Tik Tok might actually be toxic.
Maybe you were like me and promised you would never download the app. After all, I’m 20 years old, way too mature for an app like that anyway, right? But then quarantine hit- and nothing happened like it was supposed to. After a few days of being sent home from college, I finally gave in after months of my 15-year-old brother encouraging me to “just get the app.” What can I say! I was bored! And at first, I’ll admit, I became somewhat addicted-spending hours at a time-just on the app alone. Scrolling and scrolling through what mostly was light, creative, hilarious, and strange videos of people from around the world, whom I had never met. I was captivated by the memes, impressive choreography, and the ridiculousness of it all. It’s something I encourage you to experience for yourself if you haven’t yet. And it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one who feels this way. It’s reported that the average downloader of the app spends at least 52 minutes scrolling a day, and more than 2 billion people worldwide have downloaded it. Tik Tok is free, easy to use, accessible for anyone to create, share, respond, and instantly connect in an extremely informal way. The point is to be goofy, random, and basic, compared to other apps like Instagram and Facebook that have a much more serious connotation. It wasn’t long before I quickly fell into the traps of hopping on the newest trends, trying to bake the 3 ingredient healthy peanut butter cookies and even getting my family to do all learn a dance by The Weekend. It was fun and funny and entertaining. Until it wasn’t.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Tik Tok works like this. You can follow your friends, family, random people, or celebrities, and the content they make shows up in order of posting, similar to Instagram. Or you can scroll on the “for you page,” which is a somewhat randomly generated series of videos, based on location, previous likes, and curated interests. So, if I like a video of 3 ingredients healthy peanut butter cookie recipe, the next time I check my “for you page”, I will then see hundreds of videos of recipes, ab workouts, diets, and weight-loss tips. At first, I thought to myself, what a great way to encourage a healthy lifestyle, especially in the youth, as most of the users are young! It wasn’t long before I noticed that 90% of my “for you page” became videos of tiny teenage girls in crop tops not only telling me but showing me how they counted their calories in a day or sexually dancing to a song with lyrics that I wouldn’t have understood when I was that age. For the most part, Tik Tok’s “for your page” serves up clips from literally anybody and everyone who posts on the app- but of course, there’s an algorithm to it. The viral videos show up first, and while some of them are the funny, random, entertaining themes I mentioned before, lots of these are videos of the girls dancing half-naked and they’re promises of how you, too, can lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks by following these steps. They are viral, so it doesn’t matter your location or previous likes, these videos are going to be seen by millions of people. If I can do what these girls say, I can look like that, right? Let me be very clear, in no way do I want to comment or judge others based upon what they wear and the videos they post. I am all for anyone, especially women, showing off their body and posting what they want; however, I also want to recognize, that this content, for people who do not choose to see it, has the potential of being extremely discouraging, damaging and toxic. Let me explain why.
1. Tik Tok shows reports of users of as young as 10 years old.
2. Tik Tok doesn’t want you to see poor or ugly people, deleting people’s videos for posting videos of themselves dancing in a crop top if they are overweight. See Lizzo’s page for her opinion about them deleted her bikini video.
3. You cant chose what you see.
4. Tik Tok’s selects influencers and wants its users to see them. Charli D’Amelio (born May 1, 2004) is an American social media personality and dancer. As of 2020, she has over 52.5 million followers being the most-followed individual on the platform. The teen actively posts numerous TikTok videos a day, most of them dancing in crop tops and bathing suits. She weighs 117 pounds. Lizzo weighs 308 pounds.
5. Tik Tok is not a professional platform for mental health, weight-loss, nutrition advice but often acts like it.
6. Unrealistic expectations of women on the “for you page” result in men have higher expectations of women in real life.
People see these perfect bodies of these viral women and they want to look like them. It is just marketing, right? Instagram and Facebook, however, don’t work this way. Other than ads, the content you see is content you choose to follow or subscribe to. Users on Tik Tok are now saying they are not wanting to be exposed to videos that glorify eating disorders, heighten body image issues, and worsen mental health. These videos act as reminders that these women are something the viewer is not, and if they just eat this way, or do this exercise, they will look like them. This becomes problematic because the people advising on the app, these viral “health advisors” I previously mentioned, probably have very little or zero professional training on what they are saying. When it comes to dieting and fitness, people must do their research of what is going to work best for them, rather than taking anyone’s advice on a specific body type that isn’t there’s.
Girls aren’t moving their bodies because they want to, they are over-exercising, under-eating, and following false nutritional advice because they think that if they do, they will then look like the girl they see on their screen.
