TW: Eating Disorders
In case there are any Baby Boomers reading this TikTok is a social media platform in which users can share videos around 30 seconds – 1 minute long, releasing any content the creator wishes to. Although the app initially began with users sharing and recreating viral dance trends soon it became comedic. Eventually, as the app grew more successful, so did the darker sides – including those glorifying ‘diet culture’. What began as ‘inspiration’ for those wishing to develop a healthier lifestyle soon became ‘what I eat in a day’ videos in which dangerously few calories are consumed and disordered habits are glorified.
From fitness instructors to those simply aspiring to lose weight themselves, the range of creators spans the spectrum. Consequently, the potential harm these videos can create is also endless. Firstly, the wide use of filters means that often the bodies that viewers wish to attain are simply not real. Filters can be used to distort body image and shape in both pictures and videos and the harm that this can cause is not discussed properly. Both Snapchat and Instagram have said they will not allow filters that mimic plastic surgery, but TikTok has dozens of beauty filters that let young adults change their skin, face shape, body shape and more. This impossible standard of beauty leads to low self-esteem, low confidence and emphasises insecurities. As filters become more and more subtle, it means they can be difficult to spot which creates further issues.
Secondly, often this content is shoved down your throat without consent. The way the TikTok algorithm works is that videos that are of your interest appear on your ‘for you page’, but this means that interacting with even one ‘what I eat in a day’ video can cause your entire page to slowly become colonised by these types of posts. Even TikTok’s detailing ‘healthy’ recipes can spiral into ‘ED tok’. Efforts by the Guardian to engage with diet content led to full-blown eating disorder promotion in less than 24 hours. Toxic diet culture, often promoted by these videos, encourages individuals to choose the lowest calorie options instead of considering factors like nutrition and satisfying one’s own hunger. This also means that impressionable viewers do not consider their own nutritional needs and instead mimic the habits of those they wish to look like.
This can lead to issues like binge eating and bulimia where restriction causes spiralling, which is ultimately even worse for health. Currently, #whatIeatInaday has over 11.2 billion views on TikTok and this popularity causes far more harm than good.
Furthermore, the lack of discussions around body types, exercise and even goals when it comes to diet and nutrition means that the content viewers are viewing, and aspiring to model their own diets on, could be very damaging for their own health. The view that one can replicate someone’s body type by modelling their routines is incorrect. Everyone’s body is different and factors like age, lifestyle and even location all contribute to one’s weight and body build. This means that the goals individuals are aspiring to are unattainable, and hence incredibly dangerous. The glorification of weight loss, with no respect to the methods and time in which it is attained, can cause incredibly unstable and dangerous eating habits. Videos in which before and after pictures are shown with reference to a short amount of time in which results were achieved often receive far more likes and engagement than videos where the transformation is shown to take longer. Even though those are the individuals whose journeies required discipline and healthier lifestyle choices.
A current trend circulating the app involves users lip-syncing to the audio ‘So… my name, my name is Bella Hadid’, referring to the supermodel, who is known for her notoriously petite frame. What started as a light-hearted trend quickly became overtaken by content referring to disordered eating, suggesting that users feel more like Hadid when they monitor their eating. To date, this audio has been used in more than 93,000 videos on the platform. In trends like these, if a viewer reacts to one or two of the light-hearted videos, the algorithm will then tailor more of them to you- and slowly exposure to this content can be incredibly harmful for those who are potentially vulnerable to an eating disorder or those in recovery, as both of these groups can be easily triggered. Furthermore, videos like this that poke fun at unhealthy eating habits can cause those who are suffering to potentially not seek the help they need. A special ITV news investigation discovered that 80% of TikTok users stated that the app hindered their eating disorder recovery.
To conclude, the many dangers of social media and body image are most unavoidable in TikTok. Unlike apps such as YouTube and Instagram, there is no real choice in the media that a user sees, which is why those who are most vulnerable often end up seeing the wrong content. As the world moves towards celebrating all body types and recognising the beauty standard it is time for TikTok to make more of a concentrated effort to regulate the content that is being posted on the platform.