How Viral “Hot Girl” Rhetoric Harms Women Dealing With Real Illnesses

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Menstruation, sick and stomach ache with black woman in bedroom for indigestion, cramps and illness. Frustrated, gas and stress with girl on bed for constipation, bloating and intestine problems

“Hot girls have stomach issues” is emblazoned across a crop top in bubbly pink letters. If the shirt doesn’t spark joy for you, you can always try a mug, tastefully spackled with pastel gut flora, or maybe an understated tote bag stamped with the same phrase in a similarly plump typeface. In recent months, the quip has become so popular, it’s well on its way to becoming Gen Z’s “live, laugh, love.” But the joke doesn’t land quite as well when your hot girl stomach ache leads to full-on emergency surgery.

Such was the case for 26-year-old Madison Baloy. In a video she posted to TikTok in January, Baloy chronicles her recent journey with terminal stage four cancer. (Her doctors still aren’t 100-percent sure whether she has colon or ovarian cancer.) At the time of her diagnosis, Baloy says, her doctor identified 10 of Baloy’s maladies as cancer symptoms. “How many of these symptoms did I mistake for being something else?” she asks in the video. “Ten.”

Seven of them, she says, she chalked up to “being depressed and anxious.” The other three she attributed to being a hot girl. “Everybody on the internet told me that ‘hot girls have stomach aches,’ ‘hot girls have tummy issues,'” Baloy tells her TikTok viewers. But in her case: “hot girls have cancer.”

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Wrapped! #cancer #stageiv #stageivcancer #coloncancer #adenocarcinoma #bald #spotify #spotifywrapped

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It’s easy to fall for the hot girl narrative when the joke speaks to such a common issue. Per Harvard Medical School, 35 to 70 percent of people deal with gastrointestinal issues at some point in their life, and these numbers disproportionately affect women. A survey from the vitamin and supplement company Care/of with over one million respondents found that 72 percent of women polled said digestion was their biggest health concern in 2023. A 2023 survey conducted by the primary care network MDVIP in conjunction with the market firm Ipsos also discovered that 75 percent of women experience gastrointestinal symptoms “at least a few times a month,” compared to 57 percent of men.

So when Baloy, a young woman with bouts of gastric distress but no major medical history, first heard the sentence “hot girls have tummy issues,” she found comfort in it.

Baloy tells POPSUGAR that she struggled with her body image for much of her life. “I disliked my body for a really long time. I’m sure every woman probably believes that, at one point, they hated their body the most, but I had such a bad relationship with myself and how I looked,” she says. But then, she hears “hot girls have tummy issues” and the phrase resonates with her — she feels like she’s finally part of the in-crowd. “Whenever I heard that rhetoric and I found this space online with all of these women talking about that, I [was] like, I fit the fuck in.

Looking back, Baloy says one of the reasons she felt so drawn to the hot girl narrative is because she rarely saw mid-sized bodies like hers represented in mainstream media. “I didn’t see myself as hot. I didn’t see myself as beautiful,” she says. “This was the first time that I had an objective opinion on my attractiveness level, which was: ‘hot girls have stomach issues.'”

Baloy certainly isn’t alone in feeling relief at having found a tribe of like-minded (or, like-bodied) women — hence the popularity of “hot girls have IBS” merch. But while the phrase offers connection and reassurance to some, it may come at a cost. Two out of five women say they feel their health concerns aren’t taken seriously by their doctors. Women are also at a higher risk for misdiagnosis than men, and it takes women years longer to receive diagnoses for the same diseases. What happens when women who experience health issues come to feel like that’s just part of being a woman — that it’s “normal” (hot, even) to be in pain? At best, they begin to stifle their symptoms and learn to live with unnecessary pain. Other times, this trivialization may cause them to ignore a much more serious condition.

When she had her first stomach ache at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in June of 2022, Baloy had every reason to believe she was still in for a hot girl summer. “I was like, ‘Dude, I have to go to the bathroom [right] this second,'” she remembers telling her friends. “It would come on and it would feel like a cramp, but it would only last for 5, or maybe 10 seconds max, and then it would go away.”

In the months to come, the hot girl stomach issues became a constant, and Baloy realized she had also undergone an unintentional weight loss: 50 pounds over the course of a year — the kind of weight you might not notice at first, until your friends start to comment. “Everybody on the internet said that hot girls had tummy aches . . . I thought I was having a glow up,” Baloy says.

“If I could feel what ‘hot girls have tummy issues’ made me feel, I wanted it.”

It was the kind of weight loss Baloy used to pray for. “I was like, ‘I would do anything. I’ll take anything. I would sign a deal with the devil if it meant that I could be thin,'” she says. “Even if I wasn’t thin, if I could feel what ‘hot girls have tummy issues’ made me feel, I wanted it.”

In February of 2023, Baloy’s body started to shut down. She made an impromptu trip to urgent care after noticing sensory issues like light and sound sensitivity; the doctor she saw at the clinic sent her to the ER. Baloy’s CT scan lit up, and she suddenly found herself signing papers for emergency colorectal surgery.

“The side of my intestine was compressed in — it looked like it was almost imploding somehow,” she says. “At the time, everybody was under the same impression as me, like, ‘You don’t have fucking cancer.’ Because aside from the stomach aches, I was totally physically able-bodied.”

After surgery, Baloy received a stage four cancer diagnosis. “I didn’t really feel that sick. That’s what was getting me,” she says. Now, when Baloy tells her story to over 300K followers on TikTok (97 percent of which are women), she encourages them to avoid normalizing pain and take their health concerns seriously.

As Baloy continues to spread awareness, she reflects on her time in the hot girl club. On the one hand, it gave her confidence; she once convinced herself she had a tapeworm and invited strangers at the bar to name it just to break the ice. But she also sees how the mentality allowed her to prolong behavior she wasn’t yet willing to quit. “My sickness became kind of addicting for me before I knew it was cancer,” she says. “Because I didn’t have an eating disorder — I had ‘hot girls have stomach issues.'”

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