Let me get to my point here. I have always considered myself to be a person who lives a “healthy” lifestyle. I have felt motivated by the idea that moving my body makes me feel strong. I grew up as a competitive tennis player, and I was young when I started to pay attention to what I ate. To me eating healthy meant that I could train harder and perform better, but it wasn’t everything. I also had a normal diet and ate what I wanted to eat without feeling guilt or shame. When I was younger, I hadn’t considered that people ate healthy only to look a certain way because it was never about that for me. Nutrition meant being strong enough to endure a match the next day, having power and stamina, and to be quite honest- it meant I could probably win more tennis matches. I knew it was important to me because I saw that it mattered in the results. I think it is fair to say if I were growing up in 2020, I wouldn’t associate being healthy with any of these things.
Social media’s definition and the strong influence of living a healthy lifestyle simply doesn’t match up to what I once thought. I’m afraid we’re moving towards a mindset that if you eat what you want to eat then you cant be healthy. Or that you cant indulge until you’ve done XYZ workout. And if you don’t eat healthily then you should feel guilty. I’m worried that we’re feeding an exhausting amount of pressure of “eating healthy” only to look like someone that we, by the chemical compounds and nature of most body types, won’t be able to look like ever. I have bigger bones and bigger thighs than the girls I see and I always have and always will. But they are strong and they are capable and no matter what diet or routine someone gives me that is how it’s going to be.
In today’s world, being healthy means being skinny, having a small waste, a ripped stomach, and long legs. Beauty standards are brutal and unforgiving. I’ll never understand this. Diets and fads have become more restricting and limiting than ever before, as 14 and 15-year-olds share their weightless videos on the app, “How to get abs in 10 days” and “How to successfully eat 1000 calories a day”. My favorite is the video that shows how dark chocolate covered dates will kill your sugar craving instead of eating birthday cake. Like, can’t we just let the damn girl celebrate???? It shames those who take rest days, eat fast food, or just don’t work out. It makes eating “feel good foods”, things like mac and cheese and fries that are supposed to bring joy, make young people feel guilty and anxious when they indulge. This obsessive calorie counting, image-conscious, overly judgmental, and critical environment is destructive and toxic for young girls and women of all ages, feeding insecurities into a society that is just waiting to crush their confidence in the future. So much of being in middle school and high school is already dictated by trying to fit in, and I’m worried that the obsessive influence of “health” on social media platforms is only fueling higher unrealistic expectations leading only to more isolation, comparison, self-hatred, and depression.
I am a yoga sculpt instructor at my school and one of the biggest things emphasized during my yoga training through CorePower, was the importance of never bringing up weight in any form during a class. The truth is most of these “health advisors” are unprofessional, uneducated, and simply put- normal people and brining up weight to people who are not asking.
These “health advisors” (Influencers and famous Tok Tokers) straight up tell their followers to do XYZ and you will be skinny. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. This assumes that everyone A) wants to be skinny B) everyone needs to be skinny C) if you are already skinny, you need to be skinnier.
I find this extremely frustrating. Genetics, metabolism, nutrition, level of exercise all play a major role in losing weight, this is not something that can be done in 10 days during quarantine. At first glance, you might have thoughts like I did, that this is good! But, I couldn’t think of something more terrifying than stranger posting a “1200 calories what I ate in a day to stay skinny during quarantine” video encouraging me, and young girls to limit, restrict and count what they eat. It feels wrong in many different ways. I don’t blame these people and they have every right to say what they want to say. To me, these videos are toxic because the automatic response to this video would naturally be to start counting calories. Maybe someone who sees this video doesn’t want to lose weight, or is recovering from an Eating Disorder, or is 10 years old and now they are starting to read labels of their fruit snacks. I understand it’s simply a result and product of the pressure and burning desire to look a certain way with social media. These “health advisors” might genuinely believe these things work, because maybe they worked for them. But the idea that drinking this smoothie and during this circuit works for everyone is harmful and disruptive, giving false hope, false information, and false beauty standards to a group of people who already are desperate for love, acceptance, and self-assurance. You don’t have to be skinny to be healthy. And to anyone who watches these videos and feels bad about themselves, you are supposed to feel this way. I encourage you to stop scrolling. Maybe delete the app for the day. Come back to your personal goals and what makes you feel good and strong. Message me on Instagram. I would love to chat.
A few final thoughts:
If you want to listen to fitness or nutrition advice from someone who isn’t professionally trained and it helps you, then great. I support you.
If you want to workout using advice from an influencer and you like to do it and it makes you feel good, then great. I support you.
If you are working towards living a healthier lifestyle and a way for you to do that is through Tik Tok, then great. I support you.
All I’m trying to say is that I hope this message serves as a reminder that all bodies are worthy. I hope you never feel guilty for not looking like someone else, exercising like someone else, or eating like someone else. So enjoy the app, make funny videos, learn a new dance, and create a new recipe.
At the end of the day, you have the power to look in the mirror and feel proud, strong, and beautiful no matter what society, Tik Tok, or anyone tells you.
Cheers to whatever’s in your bowl.