The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world and forced everyone onto social media platforms as a way to communicate and keep in touch with friends and family without leaving the house. In the earlier months of the pandemic, people with iPhones started sharing the drastic difference in their Screen Time and what social media apps they spent the most time on. Though, with this increase in social media, Gen Z and Millennials began to focus in on fitness and losing “the quarantine weight.” Scrolling through Twitter and Tik Tok and Instagram, people started posting that quarantine was time to lose that weight and get into shape since there was time and nothing else to do, but this year has been stressful and unpredictable and that affected body weight and mental health for many individuals across the country and the world.
Social media versus body image is a battle that is not new. From influencers to your next-door neighbors, everyone has seen a social media post on how to lose weight so that you will be “happy” or seen photos of women with the “perfect shape” and muscular men that look like they go to the gym every day, but this is not a realistic standard for society to have and to push onto people through social media. Many content creators on the Tik Tok app sought to expose the platform’s algorithm favoring videos with women doing the same dance or comedy skit in tighter or less clothing, like crop tops and swimwear versus them in baggy clothing, like t-shirts and sweatpants. Popular Youtube and content creator Haley Pham posted a video on Youtube of her experiment testing the Tik Tok algorithm. She posted two videos on the same day at the same time, doing the same viral Tik Tok dance in the same location. The only difference was that one video she danced in a swimsuit, and in the second, she wore a hoodie and joggers. Her video in the swimsuit gained over 200 thousand more views and 20 thousand more likes than the video in the hoodie. Male creators did the same experiment by posting videos shirtless versus with a shirt on with similar results.
Many of Tik Tok’s most popular creators and creators that show up often on user’s For You Page are seen as “conventionally attractive,” Caucasian women and men who are skinny and/or muscular with “perfect” faces and hair. Many of Tik Tok’s viral trends have been potentially damaging to user’s mental and physical health. For example, the “What I Eat in A Day” challenge, similar to longer videos created on Youtube, creators share their snacks, meals, and drinks throughout the day depicting how “healthy” or “unhealthy” they are. Many videos also would feature their body along with these foods, which could potentially trigger someone with an eating disorder or warp the way younger and more impressionable users view meals and food. Tik Tok has users of all ages and body types, yet most often, you see these teens with “perfect” bodies and lives. I know that even I am guilty of watching those videos and thinking negatively about my own body and how I look. I am lucky to have a great support system of friends and family in my life, but others are not so lucky or have people who reinforce that these are false beauty standards outside of social media.
I am here to tell you that you are not “ugly” or “overweight” and that these videos are not a reflection of how you should be living your life. Every human is different. Every body is different and not going to be the same as the ones you see on social media or in magazines. If we have learned anything for Victoria’s Secret cancelling their annual fashion show, it is that these beauty standards are not reflective of the real world, and it is not the way you need to look. If you enjoy working out, do what makes you happy. If you are not someone who enjoys the gym, that is completely okay too. Not everyone does and that is fine. You do not need to be working out or dieting and eating “healthy” meals all of the time. Your body needs all different types of food to get you through the day. Do not feel bad about enjoying that chocolate bar or getting your favorite sweet drink from Starbucks, we all fuel our bodies in different ways. As long as you are healthy and happy, you do you. One of my favorite social media influencers Mik Zazon, posts about body positivity and her journey recovering from an eating disorder, because she felt like she needed that perfect social media body. I want to leave you with a quote from her that is so empowering and important to always remember:
“It doesn’t occur to us that bodies can both shrink and expand as we experience life. That is not a good or bad thing. It’s not an ugly thing. That’s a normal thing. And so it should be treated as normal to recycle your old high school jeans for a new pair because we aren’t barbie dolls. We aren’t made to fit into clothes. Clothes are made to fit us.“