These dangerous TikTok trends are not only restricted to food. In fact, many trends that seem completely harmless can also trigger poor body image. This can include a weight loss transformation or a “glow-up” video, which commonly trends on TikTok in various different ways. “Glowing up” can be extremely toxic as it reinforces unrealistic beauty standards and fails to promote self-love no matter what one’s appearance is. Another notable trend is the “Hip Walk” challenge. This trend commonly idolizes the ideal body type and often bashes users who do not fit this mould. Though many creators have used the trend to show their beautiful bodies through a positive lens, they also receive hateful comments that can further heighten body issues.

TikTok filters have also been shown to fuel body dysmorphia. The inverted filter flips the image of the user to display how the user looks in real life. Many feel this filter can be really damaging towards their self-esteem, one user tweeting, "The inverted filter on TikTok does serious damage to my confidence.” Facial symmetry is seen as an example of “pretty privilege,” one TikTok user says, and this filter only pushes insecurities for those who do not fit that mould. TikTok’s beauty filter also caters to a specific appearance, making some faces appear “slimmer and more feminine.” This filter pushes forward beauty standards like soft and clear skin, a thin face, and a sharper jawline, morphing users to look completely different. When they turn off the filter, it can often be damaging to see how they really look. This filter easily destroys the self-esteem of many users by pushing a certain appearance that is more “beautiful” and erasing the traits that people already have.

One of the most dangerous parts about many of these thinspo videos is that they lack any sort of trigger warning. TikTok’s platform allows users to constantly scroll through videos that do not have a title or thumbnail to preview the video. Oftentimes, creators will neglect to put a trigger warning, which makes it even more difficult for viewers to prepare themselves. Although TikTok adds trigger warnings to a few videos, the company often fails to address much of the pro-eating disorder content that is rampant on the app.

Luckily, some TikTok influencers are using their platform to promote a body-positive, self-loving community. Creators like Brittani Lancaster post videos to educate viewers on the dangers of disordered eating and share her recovery journey through healthy and sustainable “what I eat in a day” videos. Her honesty and vulnerability show that it is normal to struggle with body positivity, and while every day may not be a perfect “body day,” she is always grateful for what her body does for her, sending forward an amazing message for young teens. The body-positive community on TikTok is becoming huge, making a safe space for users to feel comfortable with their appearance.

Although it is impractical for TikTok to monitor every video or comment that is posted on the platform, the company must take better responsibility to prevent harmful videos from showing up on the FYP. No creator should ever promote an unhealthy calorie deficit or be allowed to comment cruel things about one’s appearance. TikTok should be used as an entertaining space for kids to express themselves, not a place to promote disordered eating or body dysmorphia. Regardless of the unrealistic and harmful beauty standards that TikTok pushes forward, your body is valid and beautiful. If any content that you come across is triggering or can be harmful to another user, please report the video and/or inform TikTok that you are “not interested” in that type of content.

Written by writer Mary Grlic.

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