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9 Sep

What’s body checking and why is it throughout TikTok?

Trends that encourage a hyper-focus on our bodies are, unsurprisingly, causing more harm than good

Over the past week, my FYP has fed me TikTok after TikTok of women in baggy t-shirts and tracksuit bottoms standing in front of the camera pulling their clothes tight to disclose hourglass figures. The trend has already sparked an anti-fat-shaming backlash, but it surely is just a drop within the ocean of trends that encourage hyper-focus on side profiles, back profiles, jawlines and each other bodily attribute that you just otherwise wouldn’t have thought twice about.

Body checking is the act of in search of out details about your body: your weight, how clothes fit, the way it looks from different angles. Offline, this could take the shape of frequent weighing on the scales or constant mirror checking. Noticing your body isn’t inherently harmful. Nevertheless, with a lot of us already hyper-aware of how our body exists on this planet, and under immense pressure for our bodies to stick to certain criteria, what may start as innocently checking your reflection can turn into more obsessive and intrusive thoughts and behaviours. 

“After we body check offline, it’s the weather of our body we dislike that we normally concentrate on,” explains psychologist and food freedom coach Dr Lara Zibarras. “Ultimately this ends in a distorted perception of our body. It’s this distorted perception, together with continuous negative thoughts about our bodies, that take up loads of mental capability which negatively impacts our ability to pay attention or think clearly.”

Online, body checking manifests in myriad ways and latest trends pop up like whack-a-mole. The hashtag #jawlinecheck on TikTok has 327.9m views, #smallwaist has received 709.7m views and #sideprofile stands at 1.2bn views. Trends like these perpetuate an intense concentrate on physical appearance and sometimes the only objective is to “flex” a certain feature. Other body-checking trends take the shape of fixation or comparison of weight and numbers. Along with the hundreds of thousands of views, the comment section is cause for alarm with users ceaselessly posting comments like “I’m not hungry anymore” or “skipping dinner.”

In 2019, CJ began to note the shift on her TikTok FYP from meme and anime-related content to influencer-based videos. “That’s after I began noticing an increasing number of body trends and facial feature trends about, like having a cute nose or having a certain cupid’s bow in your lip,” she says. Having grown up with an unhealthy perception of her body, CJ didn’t need to feel complicit in contributing to other people’s negative body image. “I’d start a video to take part in certain trends after which be like, this feels gross,” she says. “It seems like I’m body checking. It was uncomfortable for me to navigate. I desired to do the trend but I didn’t need to be body checking.”

Users of Tumblr throughout the early 2000s will likely remember the glamorisation of disordered eating, prevalence of pro-anorexia content and fixations on thigh gaps and outstanding collarbones. Trends just like the A4 challenge and the iPhone 6 knee challenge in 2016, and 2020’s Earphones Waist challenge suggest that the mentality hasn’t progressed much in the next decade.

TikTok appears to be no different. In 2020, the app was criticised for rife pro-ana content and while the platform issued a ban in February, often the content remains to be hiding in plain sight. Macy, a 19-year-old student, began seeing body-checking content on her FYP after she shared online that she was in anorexia recovery. “I feel the algorithm saw eating disorder recovery and thought eating disorder content could be okay to share with me,“ she says. “It was very insidious.”

Young individuals are spending more time online than ever before and with eating disorders on the rise over the previous few years and the NHS treating record numbers, it’s hard to disregard the correlation. “Whilst an individual isn’t more likely to develop an eating disorder just by watching body checking videos online, we all know from the people we support that it will possibly worsen an existing eating disorder,” Martha Williams, Beat’s senior clinical advice coordinator says.

Dr Zibarras similarly believes within the negative impact of body checking. “Self-critical body checking and the resulting thoughts and feelings can turn out to be a little bit of a vicious circle: our distorted perception of our body results in increased body checking,” she explains. “Because the behaviour is usually used as a approach to control weight or size, any perceived failure, for instance a change in shape or size, can then result in lowered mood, low self-esteem and much more body dissatisfaction and self-critical thoughts, which then results in more body checking and so the cycle continues.”

Encouragingly, there is usually a backlash against these sorts of body-checking trends. Many users pushed back against 2021’s #hipwalkchallenge, which saw people exhibit their waist and hips by dropping their phone to their midriff and walking to the beat of the music. “Why are half the trends on here just straight-up body checks that glorify skinny/ attractive bodies doing normal shit,” wrote CJ in a video that has over 28k likes and 225k views. 

Jordana, 19, from Australia, also calls out the sort of content on her page. After viewing a TikTok video that reminded her of her “struggles with eating and things I’d do to drop a few pounds” she posted a duet response to remind, as she wrote within the caption, “all those that missed a meal, checked the scales or felt insecure after watching this TikTok that you just should eat tonight.”

TikTok has made efforts to cover and take away content that promotes eating disorders, partnering with the National Eating Disorder Association to curb harmful content. Certain tags akin to anorexia, bulimia and thinspo, are met with support resources and a hotline for the National Eating Disorder Association. Nevertheless, it is evident that is removed from foolproof, even for those actively avoiding such content, and more regulations are needed to guard individuals. 

“It’s necessary to do not forget that body checking and pro-eating disorder videos could also be created by people who find themselves unwell with an eating disorder, and so it’s crucial that social media platforms signpost their community to quality support,” says Williams. While the intention of many body-checking trends could also be harmless, any trend centred on people’s bodies only strengthens the hyperfocus society already puts on our appearance. Moderately than simply being allowed to exist, social media forces us to look at and obsess over how our bodies appear to the world each on and offline. 

In case you’re fearful about your individual or another person’s health, you possibly can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk

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