A lack of body-positive videos on TikTok

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In a recent study published in Body Image, researchers performed a content assessment of body-positive videos on the social media platform TikTok.

Study: The body positivity movement is not all that positive on TikTok: A content analysis of body positive TikTok videos. Image Credit: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com Study: The body positivity movement is not all that positive on TikTok: A content analysis of body positive TikTok videos. Image Credit: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

Social media and body positivity

The use of appearance-focused social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram has been found to have a stronger association with body dissatisfaction as compared to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. To date, TikTok, a video-based social media platform that enables users to create and share music-infused videos, has received less attention from researchers in this respect.

The TikTok body positivity movement has been criticized for not featuring larger bodies and flagging this type of content as violating community guidelines. The present study aimed to investigate the alignment of body positivity TikTok videos with the fundamental principles of body positivity.

About the study

TikTok videos were chosen for the study's analysis by conducting a search for #bodypositivity on a newly created account. The study only included videos from public accounts to improve the overall applicability of the findings.

In March 2021, 25 videos each day were collected for a total of 14 days to obtain a diverse range of content as compared to collecting all videos in a single day. The data collection period led to the identification of 350 videos that featured a minimum of one individual and were mostly one to two minutes in duration.

Two undergraduate psychology students underwent training sessions to become familiar with the coding manual, themes, and coding process and, as a result, were considered coders for this study. Videos were analyzed by the coders to determine the age range, perceived gender, and race/ethnicity of each individual featured.

The video subject's body size was estimated using the Pulvers Figure Rating Scale, which consists of nine line drawings that correspond to increasing body sizes based on body mass index (BMI) scores. The coders chose a figure that closely resembled the body size of the person in the video.

Videos were evaluated based on their portrayal of positive body image themes such as body appreciation, a broad conceptualization of beauty, body acceptance/love, inner positivity, adaptive investment in body care, protective filtering of data in a body-protective manner, and fat acceptance. Appearance-focused themes such as weight loss, diet, exercise, clothing, and beauty appearance were also considered, along with other relevant themes.

Study findings

A total of 342 distinct TikTok videos were included in the sample, about 99% of which featured only one person, while 0.9% and 0.3% featured two and three people, respectively. Approximately 95% of the selected videos featured a woman, while only 4.1% featured a man.

About 69% of individuals in the TikTok videos were identified as White, 12.6% as Black or African American, 2.3% as Asian, 1.2% as Latino, 1% as Middle Eastern, and 13.5% as some other race.

Most people appeared to be between 15 and 20 years of age. Individuals in their 30s or 40s were uncommon in the videos.

The videos included 1.2% of 'underweight,' about 50% of 'normal' weight, about 27% of 'overweight,' and 5.2% of 'obese' individuals. Most people shown in the videos reflected cultural beauty standards to some degree.

Almost 68% of videos in the sample did not contain any body-positive image themes. Comparatively, 22.5% of individuals exhibited one positive body image theme, 8.2% exhibited two themes, 1.2% exhibited three positive body image themes, and 0.3% exhibited four body positivity themes.

About 17% of the videos featured the most prevalent body-positive theme of body acceptance and love. Nine videos depicted inner positivity, fat acceptance, protective filtering of data in a body-protective manner, broadly conceptualizing beauty, adaptive investment in body care, and body appreciation.

No significant association was observed between the inclusion of body positivity themes in videos and weight loss, exercise, clothing, beauty, thin praise, body or weight food shaming, or adherence to cultural beauty standards. Nevertheless, a notable correlation was observed between the presence of body-positivity themes and the level of objectification present, as none of the videos that contained body-positive themes included objectification.

Conclusions

TikTok body positivity videos were found to frequently depict Western beauty standards and featured young White women. These videos rarely explicited themes related to body positivity, objectifying content, negative appearance-focused themes, or contradictory messaging.

Taken together, the study findings indicate that TikTok's body-positive videos generally lack content that aligns with the body-positivity movement and seldom features appearance-focused messaging.

Journal reference:
  • Harriger, J. A., Wick, M. R., Sherline, C. M., & Kunz, A. L. (2023). The body positivity movement is not all that positive on TikTok: A content analysis of body positive TikTok videos. Body Image 46;256-264. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2023.06.003
Bhavana Kunkalikar

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Bhavana Kunkalikar

Bhavana Kunkalikar is a medical writer based in Goa, India. Her academic background is in Pharmaceutical sciences and she holds a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy. Her educational background allowed her to foster an interest in anatomical and physiological sciences. Her college project work based on ‘The manifestations and causes of sickle cell anemia’ formed the stepping stone to a life-long fascination with human pathophysiology.

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