Why TikTok’s latest #bodychecking trends are bad for you

  • One user shows how she assesses the size of her wrist by seeing how many fingers fit around it
  • Experts say these trends can lead to low self-esteem as well as increased rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders
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While anyone can engage in body-checking, it becomes problematic when it involves “obsessive, intrusive thoughts and behaviors” about your body. Photo: Shutterstock

TikTok is home to many viral trends that range from heartwarming to hilarious, but another content niche is popping up on the app that has experts concerned: body-checking trends.

Chelsea M. Kronengold, communications lead at the National Eating Disorders Association describes body-checking as “observing and taking mental note of what your body shape, weight, appearance or size looks like.”

While anyone can engage in body-checking, it becomes problematic when it involves “obsessive, intrusive thoughts and behaviours” about your body.

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“For example, when someone walks by a mirror or window that shows a reflection, they’ll likely take a peek and continue on without giving it another thought. For people struggling with body image, body checking can be all-consuming, and they might poke and prod while staring at their reflection.”

Several body-checking trends have made their way to TikTok, with the hashtag #bodychecking reaching 5.5 million views. One that has gained attention involves assessing the size of your wrist by seeing how many fingers fit around it.

A video posted by user @alysa_ak, in which she measures her wrist in this way, has been viewed more than 3.2 million times and has garnered more than 546,000 likes.

Dr Allison Chase, a clinical psychologist and regional clinical director for Eating Recovery Center Pathlight in Texas, says she has seem other disturbing videos showcasing body-checking trends and challenges.

Body-checking trends are “very concerning”, experts say.

Though these videos are now gaining attention on TikTok, the concept of posting this type of content isn’t new.

Long-time users of social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr might remember the popularity of pro-anorexia hashtags and posts that glamorised disordered eating.

Some have taken to extreme forms of body checking. Photo: Shutterstock

Or perhaps you remember the headline-making “thigh gap” trend in 2013, where people would stand with their feet together to see if their thighs were slim enough to have a space between them.

“It shows up on all the social media platforms,” Chase says. “It continues to be something that, as a psychologist, is very concerning to me, because I think it’s not only perpetuating this negative cycle with body image, but really impacting mood and emotions, anxiety and depression.”

Kronengold explains the comparison aspect of these videos can lead to harmful outcomes such as low self-esteem and negative body image as well as increased rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

What is body dysmorphia, and why is it so hard to spot?

What to do if body-checking content is affecting you

As long as social media exists, so too will body-checking trends, predicts Chase.

“Especially for those that are moving down the path of body image concerns or increased negative emotion, they’re going to be more pulled to do this. It’s part of what happens,” she says.

Luckily, as body-checking trends pop up, some users trying to report and call-out these trends. The hashtag #stopbodychecking has garnered 110,000 views and people have posted comments and videos reacting to trends they find problematic.

“Why are half the trends on here just straight up body checks that glorify skinny/attractive bodies doing normal (stuff)?” writes user @heyybabesitscj in a TikTok that has 28,000 likes.

“Just a reminder, no trend is an excuse to post triggering stuff,” user @han_maee captioned her video about body-checking.

If you’re triggered by body checks, experts say there are ways to lessen the impact of this content.

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Remember not everything on the internet is real: “Remember that so much of we see on these platforms are edited,” Chase says.

Take a break: “If social media is impacting your mental health or body image, it is important to practise self-care,” Kronengold adds. “Step away from TikTok and other social media platforms, unfollow accounts and hashtags that make you feel bad about yourself, and remind yourself that you are more than your appearance, the number on the scale, the size of your waist or the amount of views and followers you have on social media.”

Talk to someone: If you’re struggling with body image or disordered eating, Chase encourages you to find someone to talk to.

“If somebody finds this [content] is interfering with their ability to think clearly or getting in the way of work or school, it’s really important that they take a look to see how they can get some professional help,” she says.

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