14 Jun TIKTOK AS TUMBLR, TUMBLR AS ED FUEL
content warning: contains discussions of disordered eating and body dysmorphia.
On tumblr at 14, tucked among my reblogs of Arctic Monkeys’s style GIFs and dreamy pictures of van camping (my blog style was a combo of wannabe edge and boho fantasy, so the complete opposite of my preppy life at school) were photos of girls starving themselves. I guess they blended in because for most of my child and pre-teen existence, every body I saw reflected on magazines and on TV was skinny. It could be bony or toned or just slim, but it was skinny. (It was also, 9.5/10 times, white.)
But these girls! These tumblr girls were my age. That was the difference. They were girls with blogs like I had, who went to school like I did. I remember being especially excited about a girl who had the same birthday as mine. And they were thin. They were pretty. They had thigh gaps and big eyes and tiny waists and pronounced cheekbones and they could fit into Abercrombie and Hollister– something I couldn’t do because at the age of 13 my body expanded to carry my weight in my stomach and thighs. This was the difference between me and the pretty thin tumblr girls. I took up space, and I would have given anything to instead disappear.
For most of high school, I examined these posts with macabre interest; how did those girls get like that? How could someone make themselves that tiny around the waist? I remember there was a black and white photo of Kate Moss, the ultra-famous supermodel I had literally never heard of before tumblr, smoking a cigarette in a slinky black dress, collarbones popping, with her even more infamous quote plastered over it: nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. It was reblogged over and over and over again.
But being skinny, as I researched and tried to only eat fruit in a day, did not taste good. Girls posted with pride about only consuming water but when I tried to, my head throbbed and my mouth felt dry. I saw, buried in the pro-ana, pro-mia tags, people talk about their recovery: how they felt their hair start to feel less brittle, their nails get healthier, their skin go from grey to pink. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
I’m 21 now. I’ve found ways of movement that make me feel happy and strong, I’ve learned to cook healthy meals. I’ve found (surprise surprise!) that eating a brownie doesn’t make me a failure. My own struggles with my body have come and gone but I’ve tried to make the effort to focus on the positive, and I’ve found that most days, it works.
Then comes quarantine and with it, a new interest in the app that’s already risen through the younger generation to finally reach me, an almost geriatric child of the internet at 21: Tik Tok. With its addicting never-ending scroll, it reminded me of Vine, and the cool dances or funny videos quickly became an addiction and source of quick entertainment, especially while in quarantine.
But with it came the underbelly I had once been familiar with: the ultra skinny (but this time with bigger bums and thighs, à la Kardashian) underage or barely legal Tik Tok girls who belly danced for the cameras, the comments filled with “skinny legend!” or “well I wasn’t going to eat today anyways” or “my fat-ass wishes”.
I felt like I had smash cut to being back in my bedroom as a teenager. The superstar of the app, Charli d’Amelio, recently clapped-back on Twitter about how so many people had commented on her body and the possibility of her gaining weight, saying that “it was not their place to comment”. She didn’t post her usual dance-style content for 3 days afterwards. She is 15 years old.
If you search for “ed” on Tik Tok, no warning like the one tumblr ended up installing on their site pops up. Sure, you’ll see videos of people talking about recovery, but you’ll also find videos of girls happily dancing with the caption “when everyone believes I already ate today, so I can skip meals”, or “ed friends let’s confuse the normies!” with pictures of rice cakes over a pulsating rap beat.
As terrifying as it is, it makes sense that this content would be created. Although more bodies are viewed as beautiful in the media, we still equate thinness to beauty, and that mindset is reflected in the content teenagers create. In a study done by Park Nicollet Melrose Centre, a centre dedicated to eating disorder recovery, they found that “53% of 13 year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. This number grows to 78% by the time girls reach 17”.
Maybe it’s not about thigh gaps anymore, but it’s about achieving a body type that is almost unachievable for the average person. It’s the content that shows that you can’t be successful or popular or happy or get a partner or have friends if you don’t look that way. It’s the content that tells you that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
I could tell you a million things that taste better; the feeling of finishing a long portage on a canoe trip, of laughing with your friends at a bar, of eating food that makes your soul sing, but ultimately it’s up to you to go and find them for yourself. I hope that whatever it is, you find it, and you eat it to your heart’s content.