How the popular social media app has influenced the younger generation's perceptions of self.
Content Warning: This article discusses topics of mental health, body image issues and eating disorders which could be distressing to some readers.
When you think about TikTok, you think of the social media platform commonly used by the younger generation to post dance challenges or short funny videos, but the platform has become so much more than that. With an estimated 834.3 million users worldwide, it is understandable that the platform has a major impact on how the younger generations view themselves.
How TikTok influencers contribute towards low self-esteem
As the name suggests, an influencer's purpose is to influence their audience. Whether this be purchasing certain products, or subscribing to a service using their code, these people hold a significant amount of power in the social media world.
A common theme with these influencers is that they all look a certain way that fits society's current beauty standards. Curvy hourglass figures or super muscly with amazing abs, it is no wonder why the younger generations struggle with body image issues and self-confidence.
The breakout of these influencers on the TikTok platform, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, resulted in many impressionable teenagers using the app daily, which caused an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders throughout the years. This is because the viewers felt a genuine connection with the influencer as if they knew them personally. This further influenced the younger generation to pick up harmful habits such as bodychecking, calorie counting, detox regimes and much more.
Mental health conditions in young people have risen over the years, and this has a lot to do with social media and the toxic beauty standards it promotes. The solution for these teenagers to look good? The toxic diet culture side of TikTok, where 'health and wellness' influencers use their vulnerable audience to spread misinformation on dieting habits that are considered unsafe.
"So many of the videos talked about trying to achieve a particular body shape that was implied, or definitely thin." - Dr. Pope
Based on personal experiences, being regularly fed content of women with the 'perfect' figure did not help my derealisation or eating habits. It further pushed into my mind that I had to have an extremely healthy diet, and I would admonish myself if I broke it. This is why I feel it is important that TikTok has stricter boundaries on the content produced and an array of mental health advice and support for those in need.
TikTok as a coping mechanism
As with any mental illness, there are many ways people cope with their day-to-day life, one of which is TikTok.
This is often used for the communities within the app, filled with people who share the same interests and passions as others, which creates a feeling of connection to these individuals. These users are not necessarily large influencers, rather they are simply using the platform to form friendships with other like-minded individuals and engage with the community more.
Talking to others online for teenagers with mental health issues is significantly easier than face-to-face interactions. This is because the TikTok algorithm is based on the content you like frequently, so you will see more of your interests. Not only this but there are a variety of good influencers on the platform that advocate for mental health support, sharing advice and personal experiences with the viewers. This would benefit the user's mental health since connecting with this content would make them feel less alone and may encourage them to ask for help.
Despite this, using TikTok as a coping mechanism has its drawbacks. This is through what is known as 'doomscrolling'. This again relates to TikTok's algorithm since it is structured to keep the user scrolling through their 'For You Page' endlessly. This is harmful to your mental health as the addictive short videos, can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviours, anxiety, and depression.
How to 'de-influence' your mental health
A popular trend going around on TikTok is 'de-influencing'. This is where influencers and users on the platform tell their followers why they should not buy a trending product. The purpose of this is to discourage excessive consumerism, as it is not worth the money to purchase products you don't need.
So how can this apply to your mental health?
There are many strategies for managing your mental health, but it becomes difficult when social media platforms are involved. From the addictive nature of constant scrolling to comparing yourself to influencers who apply beauty filters, it is a never-ending cycle that sucks out all your existing serotonin to throw it away.
When it comes to TikTok content, it is important to view it with an open mind and ask yourself whether the body image being shown to you is realistic, and if not, it is likely edited.
With the world revolving around social media today, it is hard to avoid it. To save yourself some sanity, it is advisable to set time limits on each platform to create healthy boundaries and allow your brain a break from constant scrolling.
Overall, TikTok has its downsides for individuals suffering from mental health issues, so it is important that it doesn't take over your entire life. It is crucial to remember to take frequent breaks, go outside to refresh and clear your mind, or try learning a new skill.
If you or someone you know needs mental health advice or support, here are some useful organisations you can contact: