TikTok’s “body checks” are the latest social media trend to promote unhealthy beauty standards
January 14, 2022
Disclaimers: The contents of this article discuss body image, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and other images/language that may be triggering. If these topics may negatively affect you, please proceed with discretion.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or related issue, you can contact the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders‘ hotline at (888) 375-7767 Monday through Friday, 9am-9pm CST.
Yesterday, I saw a TikTok (probably the 10th one of its kind that week) of a girl starting the video in a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants before pulling them in to reveal an hourglass figure.
This was just one example of the many “body check” trends that have been circulating on the app in the past few months, with thousands of teenage girls hyper-focused on their side profiles, back profiles, jawlines, hips, waist sizes, and almost every other arbitrary attribute of their body,
Body checking is the compulsive or obsessive desire to focus on a specific part of the body or the body as a whole and to seek information about it. Individuals typically resort to watching videos or looking at photos to find out information about their bodies or other bodies.
Thus, these “body check” trends have been a growing concern on the platform since the content of the app shifted from being comical and satirical to being more intentional and deliberate in what it shows its audience members. And similar to other social media platforms, TikTok birthed many trends and challenges that many users partake in for views, likes and shares. However, “body check” trends can be problematic because ther sole purpose is to “flex” a certain body type or feature.
As of 2022, the #jawlinecheck on TikTok has 264.9 million views. But what’s even more alarming is that #smallwaist has received 532.6 million views and #sideprofile has received 818.9 million views. In addition to the millions of views, these videos also garner a plethora of comments that praise the specific body part. Because of the TikTok algorithm, these types of videos pop up on many teenagers’ For You Pages (FYP) due to the number of interactions on the videos. Whether you want to see them or not, their prevalence on TikTok is too abundant to be ignored.
Definitions for body-checking by naisharoy9
Types of Trends
A specific example of a trend that circulated on TikTok a few months ago is a waistline trend under the song “Haus of Holbein” from the musical Six. In the trend, TikTok users would stand in front of the camera with baggy clothes on and a belt tied loosely around their waists. Once the audio reached “9 inches”, the girls would tighten their belts and reveal their silhouette. Another similar trend was under the song “Bonfire” by Childish Gambino, where users would pull back their baggy shirts to reveal their figures at the lyrics: “You’re my favorite rapper now/Yeah, dude, I better be”.
Another example of the body check trend includes the “hipwalk trend”, where TikTok users would drop their phone to their hips and walk forward, pumping their hips to the beat of the audio. This trend was meant to show off their waistline and hips. Underneath the hipwalk hashtag, there are 59.4 million views, and the top liked ones are women who have smaller waists and wider hips. There is very little body diversity within this specific trend, as all of the videos at the top of the hashtag have the same body type.
Moving away from the “body” aspect of these trends, there was a side profile check that blew up on everyone’s FYPs almost a year ago. Under Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”, TikTok users would show off their side profile with the lyrics: “She’s like, so whatever/You could do so much better”. This trend started off with little diversity as the users tended to only have Eurocentric features and sharp jawlines. However, as the trend progressed, it became more inclusive, showcasing a multitude of different side profiles with different features. While many trends hyper-focused on physical features become toxic, there are equally as many that can be uplifting and encouraging.
Ultimately, highlighting one’s body has been a social media trend for as long as social media has existed. TikTok is simply just an extension of the very same cycle: trends around accentuating one’s body grow prevalent, these trends evolve to perpetuate dangerous body images, social media companies take action, and the cycle repeats on another platform. The following timeline shows some of the biggest examples of this:
The issue of “body check” trends
The main problem with these types of TikToks is the lack of representation of different body types or physical attributes. The main participants of these body check trends you see on your FYP typically have the same hourglass shape or Eurocentric facial features. All the while, these videos receive high praise and many likes for the creator’s attractiveness.
TikTok sends the clear message that users desire a specific body type over others. Although there are many creators who attempt to challenge the norm and participate in the trend without having that “ideal body type”, the platform still communicates that these bodies are the exception and not average or normal.
This creates an issue because these videos send the message that in order to be liked or noticed, you have to look, act or dress a certain way.
Due to the TikTok algorithm, whether you want to or not, these types of videos will show up on a regular teen’s FYP, thus impacting many of those who struggle with body image and eating disorders. It is easy to scroll through comments of endless compliments upon the creator’s appearance and think “this is what I have to look like in order to get these same compliments”.
Additionally, due to Gen Z’s tendency to normalize self-deprecating humor, a plethora of comments that can be found underneath these body check TikToks make reference to or invoke eating disorders through comments such as “I’m not hungry anymore” or “I’m skipping dinner”. On top of the TikToks of thinner people being well-received and well-liked, comments such as these have the power to trigger eating disorders and foster a “pro-ana” community within the app.
Some may argue that these types of videos are avoidable and the FYP can be manipulated to be however you want it to look like. In fact, many bring up the “not interested” button, so TikTok knows that you don’t want to see these types of TikToks. However, this method is still flawed, and it doesn’t guarantee that these videos will not pop up again. Blocking the creators is also out of the question because many different users participate in these trends, and they cannot be covered from blocking a single user or even multiple users.
That being said, TikTok has made strides to hide and remove content that violates the community guidelines and promotes eating disorders. These trends only show off users’ bodies and do not violate the community guidelines, nor do they explicitly promote eating disorders. But, these trends still contain an underlying message that affects mental health and can engender body dysmorphia.
The large-Scale effect
It’s important to talk about the benefits of some body-checking trends. For example, the “posed vs. reality” trend focuses on showing posed and unposed pictures of girls’ stomachs to emphasize how angles and lighting can make a stomach look completely flat and toned, encouraging users not to believe everything they see on social media.
In addition, posting a video where they look their best can help improve girls’ self-confidence. The trends allow people of similar features to connect across a wide platform, and sometimes, when a young girl sees someone with similar features “flexing” their body, it gives them the confidence to stop viewing their features as a liability.
The issue, however, lies in the lack of inclusivity in the trends and their often obsessive focus on appearance. Body-checking trends can cause both toxic negativity and toxic positivity on the platform. The toxic negativity comes from videos promoting unrealistic expectations, only seeing the same body type trend for every sound and the onslaught of bullying that comes from following these trends.
Trends that glorify a hyper-specific feature, whether it’s skinny wrists or symmetrical faces, can lead to bullying for users that don’t have those features. TikTok’s ability to duet videos has only increased this, with users duetting their “perfect results” with failed attempts at recreating the trends. Bullying and self-hatred are rife on the platform because these trends alienate those who do not fit them.
However, a lesser-known effect of the trends is toxic positivity. Even seemingly wholesome trends such as the “posed vs. reality” trend end up being exclusive; not everyone can use a simple angle change and lighting shift to create the appearance of a toned stomach. Trends on the body-positive side of the app can be toxic as well; while they are geared towards promoting self-love regardless of appearance, they still focus on how your body looks and can turn it into a huge part of personality. These trends pressure users to love their body no matter what, and body-positive advocates like Lizzo and Tess Holliday have actually been criticized for pursuing healthy habits, with critics arguing that they shouldn’t want to change their body if they’re truly “body positive.”
The truth is, regardless of intention, any trend focused on people’s bodies is very likely to be toxic. This is where the crux of the body neutrality movement lies; instead of focusing on one’s body for appearance at all, it treats the body as a vessel. Instead of emphasizing the importance of beauty, it focuses on what a body can do and accomplish. Body-checking trends don’t have a space in the body neutrality movement because the appearance of one’s body simply doesn’t matter.
The intention of body-checking trends may be harmless entertainment, but they reinforce the idea that beauty is the first priority, and the dangers of this mindset are anything but harmless.