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How TikTok Is Glamorising Eating Disorders

© Illustration by INJECTION - Matthew Rawlinson

TikTok is known for its fun dances and catchy music - but is there a darker side to the video app?

Ah, TikTok, the Marmite of the internet - whether you love it or hate it, everyone appears to have a pretty strong opinion on it. I’m a self-professed TikTok addict myself; I just can’t seem to stop myself from scrolling and scrolling… so much so that I’ve had to implement a time limit on my phone to stop me from spending every hour of the day on the app. The thing is, though, that I don’t particularly enjoy my time there. I’ll be the first person to list the multitude of issues there are with the app (despite my 2-hour daily average that I apparently spend on there).

The constant scrolling is addictive, sure, but that time limit I’ve had to implement for TikTok isn’t just to save my thumb muscles. I also need to break up with the app because of the constant glamorisation of eating disorders and the idolisation of thin bodies that I see on the platform. The app has previously come under fire due to moderators supposedly being told to ‘suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform’, and as it’s a video-based platform it’s no wonder that those who are deemed conventionally attractive by society's standards seem to have the biggest followings on the site.

When conventional attractiveness is promoted and rewarded, issues will always arise; what society views as attractive is generally eurocentric and/or unattainable without photoshop or plastic surgery. Thin, hairless bodies, small noses, straight white teeth - these things are considered ‘attractive’, and their opposites are deemed ‘unattractive’. Like Instagram, TikTok being a largely visual app means that the perceived beauty and aesthetics of its users will always be an important discussion to be had. TikTok, as opposed to Instagram, is video rather than photograph-based, which means there are unique ways in which the app idolises thin bodies, including ‘body checking’ (videos in which users do nothing but show off and draw attention to their thin bodies), and ‘What I Eat in a Day’ videos (vlog-style TikToks in which users document everything that they ate that day - these videos have a tendency to show very small amounts of food or include calorie counts).

Comments on one user's 'What I Eat In A Day' video.

Screenshot of a 'What I Eat In A Day' video, promoting severe weight loss.

This sort of ‘pro-ana’ (pro-anorexia) content has existed on the internet for years, but in the past, it was hidden and could only really be found by those who searched for it - now, it appears constantly on people’s For You pages, regardless of who they follow. ‘What I Eat in a Day’ videos are particularly popular - many of the videos under this trend promote drinking coffee and energy drinks as replacements for meals, or promote the act of skipping meals, and contain calorie counts for each thing shown. Eating disorders are frequently competitive, so by sharing how few calories a user has eaten in a day this user could be encouraging somebody else to eat even less. These videos are incredibly harmful, especially to the young teens who make up a large majority of the app’s user base. The videos are often accompanied with comments that say that the video has made them feel bad about their own diets and bodies, showing the harmful impact these videos are having.

Comment on the aforementioned weight loss TikTok. It is important to note that Size 16 is the average size of women in the UK.

Comments on a 'What I Eat In A Day' video.

Thin bodies are specifically glorified on the app. Many videos that feature individuals who are particularly thin end up with comments along the lines of ‘guess I’m not eating today!’, the light-hearted tone trivialising the act of skipping meals which can lead to very serious consequences. There are people joking about starving themselves to get their desired body type, and one comment I found even asked a user how they “stay so thin” because they too want their “ribs to show like this”.

The body positivity movement is ever-growing, but this dark side to TikTok is evidence that there is still a way to go. Wanting to lose weight isn’t necessarily an unhealthy mindset, but ‘skinniness’ should not be the goal. This side of TikTok places thin bodies as superior and promotes the idea that you should do anything to attain a thin body - even at risk to your own health. It’s particularly concerning as impressionable young people make up a large part of TikTok, and I worry that seeing these videos and comments will have a damaging impact on their mental health and wellbeing.


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