In the entrance of the Alexis Nihon Mall’s women’s bathroom, Ana Benitez, an 18-year-old, scrolls through TikTok as she waits for her friend to come out. “I hate these videos,” she says, pressing “not interested” on one of a girl pulling at the hem of her shirt, showing off her toned abs; “it’s like they want me to develop an eating disorder.”
As TikTok has recently gained a massive rise in popularity, body-checking trends have been increasingly prominent in everyday scrolling. According to Central Coast Treatment Centre, a recovery facility for patients with eating disorders, “body checking is the compulsive checking or tracking of your body’s shape, size, weight, or other physical features.” Online, body checking disguises itself through short, eye-catching videos like a young girl lip-syncing to a song while pulling her sweater to reveal a slim figure or a young man flexing his defined biceps in the mirror. As these clips gain traction, the normalization of body checking can be alarming for TikTok’s audience.
According to Thomas Holmes, a youth social worker at the Douglas Mental Health Institute, this issue stems from a basic emotional need for attachment. As TikTok attracts a mass audience of pre-teens and young adults, users find a sense of solidarity through posting within a carefully curated community of like-minded people. As users share their figures, the shame they once felt about their body can be reversed into pride over the control they have mastered. Often, this leads to compulsive behaviors offline, like obsessively monitoring food intake or exercise to maintain that sense of control, thus possibly triggering deeper issues like anorexia, bulimia, or muscle dysmorphia.
“I try to avoid these as much as I can,” Ana said. “I usually try to scroll past it, but I used to struggle to ignore these videos. You see girls with perfect shapes and end up hating what you see in the mirror, picking apart body features you can’t change, wondering if you can look like that too. It’d make me spiral and feel ashamed for even thinking about it.” However, avoiding these kinds of videos appears to be easier said than done.
In recent light of body positivity movements around body acceptance on TikTok and fat-positive users seeking to call out pro-eating disorder behaviors like body checking, many popular influencers have come under fire for spreading unhealthy behaviors in their videos. Users like @becamichie, a fashion model with 105 thousand followers who posts videos about their workout routines or daily outfits, have been called out for using their platform as a disguise for body checking. Many users reposting Michie’s original videos would point out certain harmful actions displayed. Some harmful activities include turning to the side while leaning slightly back or pulling loose clothing tight on their figure. Afterward, the user’s reposting pushed the model to delete a few more controversial posts.
However, despite this push for a healthier TikTok, it seems much of the app’s content has been left unchanged, its algorithm still promoting even the most obvious body-checking videos.
As the words “body checking” have been recently banned by the app to suppress the trend, numerous new hashtags like #bodychek and #bodych3cking, purposely misspelled to avoid being reported, have accumulated up to 8.3 million views according to the TikTok search page. As social media grows and becomes increasingly competitive, people develop a need to create a desirable persona in a marketplace of consumerism, thus becoming a consumable product themselves. “The pressure to perform to find a good nest, a safe place with people who care and understand, heightens the stress of competitiveness. For many, this has fueled a need to post their bodies as a way to find validation from others, especially on a platform where it’s so easily accessible,” Holmes explained.
The app has now added a link to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre when a user tries to search up the words “body check”. As society’s ruthless body standards live on, so will body checking. Nevertheless, as we move forward with rising movements around body positivity and fat acceptance, perhaps social media could also serve as a place for rehabilitation and recovery, with communities forming to encourage support instead of self-destruction. Body acceptance is and will always be an enormous feat. And though it can be so tempting to give in to our vices, comparing our own breathing and growing bodies to the carefully curated ones we see online, the human body will, above all, always be a vessel in need of care, comfort, and nourishment, and we should give it a chance to simply exist.