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Confidence in the Age of Tik Tok

A Breakdown of the App’s Beauty Standards and Accepting Your Appearance in the Age of Un-naturalism

I want you to forget about whatever you’re doing right now, whoever you are right now, and become someone else for a moment. I know you’re not at all unfamiliar with the concept, considering it’s what the media and ever-regressing world around you beg you to do on a daily basis.

Pretend you are a twenty-five-year-old woman of average height, average weight and average income. You are relaxing on the couch, as bored as you always are when waiting for your friends to visit, and like most bored young women who can think of nothing better to do with their time, you open Tik Tok.

There, you may see a video of a thin young woman sitting on a yoga mat in a bright pink workout set in the foreground, waving at the camera as a chipper voiceover begins. You’re relieved to see a face capable of grinning as hard as she is right now, relatively filter-free, aside from the artificially smooth skin, often displayed by many female Tik Tok content creator. You’re all too used to hearing about young women, like yourself, receiving small doses of Botox, lip fillers, implants, and removal of their cheek fat. This woman, who lacks these physical adjustments, is rather refreshing.

The title of the video--How I Maintain A Tiny Waist While Eating Whatever I Want-- flashes in front of her before she launches into a simple Pilates routine that you swear you’ve been doing, without much intention, since you were a teenager. Still, your stomach remains soft, and your thighs rounded, which is perfectly healthy, according to your doctor. Your physique is unlike that of the woman in the video whose taut figure you never knew you desired.

That video might leave you thinking that the figures of the creators were achieved effortless; they have failed to mention their perpetual Ozempic abuse, however. That creator might be somewhere putting a diabetic out of much-needed medication in order to stay as slim as she does. And you, you are looking down at your legs, wondering why only now you’ve begun to feel how tight your jeans are.

This isn’t the first time you’ve drowned in the sea of Tik Tok’s physical expectations. Just last month, you spent over $200 chasing after the sharp and seductive makeup looks of the app’s audience-proclaimed ‘siren-esque’ female celebrities. At that point in time, you had convinced yourself that you couldn’t leave the house without your eyeliner, red lipstick, and at least a hint of ‘smoke’ on your eyelids. It didn’t take long, however, for you to feel suffocated by the look, to feel yourself a pretender, substituting inner depth for the unrealistic stuff of the movies.

That phase was so strange because the month before last, you had actually been trying to emphasize the innocence the soft angles of your face projects, applying heavy blush to the apples of your cheeks and highlighter to the corners of your eyes, curling your hair, and making sure to always be seen in a hyperfeminine outfit. That grew un-ideal very fast. You kept getting mistaken for a little girl. Older men lusted after you on the streets, staring at you in a way that felt less like they were looking at you and more at what you could provide them with.

You can’t remember which trends you fell victim to the month before that, but what you can remember is just how long it's been since you were genuinely happy with your appearance. When lip gloss and mascara was just enough and you had not opened another savings account to store money for the cosmetic alterations you think you might need as you age, refusing to be a part of the silent majority who age without a cream or chemical or surgeon ever touching their body.

You might have noticed that I’ve only mentioned females and traditionally feminine endeavors. I asked you to pretend you were a woman and all the examples I gave—somewhat fictitious, though heavily based in reality—of Tik Tok content creators targeting the insecure and those willing to ‘improve’ were women. In fact, men have often been the definers of the desirable woman and have shaped the public’s perception therein. They have set the standards of beauty. Regrettably, women have adapted adopted those, albeit with some slight reinterpretation and repackaging and fresh marketing to accommodate the capriciousness of society as it changes.

In other words, while women have simultaneously fought against male dominated standards, women have contributed to them. That may be because women have internalized misogynistic ideals and messaging. The hypothetical Illustrations as well as the character I had you step into are prime examples of this.

What’s so insidious about the aforementioned concepts is how innocently they tend to be presented— as if it’s ‘self-care for your benefit instead of someone else’s, when in actuality it always transitions into becoming most beneficial to the latter. The seductive makeup our character attempted was meant to emulate a stylistic aesthetic and attitude popularized on Tik Tok called the dark feminine. That is a trend that first encouraged women to become assertive, worldly individuals not easily susceptible to the manipulations of others. It quickly devolved into a curated list of the many ways such a person is enticing to a specific group of men (wealthy, powerful, protective) and how using the assets of the men they would acquire is crucial to becoming the woman they aspire to be.

The would-be movement evokes thoughts of the now unpopular adage act like a woman, think like a man; it encouraged women to play the same interpersonal mind games commonly used by men in romantic and sexual settings with a facade of presumed feminine naivete. An air of superiority lingers over the entire concept because the end goal is satisfaction in finally beating men at their own wicked game and being different from other women in the sense that one who practices the principles of Tik Tok’s corrupted interpretation of the ‘dark feminine’ is special because she has ‘cracked the code.’

Similarly, people are ushered towards Pilates, Botox, lip fillers and most other pricey cosmetic procedures that have risen to notoriety on the app as ‘solutions’ to appealing to the overzealous celebrity standards—largely formed and encouraged by men—many were once only able to marvel at from afar. Each is more complex than presented online yet are treated like simple luxuries meant to broadcast how financially advantaged one is and, therefore, how much easier it is for that person to appeal to society--typically the ultimate underlying desire of those who consume such media in excess.

Though many have begun to acknowledge the toxicity of the concepts, there is often great debate about whether or not each concept can be regarded as how it is being marketed: self-care and life improvement. Those wellness notions often consist of a collective of ideas or theories rather than just one discernible and measurable thing. Consequently, they are frequently viewed as positively, regardless of whether or not an outlier exists within the lineup that can be harmful or produce negative actions that adversely impact self-esteem and self-confidence.

As I mentioned, the ‘dark feminine’ concept initially sought to empower women to recognize their potential and free themselves from the patriarchy’s expectation that women must be subservient to men in every way or subscribe to their beauty standard. It lost that empowering core ideal when it was corrupted by excessive fantasy and materialism, turning it into a user-friendly product to be purchased at Sephora for $50 rather than acknowledging that it takes discipline to achieve self-actualization and personal power, rooted in unimpeachable principles.

A simple search for ‘Pilates’ on Tik Tok yields results not only related to the topic, but also videos that include other areas, such as clothing brand Brandy Melville, celebrity skincare routines, Botox, buccal fat removal, eyelash extensions, and professional manicures. It is a collection of products and procedures boosted by the app but also advocating that one can afford to be beautiful and should engage in such-so-called beauty enhancements rather than participating in a wellness routine for the enjoyment it can bring.

Despite the original intent behind Pilates being noble, that is physical and mental wellness, it unfortunately gets lumped in with these other things, each possessing the ability to be painted in a negative light. Unsurprisingly, it, too, is treated as if it stems from the same offense.

Further, faux Pilates coaches have led many to believe that the exercises can give you an hourglass figure, wider hips, and other things typically determined by bone structure when, in fact, it cannot. The exercise routine focuses primarily on core strength, stamina, and flexibility. Though Pilates might offer definition and even reshaping to one’s figure, it cannot give one a physique to which that person is not genetically predisposed.

The one thing these Tik Tok concepts all genuinely have in common is being stereotypical markers of having achieved financial success. The easiest ways to refute any backlash faced by the various concepts is by asserting the critic ‘simply doesn’t get it,’ while implying the opposer lacks sufficient financial resources to adapt the regime or ‘jealous’ or needs to ‘touch grass;” that means they are taking the matter too seriously.

In the eyes of many who either fail to understand or simply don’t care to fully comprehend the implications of what they consume–which is unfortunately all too common on Tik Tok in part due to its underaged audience—those are the ultimate, conversation-closing insults. This is also why these concepts generally remain in favor with the public, in spite of all the well-articulated flack they catch.

To suggest that one simply uninstall Tik Tok and/or any other prominent social media app they find feeding them new insecurities would be like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Both the problematic media at hand and discourse surrounding that media, be it positive or negative, tends to transition onto the mainstream feed of other social media platforms, regardless of algorithm.

For example, one might open Twitter and be met with a viral tweet complaining about an absurd Tik Tok video attached below. One might also scroll through the near-infinite amount of once unrealistic filters on Snapchat and find that so many of them now resemble dramatic makeup looks and fancies long popular on Tik Tok.

Delete it all appears to be the next logical solution. However, with the majority of interpersonal connection and communication now heavily reliant on social media, it seems impossible to give it all up and become a recluse in the eyes of society. Not that that would make the problem vanish, anyway, because the physical standards perpetuated on social media often seep into reality, especially if one resides in a place infamous for industries that focus chiefly on personal appearance. Someone who lives in the suburbs of Nebraska might find the delete it all type of advice to be feasible, where the emulation of the beautiful model Tik Tok perpetuates are less likely to be embraced. Manhattan or Los Angeles is an entirely different matter.

“I had uninstalled Tik Tok a while ago, but I always knew what was going on there because like two-thirds of the people around me reminded me of it,” said one teenage girl I spoke with. “[My insecurity] got so bad, I had made a sort of suicide pact with myself: if I couldn’t find the money to get a nose job and liposuction by the time, I turned twenty-one, I was genuinely going to kill myself. I felt like there was no point in being around for my ‘best years’ if I couldn’t be at least halfway pretty for them. It would only go downhill from there.”

In this day and age, it seems, at best, difficult and, at worst, impossible to escape Tik Tok and the hold it can have over one’s self-esteem. While it may take an extraordinary amount of discipline and deprogramming, it is achievable.

Photo Credit: Tik Tok


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