Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Does TikTok have a harmful obsession with weight loss?

CW: discussion of weight loss, mention of eating disorders

TikTok has facilitated life in lockdown for many of us. The app has many positives and can be a lot of fun for its users, allowing us to connect with one another when we have to be apart. However, I’ve come to realise that there are some clear downsides to TikTok and some warnings that should come with the app. 

The initial problem with TikTok is that there is a huge focus on how you look. In a video that showcases a dance trend or an outfit that the creator is proud of, the centre of attention still seems to be around the body. I searched through a few videos in which users show off their outfits for each day of the week, with comments like “every time I go on TikTok my confidence goes down” appearing beneath. TikTok allows you to look at the most popular videos that use a certain song, with the songs used for these outfit trends featuring girls with toned, flat stomachs as the first video you click on. This body type has very quickly become #bodygoals for many TikTok users.  

Of course, these girls are not doing anything wrong by simply posting videos of their outfits, but the problem is that videos that feature this body type quickly become very popular, featuring at the top of the list for the songs they use as I mentioned, as well as appearing in many people’s ‘For You’ page due to their popularity. These all means that popular videos are quite difficult to get away from. The more of these videos you then watch and interact with, the more you will get.

TikTok is flooded with before and after videos

TikTok is clearly not the only form of social media where weight-loss is so highly valued, with Instagram being the prime example. However, I have found it quite easy to control my Instagram feed and unfollow any accounts that aren’t beneficial to me. With TikTok on the other hand, I tend to stick to my ‘For You’ page to watch new content and find funny videos that are trending, meaning I also end up with popular videos that may involve triggering content regarding weight loss and eating. 

Stemming from this obsession to look a certain way saw the emergence of many trends that centre around food and weight loss. One particular trend called “What I eat in a day” has users posting aesthetically-pleasing clips of their meals and snacks, but you will find that many of these videos feature very small and quite unrealistic amounts of food. On top of this, TikTok is flooded with before and after videos of girls looking back at their old bodies in disgust. 

This has not been helped by the internet’s general promotion of using free time in lockdown to get fit and lose weight. Although I think exercise and utilising a daily walk can be beneficial to your mental health while in lockdown, we shouldn’t be feeling pressure to lose weight just because we have more spare time. Also, it is quite natural to be gaining a few extra pounds due to being stuck at home rather than walking to work or university. 

Losing weight shouldn’t be seen as the pinnacle of success

At the end of the day, weight loss is a personal journey. If somebody feels as if they would like to exercise more and try to eat a more balanced diet, they should be able to do that. Losing weight shouldn’t be seen as the pinnacle of success and something that everybody should be aiming for. Quite frankly, TikTok promotes anything other than a flat stomach and minimal eating as disgusting, which is not the message that young people should be receiving.

It is these types of ideals that can lead to devastating eating disorders. Let us not forget that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. On the outside, TikTok may seem harmless, but the attitudes I have seen around weight loss and eating could be catastrophic for its users, especially more impressionable teenagers. 

If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this article, contact Warwick Wellbeing Services or look on the NHS website to find support relating to mental health, eating disorders and general support as well as the helpline numbers for individual issues. Beat is a UK-based eating disorder charity which features support and guidance for anyone going through anything like this. 

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