TikTok Is Rebranding Body Checks, but That Doesn’t Make Them Any Less Harmful

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“Body checking” — you may have seen the phrase recently in the comments of ‘fit checks, GRWMs, or “what I eat in a day” TikToks, often thrown out as an accusation toward the creator. The term refers to behaviors that people use to gain feedback about the size of their body. A “body check” might involve weighing oneself, touching or pinching parts of one’s body, or fixating on a certain body part while looking at oneself in a mirror — or, increasingly, while filming oneself with a phone.

The concept of body checking isn’t new. While the behaviors exist on a spectrum, we know body checking can be harmful, leading to or reinforcing body image issues and even disordered eating. For instance, research in the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that body checking is strongly related to body image dissatisfaction and eating disorder pathology.

But experts say that social media content showing body checking can harm viewers, too, which is why the existence of body checking on TikTok is worth paying attention to. While we may pretend we’re well past the age of Tumblr-era “thinspo,” the phenomenon raises the question of whether we’ve really learned our lesson at all.

What Body Checking Looks Like on TikTok

On TikTok, body checking is so normalized, it almost feels organic. Anyone can body check, regardless of body size, and once you start looking for it, you see the behaviors in all sorts of different videos. It’s the food influencer lifting up their pajamas to examine their stomach in a “what I eat in a day” or “make my post-workout smoothie with me” video. It’s your comfort creator closely surveying themselves in a full-body shot as they talk to you while getting ready for the grocery store. It’s the fitfluencer zooming in and out on their thighs while bopping their heads to the background music at their gym.

‘Fit checks are among the biggest culprits. The setup gives an influencer plausible deniability: who’s to say the subtly lifted shirt or lingering zooms on specific body parts aren’t done in the name of fashion? And while there is a gray area, in some instances impressionable viewers are being given a better check of the creator’s body than their actual outfit. When coupled with a bit of undisclosed video editing, seemingly harmless content becomes an issue — for both the viewer and the creator.

“The way we’re seeing body checks today is when somebody sets up a camera, they’re wearing a basic-ass outfit, and they turn to the side and they’re looking their body up and down and eyeing how skinny they look,” says content creator 1araquinn in a video about body checking. “Everybody does it. The issue is when it’s posted online. Because then you go to the comments, and it’s flooded with teenage girls, young girls posting, ‘Well I didn’t need to eat today anyway.'”

To 1araquinn’s point: many of us are guilty of occasionally body checking in private, and the behavior alone isn’t inherently dangerous or concerning (although it’s often linked to body image issues, and it’s worth paying attention to). But influencers and content creators with millions of young followers have a responsibility to acknowledge the harm that can be caused by publicly posting body checks, particularly when those checks are disguised as innocuous content.

When it comes to working against fatphobia and even striving toward body liberation, progress can only be made if we’re willing to be honest about our intentions and more mindful about the kind of content we’re putting out into the world. Considering the fact that we know body checking can be harmful, it’s worth asking creators to ask themselves: Are you body checking, even unconsciously? And is there a way to film your ‘fit check, GRWM, DIML, recipe, or other content without it?

The harm we’re talking about isn’t just anecdotal. In a 2023 study of 296 college-age women published in The Journal of Social Media in Society, researchers found that body-checking videos led to higher levels of body dissatisfaction and increased negative feelings compared to people who watched body-positivity videos or videos without people in them at all. A 2022 study in the journal Body Image found that more TikTok use related to higher levels of body dissatisfaction — even among people who are also exposed to body-positive content. While the study authors didn’t name hidden body checks as a potential cause, it stands to reason that seeing content that glorifies certain body types over and over can lead to self-consciousness and worse. What’s more, a 2023 study in Body Image found that only 17 percent of TikTok videos that were purportedly about body positivity actually included body-positive themes — a demonstration of how little TikTok content actually delivers on its intended message, be it an informational video about body inclusion or a ‘fit check.

TikTok and other forms of social media are inherently visual, and that can lead to an increased focus on appearance, body image included. But while it’s natural to care about what your body looks like, if social media is making you feel worse about yourself, it may be time to take a step back — especially if your anxiety, unhappiness, or worry is interfering with your normal mood or ability to participate in your regular life.

We may have given body checking a rebrand, but it’s still all around us, and it harms both body checkers and viewers in the long run. TikTok itself seems to acknowledge that reality; when you search “body check” in the app, a message pops up offering information about eating disorders, including how to contact the National Alliance For Eating Disorders. But creators also need to accept responsibility over their content, understand the consequences of body checking, and be more conscious about the videos they create. Because at the end of the day, a ‘fit check should be about the clothes . . . not the bodies wearing them.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for POPSUGAR Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group.

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