Do you scroll through TikTok as a form of entertainment? While it may seem like a harmless activity, a study published in Body Image suggests that TikTok usage is related to body dissatisfaction, appearance comparison, and body surveillance.
TikTok, a social media application consisting of short videos, has grown rapidly in popularity over the last half a decade. It is most popular with Gen Z, and around 40% of the users range in age from 16 to 24. While other social media has been linked with body image issues, TikTok, which has not been extensively researched, has some unique features that may exacerbate this issue.
For example, attractive influencers, sexualized dancing, or videos about weight loss may pop up on an individual’s “For You Page” without these creators being followed. On the other hand, TikTok also offers an opportunity for girls and young women to engage with body positive content. This study seeks to better understand the relationship between TikTok usage and body image.
Study authors Danielle Bissonette Mink and Dawn M. Szymanski utilized 778 female college student participants to serve as their sample. Participants ranged from 18 to 29 years old and were predominantly college freshman, white, and heterosexual. Mink and Szymanski recruited participants through the University of Tennessee, Knoxville SONA system and participants received class credit to participate.
Participants completed measures on TikTok use, upward appearance comparison, body surveillance, body dissatisfaction, exposure to body positive media, social media literacy, and demographic information.
Results showed that TikTok is detrimental to body image, with usage being positively associated with body dissatisfaction. TikTok also caused indirect effects by increasing upward appearance comparison and body surveillance, which in turn increases body dissatisfaction. While researchers hypothesized that being exposed to body positive media could function as a protective factor against TikTok causing negative body image, the results actually showed the complete opposite, with people who consumed high levels of this type of media engaging in increased appearance comparison.
Additionally, less exposure to media that contains the “thin ideal” did not lessen the effects of TikTok on body image, which could be due to unconscious comparison, even if that is not the goal of the video. Another potential protective factor, social media literacy, was associated with higher levels of comparison and body dissatisfaction.
This study contributed to better understanding surrounding the usage of TikTok and its effects on body image for females. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study utilized only college students and those students self-selected the study off the SONA system, which could indicate self-selection bias. Additionally, the sample was lacking in diversity; future research should be more inclusive of race, sexuality, ethnicity, and age, in order to be more generalizable.
“Our findings suggest that image-based social media use present risks to women’s positive body image. Our study extends previous research by demonstrating that TikTok use is linked to more body dissatisfaction through upward appearance comparison and body surveillance in serial. Surprisingly, exposure to body positive content and commercial social media literacy skills did not protect against these risks,” the researchers concluded.
“Thus, our results suggest that women should limit their time on TikTok in order to reduce body dissatisfaction. Future research should explore other potential buffers in this link, such as body neutrality, in order to discover ways to help women combat body dissatisfaction in the face of social media use.”
The study, “TikTok use and body dissatisfaction: Examining direct, indirect, and moderated relations“, was authored by Danielle Bissonette Mink and Dawn M. Szymanski.