Dancing or fad diet culture? The dangers of extensive TikTok exposure

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By Priyankha Khindri |

It’s a Monday morning. I pick up my phone and look down at the screen. My screen time notification pops up. I mindlessly click into it. My screen time is up by 75% that week, a shocking 5 hours a day. I wince, if only I spent that much time doing my university work! What grabs my attention is the breakdown of how much time I spend on different apps of which Tik Tok takes up the most at a whopping two and a half hours a day. An app which I had not even downloaded on my phone this time a year ago is now my most used app, it’s shocking. The short and easy to watch videos are always full of fun and entertaining content ranging from DIYs that I know I will never endeavour to make or tips and tricks to make your life easier like the famous Tik Tok wrap – so simple yet so genius. Slightly disappointed in myself I moved to continue with my morning routine reaching for the half gallon water bottle on my bedside table, which has followed me around my house for months. This pink monstrosity which, when full, feels heavy enough to be a weapon which could cause considerable damage is something I bought as a result of Tik Tok.

It was a couple of months ago I kept on refreshing my “For You” page which plays videos that Tik Tok thinks you’d be interested in based off of the other content you engage with. Suddenly I had fallen down a rabbit hole and video after video was of people completing the 75 hard challenge. The 75hard challenge was created by a man called Andy Frisella as a means of resetting your life, it’s a cross between a lifestyle and a fitness challenge. For a period of 75 days you’re meant to follow a series of rules related to diet, exercise and lifestyle designed to completely change your life however Mr Frisella is neither a dietician nor nutritionist nor personal trainer. Yet my almost twenty year old self became captivated by this idea of my dream body and my dream life, despite knowing the man behind the programme had no scientific basis for its construction. Having just entered our second national lockdown I decided that this challenge would be a fabulous idea and went ahead and ordered a gargantuan half gallon water bottle and a workout mat to kick off my new life!

Upon their arrival I had completely forgotten about the challenge and laughed as I removed them from their packaging, knowing they would come in handy but that I would not be subjecting myself to the challenge. However, a couple of months later, at the start of January the challenge reappeared on my timeline and with the arrival of a third lockdown my mind once again entertained the idea of taking part in the challenge. What stopped me was a video of a young girl, she couldn’t have been any older than thirteen, and she had just posted her video celebrating that she had complete 45 days of this challenge. I watched it and was entirely taken aback. The poor girl had done 90 minutes of cardio, and eaten three small and what would be considered healthy meals. Her comment section was a combination of congratulatory messages and messages of concern or urging her to eat more as her meals would not support her body doing so much exercise.

At twenty years old I had come so close to considering partaking in such a challenge, despite knowing the risk.  However there are users of the Tik Tok platform who are far younger than I am, and who don’t necessarily have the ability to see these fitness challenges and take a balanced or measured approach to them or to understand that not everybody is an expert. According to Wallaroo Media 60% of Tik Tok users are belong to Gen Z, placing them anywhere between the age of 16 to 24 and Tik Tok as a platform targets audiences as young as 13. It is not only the challenge that I mention here which is a problem but the endless “What I Eat in a Day” videos or “Tips to Lose Weight Fast” which feature on the “For You” pages of young and impressionable people across the world. These were videos that used to be on YouTube where you had to search for them or follow a specific creator to come into contact with them but now, with the algorithm that Tik Tok uses, these videos can appear on our pages unsolicited. 

I think this lockdown has been perfect at highlighting that it is not only young and impressionable minds which can be impacted but the mental healths of young people and adults everywhere. With an estimated 1.25 million people in the United Kingdom suffering from eating disorders these videos can be triggering to those currently battling one or in recovery from one. Yet there seems to be very little which can be done to prevent such videos from appearing on our phone screens, from people that we don’t even follow.

I understand that this all might seem incredibly dull and potentially act as a trigger for anyone reading, and for that I truly am sorry. I also think it’s important to highlight the creators on Tik Tok who are aiming to counter this diet culture through making videos for those who struggle to eat so that they have someone to eat with. As well as this there has been a significant number of creators making content which encourages people to take it easy upon themselves in all aspects considering that we are, yet again, living through a lockdown! I enjoy the videos that they make and I always find myself looking for one of those fifteen second videos when an eBart notification pops up, in the hopes that a stranger on the internet will make me feel better about the gruelling feedback on my assignment.

What I hope that this article does is highlight that as we hit what must feel like the sixth week of January and begin to suffer with what I like to refer to as lockdown fatigue is that we need to take the pressure off. Take the pressure off of ourselves to look, feel, be and perform better than we ever have before. So make sure to eat that slice of chocolate cake, watch an episode of your favourite show instead of doing your work – trust me you’ll live! Treat yourself how you would treat that thirteen year old girl desperately trying to have lockdown glow up – with kindness and compassion!