Although I never got an official diagnosis, I am more than able to relate to people who have struggled with body image. And, let’s be honest, most women probably are. I’ve struggled with weight my entire life, and in college, after one of my best friends passed away from cystic fibrosis, I became fixated on “being healthy.” In hindsight, I wasn’t “healthy.” I was obsessive. I was restrictive. I didn’t enjoy life. And while I still work out six times a week and eat healthy (OK, most of the time), I’m not fixated on food, exercise or my weight. I’m probably 20 pounds heavier, but I’m comfortable with myself, and most important, my mental health is where it needs to be.
I’m a 29-year-old who’s done the work to be comfortable in her own skin, and yet, I find myself (here’s that word again...) triggered by these videos of teenagers telling me they eat celery for dinner and work out twice a day. Compiled with the sheer amount of time the average user spends (52 minutes a day) on TikTok, I can’t imagine the negative effect this content is having on younger, more vulnerable minds.
Kristin Wilson, vice president of clinical outreach for Newport Academy, a mental health rehabilitation facility for teens and young adults, tells me that researchers have found that certain regions of teen brains become activated by “likes” on social media, which is why it can become so addictive. Now, marry that with regular consumption of videos showing a workout routine that you should “repeat every day to lose ten pounds in two weeks,” and any parent (or non-parent!) would be right to be concerned.
But with the bad, comes the good. There are times I have truly belly laughed so hard at TikTok videos that I can barely breathe (see: Brittany Broski). And there are also true body positivity advocates doing a lot of cool, empowering things on the platform, like Lizzo, Raeann Lagas, Brittney Vest and Kristina Zias. So, while we can’t rely on tech giants to curtail the toxic content that is put into the universe, there are easy, practical things we can do to protect ourselves, our kids and the body love movement: