TikTok's Effects on Eating Disorders and Self Image
By Andrea Askraba
TikTok is a top entertainment app with over 1.6 billion downloads . More specifically, it shows a series of 3-60 second videos for the purpose of enjoyment. However, it has also become a hotspot for bullying, eating disorders, and self image.
While it is technically an entertainment app, it can be beneficial in spreading awareness about mental illnesses. This includes anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and OCD. The video platform makes filtering and photoshop more difficult, allowing for a more relatable image. On the other hand, the app provides a platform for those who want to gain a large following quickly. This can mean there are accounts dedicated to sharing misinformation about mental health, which can be harmful to viewers. With many impressionable users, it is evident how these accounts may be dangerous for younger generations’ mental health .
Surprisingly, this isn’t the only downside to the app, with bullying seeming to be a recurring theme: specifically body-shaming. TikTok has unintentionally created an algorithm where users with an ideal body type will be promoted. Because the app collects data from past videos to decide which videos to promote, the algorithm shows desired body types (skinny and model-like), which are popular out of desire to achieve their looks and praised for fitting the beauty standard. On the other hand, videos of those with body types that are not yet normalized (no curves, super skinny, or bigger) are made popular because of cyberbullying occurring through comments and sharing. Although TikTok’s algorithm is more advanced than other apps (e.g. Instagram), the goal is to get as many views and interactions as possible, despite the implications—in this case, body image issues.
Stemming from these algorithmic issues come the individual responses to these videos—specifically the toxic environment created by watchers who not only shame posters, but shame themselves. For example, thin users receive comments similar to “stop promoting eating disorders” or “eat something, this isn’t healthy.” A heavier user may receive “who’s gonna tell her” or “you have so much confidence.” On the other hand, fit users see “I guess I’m not eating today” or “stop promoting unrealistic body standards.” No body type receives genuine positivity, and all comments blame the creator for the watcher’s self esteem issues or eating disorders.
It is through this normalization of body-shaming that TikTok has indirectly started promoting eating disorders, which is bound to be harmful to its impressionable audience. Evidence can be seen in the previous comment examples, proving the app’s audience feels pressured to starve themselves to reach a specific body standard, which once again, demonstrates how TikTok is contributing to toxic beauty standards and negatively affecting its users.
So the question now presents itself: at what cost are we normalizing mental health issues and genuinity?
Jennifer Tzeses. (2020, September 10). TikTok Therapy: What Happens When Mental Health Struggles Go Viral? Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/tik-tok-therapy-for-anxiety/
TikTok Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020). (2020, October 30). Retrieved from https://www.businessofapps.com/data/tik-tok-statistics/#:~:text=Sensor Tower stats reveals TikTok,was downloaded 219 million times.