Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media platforms for teenagers in the United States. This app features videos that are between 15 seconds to 1 minute long, with content ranging from cheeky dancing to cooking, to movie reviews, to pure comedy. If you want to learn, laugh, or argue, you can do it on TikTok. While providing entertainment and even education, TikTok is also a place where unhealthy beauty standards and diet culture run rampant.
How does TikTok work?
While using the app, there are two main settings from which to view videos. On the right side of the screen, users can watch videos from the accounts they specifically follow. However, the left side of the screen, known as the For You Page (FYP), is what makes TikTok truly revolutionary.
The FYP responds to user-engagement to customize a video feed that is unique to a particular viewer- and the algorithm is actually quite fascinating. The app monitors a variety of data from any single user; this includes a viewer’s engagement with the app such as liking, commenting, or sharing a post. TikTok even tracks whether or not a viewer watches the entirety of a video or watches it multiple times. To give intentional feedback, users can hold down on the screen and select a button that reads, “not interested”.
All of these factors are considered while videos are streamlined to a user’s FYP. This feature is great for new content creators as it can be easier to gain followers than with other platforms; however, it can also function as a trap for eager young viewers.
Many users of TikTok are familiar with certain “domains” of TikTok, due to the customization of the For You Page. For example, users might be seeing many videos about cooking due to heightened engagement with posts about restaurants or recipes. These specific domains within FYP customization are the very feature that can trap users in a spiral of diet culture and beauty standard promotion.
What does this mean?
Our concepts of beauty are influenced by our surroundings. We are prey to the messages that we receive from the people around us, and in this day and age this includes the people we see online. When we are bombarded by conventionally attractive individuals who fit the beauty standard, we internalize the message that beauty is binary. We are either healthy or unhealthy, thin or fat, beautiful or ugly.
Once we access a TikTok domain that promotes diet culture and unhealthy beauty standards, we are more likely to engage with posts that advance this content. This makes it more difficult for positive messages to seep through the cracks, as our FYP will become more streamlined to the beauty standards of the videos with which we’ve already interacted.
This is a saddening reality for many young women, as our beliefs about what is acceptable are influenced by what we see in the world around us. Especially during the pandemic, our world has become virtual, which has increased the influence of TikTok on our own beliefs about self-worth. This normalizes the impossible beauty standards.
What is 'normal'?
One dictionary definition of the term 'normal' is as follows: “the usual, average, or typical state or condition”.
But what is usual, average, or typical? Our concept of normal is cultivated by the people surrounding us. When we are constantly surrounded by people who look different from us, we may feel like we need to change ourselves, by losing weight, editing pictures, or otherwise changing our appearance. In reality, we do not need to change our bodies. We need to change our mindset, and even our surroundings.
How can we make TikTok an empowering space for us?
To eliminate the negative influences of TikTok without deleting it entirely, we can decide to tailor our feed to meet our needs. This is the virtue of the For You Page.
To intentionally cultivate an empowering FYP, there are 3 simple steps we can take.
1. Be intentional about the accounts we follow.
This means unfollowing any account that leaves us feeling badly about ourselves, and filling our screens with content that lifts us up and brings us joy.
Unfollow accounts that do the following:
Promote diet culture
Make us upset
Contradict our values
Follow accounts that do the following:
Make us smile
Promote body positivity and bigger-bodied content creators
Make us laugh
Support our values
Foster a sense of connection to others
2. Interact with body positive creators
In addition to following body positive and bigger bodied creators, we can look through hashtags that relate to self-love and worthiness.
We can also like, share, and comment on videos that make us feel empowered and encouraged to appreciate our bodies as they are.
3. Give intentional feedback against accounts that promote unrealistic standards and diet culture
TikTok has a feature where users can express disinterest in a video, and the algorithm will consider this feedback when generating new content for the FYP.
We can do this to avoid exposure to unhealthy influences and beliefs about what we should look like.
By performing these 3 actions, we are intentionally streamlining our For You Page feed to promote self-love and positivity. It's amazing to see how we can change our (virtual) world with just a few clicks on a screen. Try your own social media cleanse and encourage others to do so as well. Empowered women empower women.