Tik Tok & Body Insecurity – Are we fighting a losing battle?

Like many other social media apps, Tik Tok has been essential in keeping the world entertained during lockdown. Whether we like it or not, the short (and often cheesy) clips have infiltrated our timelines, with some holding a permanent place in our memories – I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing. However, with the future of the app being threatened by Trump and his fear of Chinese data security, now, some have been left wondering whether Tik Tok’s potential disappearance may be for the best.

For those unfamiliar with the app, Tik Tok is a video sharing platform created by Chinese tech company Byte Dance. Like the late social media app Vine which ceased to be in 2016, users can create short videos with content ranging from dancing to politics and share them with the rest of the world.

This unfiltered element of the app raises concern about whether there’s adequate protection for children, and other vulnerable users

Unlike other social media apps, Tik Tok’s unique algorithm means that you’re not only exposed to the content of those you follow, but that of strangers’ from around the globe. Of course, this also works in reverse, so there’s a high chance that your videos are appearing on strangers’ Tik Tok timelines too. This unfiltered element of the app raises concern about whether there’s adequate protection for children, and other vulnerable users, against harmful and unregulated content, such as videos which could trigger eating disorders/body dysmorphia or encourage the sexualisation of pre-pubescent bodies.

With the platform’s particularly young and impressionable demographic, there are often worries about the harmful messages subconsciously communicated online. One concern is body image – both a major point of discussion and one that desperately needs to be addressed.

At the centre of it all is the basis of the app itself. Unlike other platforms, Tik Tok primarily revolves around copying the content of other users. Whether it’s by repeating popular choreography, imitating challenges or using the same songs to make funny edits, the aim of the game is to recreate existing videos as best as you can. Although there’s nothing wrong with the concept, (which makes coming up with posts very easy), arguably it develops a breeding ground for insecurity. What happens when you can’t tumble like Addison Rae, pirouette like Charli D’Amelio or belly dance like Malu Trevejo? For some this isn’t a problem at all, and the chance to mess around on camera is good enough, but what about the others?

60% of Tik Tok’s demographic are aged between 16 and 24 years old, a stage in one’s life where many are already faced with insecurities often worsened by social media. The average age of onset of Anorexia Nervosa is also age 16 and one can image that challenges like “What I eat in a day *Weight loss edition*” could possibly serve as triggering for some eyes that are sensitive to this particular content.

In other cases where diets are not directly encouraged, the idolisation of Tik Tok influencers could potentially be equally as harmful. Maybe, those at the top of the Tik Tok hierarchy reflect body types which have been made ‘goals’ in the social media world. The Kid Laroi raps the line “I need a bad b*tch, Uh, Addison Rae” in his song dedicated and named after the Tik Tok-er herself, which makes one wonder what it takes to be a ‘Bad B’ and have a song written in your honour. Perhaps the 8 million listeners and 170,000 Tik Tok-ers who used the song in their videos are wondering the same thing, with some desperately trying to make it a reality. But the fact is one can never be Addison Rae, Nessa Barret, Charli or Dixie D’Amelio- and their newfound celebrity status isn’t always as glamorous as it appears to be.

I was shocked to see the amount of body shaming that the ‘Queens of Tik Tok’ receive themselves

Browsing through the comments of their videos; I was shocked to see the amount of body shaming that the ‘Queens of Tik Tok’ receive themselves. Charli being told to ‘Eat a burger’ numerous times under every video and Addison being called a whale so frequently that she started putting disclaimers in her captions, begging fans to ‘go easy’ because she was bloated that day. The 19-year-old social media star was even forced to deny pregnancy rumours in a tweet, saying:

“I’ve seen 5-10 tweets & tiktoks today talking negatively about my body and weight.. it makes me feel insecure, but luckily i’m looking at it in a different light. i’ve been very motivated to start eating better and working out everyday to become the healthiest version of myself!”

It makes me wonder how the issue of body image has spiralled so out of control, that even those who are idolised on the app are still subjected to the same shaming and insecurity that many users are desperately trying to escape.

Knowing this, it would be easy to say that Tik Tok is obviously not a ‘danger zone’ for anyone struggling with body confidence, but then again, which social media app isn’t? I think it’s common to pin the blame of a long-existing problem on the newest app to join the party, but the honest truth is that body insecurity on social media has been an issue before Tik Tok was in the picture.

Infamously, Instagram announced that they would start showing followers when someone uses a face filter and stop publishing the number of likes on pictures. Despite this showing an obvious attempt to reduce the pressure of imitating ‘Instagram perfection’, I wonder if it’s simply putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole and not fixing the problem at all…

We can’t deny the stress that social media puts on people, young women especially, to orchestrate an idealised appearance and lifestyle – but I believe the issues of insecurity run deeper. Maybe it’s time to look further than blaming social media and start using it as a tool for healing – encouraging self-love, body positivity and acceptance, instead of pointlessly trying to block the new features as they come. Nevertheless, I’d encourage everyone to use the rest of lockdown as an opportunity to reflect on the role social media plays in our lives. Maybe some of us would be better off without Tik Tok, and maybe others are yet to discover the fun it has to offer.

P.S. If you ever need a break from the FYP dancing, Alt Tik Tok might be the place for you (comedy and cosplay can sometimes be less problematic!).

By Omo Ifabua

Image: by solenfeyissa via pixabay

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