Toxic TikTok Culture and Body image

CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and eating disorders which could be distressing to some readers.


Since it's 2016 release, TikTok has grown significantly in popularity. It became the most popular during the pandemic, becoming the most downloaded app in the world in the first quarter of 2020. The purpose of TikTok is to create, share and discover short videos. The app is mainly used by young people as a way to express themselves through dancing, singing, and lip-syncing.


TikTok's harmful impact on body image


Although this app may seem harmless, many creators post content that can encourage eating disorders and unhealthy weight loss, and this is particularly harmful and dangerous as this impacts young kids and teens. An example of the body harmful content creators share is "thinspo" videos (thin inspiration).


Creators post "What I eat in a day" videos, in which they record what they eat throughout the day. These videos usually include dangerous eating habits such as calorie counting, intermittent fasting, and restrictive eating. This may have a detrimental effect on many viewers by making them believe they must adopt the diet as well, leading to an eating disorder. The fact that many creators fail to include a "TW" (trigger warning) makes the issue even worse because viewers cannot prepare for the video they are about to view, which may be distressing to them.


Again, some TikTok trends that may seem innocent have the potential to lead to negative body image. For example, "glow-up" and weight loss transformation videos. The "glow-up" trend does harm viewers as it causes people to think they have to change to fit 'beauty standards'. Most "glow up" videos show people who have either lost weight or undergone some other kind of physical transformation.


As a result, many people may feel incredibly insecure and drive themselves to engage in unhealthy habits to feel confident. Therefore, although these "glow up" trends may be a fun way for people to show them getting ready or changing something about their appearance. TikTok creators must be cautious about the message they are sending to their viewers through their videos.


The power of algorithms


According to experts, the TikTok algorithm may be a major factor in worsening negative body image. This happens because, when someone is struggling with their weight, they are more likely to look for content on weight loss, which tells TikTok that they would like to see more of it. As a result, their FYP (for you page) is flooded with this type of content and plays to these insecurities.


Body positive TikTok creators


A few TikTok influencers utilise their platforms to advocate for a community that is body positive and self-loving. Ambar Driscoll, among other creators. She is a body positive influencer, while being a model. Ambar shows how models struggle with bloating, stomach rolls, and a poor perception of their bodies. She offers guidance to young people who are self-conscious as a result of the destructive TikTok culture.


According to her, the only time she ever had a flat tummy was when she struggled with an eating disorder. That is definitely something to which I can relate. When I've had issues with body image in the past or caught myself making comparisons to other individuals and told myself that I wish I had a flat stomach, I remember that the only time I've ever had a flat tummy was when I've personally battled with an eating disorder. This emphasises how the "perfect body" does not exist.


Coming together to support body positivity on TikTok


TikTok should be a fun space for self-expression. It should not encourage disordered eating or body dysmorphia. Users who find these videos upsetting, or who believe the content might be upsetting or dangerous to other users should report the video and let TikTok know that they are "not interested" in that kind of content so that in the future, these videos will be less likely to appear on their FYP.