Lip flips and Stanley cups: the true effect of TikTok on women

Illustration by Sydney Smith

The popular social media app, TikTok, has become one of the most frequently used apps among younger generations. While the app has negative effects on both men and women, there are many sides to the app that are specifically detrimental to women. 

Even though there are many fun, informative and engaging videos on the app, there are just as many (if not more) toxic, misleading and harmful videos. The app is easily accessible to young people, so issues like body image, the influence of capitalism and problematic discourse are often presented to people without the tools to handle them. 

The app’s ability to flood its users with so much content in such a short period of time is a huge contributor to its comparison factor, and the concept isn’t limited to material goods. Body image and women’s perception of themselves have the potential to be deeply changed by content on TikTok.

Fitness influencers are major instigators in promoting unrealistic standards for their audiences. Many fitness influencers advertise themselves as being relatable to the average person, promoting the idea that they are a realistic goal for audiences to set for themselves.

This isn’t necessarily the case, fitness influencers are paid to be in the gym and often have a personal trainer and/or a nutritionist to help. While this obviously isn’t true for every fitness influencer on the app, it is for many, and they are creating unrealistic expectations for what women’s bodies “should” or “shouldn’t” look like. 

Illustration by Sydney Smith

Women’s body image can also be negatively affected by pro-eating disorder content that is often disguised as regular videos. A number of “What I Eat in a Day” videos contain child-size portions that encourage undereating, as well as “Get Ready With Me” videos sometimes featuring body-checking – compulsive analysis of one’s own body – and unrealistic standards for the average woman.

Detrimental body image ideals aren’t the only negative facet of TikTok. Influencers and constant brand deals often reinforce capitalism’s detrimental effects on society by pushing products that people “need” and contributing to the cycle of microtrends. 

While trends have always existed in industries like fashion and beauty, the rise of social media apps like TikTok has accelerated the trend cycle at an unprecedented rate. According to Heuritech, a trend forecasting company, trend cycles used to last as long as multiple decades. 

Social media has completely changed this, pushing an exorbitant rate of consumerism onto social media users and driving them to constantly want new products.

While users most likely don’t truly need the latest color of the Stanley cup, the newest clothing items from Shein or another shade of the Dior lip oil, seeing these products over and over on the For You Page certainly can make them feel like a necessity. 

TikTok pushes products onto women — products they don’t need and products that the sponsored creators may not even use themselves. Videos where women show their 12-step skincare routine or their “maintenance day” Sunday shower routine often include unreasonable numbers of overpriced products. 

This overwhelming barrage of product after product pushes women to constantly keep buying the next new beauty product or brand-new self-care items they truly do not need.

Microtrends have even gone so far as to extend to cosmetic surgery. As young women scroll through TikTok, they are bombarded by the trending physical alterations that women are making to themselves. Lip flips, buccal fat removal and breast augmentations are all semi-regular occurrences on the FYP, pressuring women to develop insecurities they didn’t even know they were “supposed” to have.

A study from the University of South Florida found that plastic surgery content on social media is directly linked to viewers having a more negative perception of themselves. Content highlighting these procedures is deeply detrimental to the women viewing it, pushing them to find more “flaws” within themselves that “need to be fixed”.

In addition to all this, TikTok contains a great amount of negative and harmful discourse targeted toward women. Communication is the key factor of TikTok – but what exactly is being communicated to the women consuming it? 

While there is certainly productive discourse on the app about social issues, injustice and other important topics, the conversations on the app often contain enormous levels of toxicity and misinformation. TikTok exposes its users to thousands of conversations a day, and it can be difficult to differentiate between what is helpful and what is not. 

While many of the podcasters and influencers on TikTok are dedicated to spreading awareness on important issues and truly benefiting their followers, there is a darker side to the app that is incredibly detrimental to the women consuming it. 

The “alpha male” podcasts are a prime example of this; on these shows, the men often say degrading and dehumanizing things about women, promoting these ideas to the young men who are consuming their content. 

Another side of TikTok that can be deeply harmful to young women is the sex workers’ pages which discuss their day-to-day lives, what it’s like to be in the industry and how they got into the industry itself. This is an incredibly risky genre of content for young women on the app to be consuming. 

While education on the topic is absolutely necessary and many sex workers have good intentions, a number of these creators glamourize their lifestyle and make sex work out to be an “easy way to make money”. Creators often don’t address the darker sides of the industry, especially the dangers that exist for the young girls who join immediately after turning 18 (some even earlier). It’s incredibly risky for young girls to be told that sex work is a life of fun, fame and money. 

Videos from sex workers showcasing how much money they make in a day are incredibly popular, and the comments are often filled with users talking about dropping out of school and joining the sex work industry. Not only do these videos generally only address the “fun” parts of their job, but they’re also often made by the top creators on sites like OnlyFans, and they paint a very unrealistic picture of what the industry is genuinely like.

Regardless of all its good sides, TikTok is an app that’s full of toxicity and is often incredibly draining to women. Body image can be deeply affected, capitalism has taken over many sides of the app, and the conversations that take place are often unproductive and misinformative. 

This is not an order to delete TikTok or a call for it to be banned. The app is a wonderful outlet for many creators and artists to spread their content to a wider audience, as well as for important issues to be addressed. This is simply a plea to women who use TikTok to more deeply consider how their use of the app may be affecting them, and how it might be changing them in ways they don’t even realize. 

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