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Opinion — Viral beauty trends on TikTok have gone too far

Social media is adept at consistently making us question whether or not our appearance meets an extremely high standard, all while continuing to shove algorithmic ‘sameness’ down our throats. Isn’t it time we stopped letting the Internet dictate the way we perceive our facial anatomy?

Thred Media
4 min readFeb 8, 2024

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Ever since TikTok took over during the pandemic, it’s bolstered the influence of already-problematic beauty standards, bringing a slew of hugely unattainable ideals with it.

Whether it be the shameless lack of transparency surrounding cosmetic procedures, the toxic anti-ageing rhetoric, or creators using filters that have evolved to be so convincing we find ourselves wondering what anyone actuallylooks like anymore, this kind of content has transformed social media into a catalyst for deep insecurity.

While I’m pretty good at recognising my own triggers and putting down my phone when doubt starts to creep in, impressionable young people (who spend an average of two hours on TikTok a day) may not be as well-equipped.

The stats speak for themselves.

From April to October 2021, the NHS saw UK hospital admissions for anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders in teenagers rise by 41 per cent, a spike that experts claim is linked to the pandemic pushing most of our lives online.

According to Dove, 50 per cent of girls believe ‘they don’t look good enough without photo editing’ and 60 per cent ‘feel upset when their real appearance doesn’t match the digital version.’

More recently, a study from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that limiting screen-time is a sure-fire means of preventing ourselves from developing the poor body image and damaging behaviours that go hand-in-hand with extensive social media use (which, of course, is no surprise).

‘Youth are spending on average, between six to eight hours per day on screens, much of it on social media,’ says the report’s lead author, Dr Gary Goldfield of the CHEO Research Institute.

‘Social media exposes users to hundreds or even thousands of photos every day, including those of celebrities and fashion or fitness models, which leads to an internalisation of beauty ideals that are unattainable for almost everyone, resulting in greater dissatisfaction with body weight and shape.’

But I’m not here to talk at length about something we’ve been acutely aware of for years. Instead, I’d like to focus on the ‘survival of the prettiest’ culture that TikTok is currently fostering despite this awareness.

Are you cat pretty (sharp, defined features), bunny pretty (soft, round features), deer pretty (delicate, graceful features), or fox pretty (elongated, seductive features)?’, a robotic voice asks me, as part of the latest trend to go viral on the app, through the speaker of my phone.

It’s worth mentioning that this is aimed towards women specifically, with men given an option between ‘eagle handsome,’ ‘bear handsome,’ ‘reptilian handsome,’ or ‘dog handsome.’

This conceivably accusatory question forces the viewer to regard their facial anatomy in a way they wouldn’t ordinarily feel obliged to — with a ranking system that excludes (as usual) those who fall outside of the narrow unwritten definitions of beauty society has established.

Not only does hierarchically (fox being the most preferable, bunny the least) categorising people into four reductive archetypes of hot, cute, pretty, and sexy scream ‘male gaze,’ but it additionally indicates that some of us are more desirable than others.

I needn’t explain why this is an issue, just that my primary concern is that it’s driving social media users to obsessively fixate on how to alter their appearances in order to meet the standards of the moment.

This is futile, considering one minute it’s canthal tilts and the next it’s buccal fat pad removals. TikTok is — and will continue to — promote algorithmic sameness well beyond any passing trend or temporary norm.

‘TikTok trend cycles are attempting to remain on the cutting edge of uniqueness, while flattening all forms of individuality,’ writes Caitlyn Clark for Dazed.

After all, type ‘the most beautiful face in the world,’ into AI image-generator DALL-E, and a uniform group of cyborgians will stare back at you — much like the ‘youthful face with poreless skin, high cheekbones, catlike eyes, cartoonish lashes, a small, neat nose, and full, lush lips,’ that Jia Tolentino describes as being our IRL ideal in The New Yorker.

So, why on Earth are we selling ourselves short by buying into the illusion of variety when we’re still being encouraged to homogenously look snatched, glossy, and symmetrical?!

‘Beauty standards are the products of patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism,’ explains critic Jessica DeFino.

‘What social media sells isn’t actually beauty, but diet culture’s face-focused fraternal twin.’

Building on this is body image researcher at UWE, Dr Nadia Craddock, who says that ‘the fact these standards change over time means we could invest endless time, money, and energy trying to achieve one aesthetic only for that aesthetic to become passé. The goal posts are constantly moving.’

In other words, not subscribing to the falsification of diversity and seeing with clear eyes that attractiveness has progressed into assimilation is no easy feat when it’s shoved down our throats as slyly as it is on TikTok, where pretty privilege is broken down into deceptively silly little games, hidden beneath layers of memetic insincerity.

I guess we have no choice but to take the APA’s advice and log off.

Originally written by Sofia Phillips for Thred.

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