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Tik Tok and Lookism

Serena Mao

In 2020, we’d like to think that we’re more tolerant and welcoming of diversity. Indeed, we’ve made monumental progress in the inclusion of people of all genders, religions, and races. The one area we still seem to struggle with, however, is lookism.

We hear it all the time: that we don’t need to compare ourselves to others, that every body is beautiful, that acne is natural. Beyond these ersatz cliches, there exists little to no tangible improvement regarding our implicit biases when it comes to physical appearances.

The epitome of our blatant lookism can be witnessed on TikTok, a newly popular social media site where users post short videos, receive likes, and gain a following. Unlike other platforms, it is especially easy to go viral on TikTok due to the little effort required in each video, the prevalence of established trends and the ability for new users to appear on the “For You page.” As a result, TikTok is the optimal platform to observe trends in people’s preferences and likings, as almost anyone with a cellphone can effortlessly rise to the top. 

Although it is easy to assume that so-called TikTokers with the most creative content, such a belief is naive. After scrolling through the app for a sufficient amount of time, it is clear that those who commonly appear on the For You page or gain large followings often fit society’s beauty standards. Even though the app has Asian origins, the creators boasting millions of followers are mostly white and nearly all fit the societal standards of beauty. Many possess attributes such as a skinny body, flawless makeup, and carefully planned outfits. 

By contrast, other social media platforms such as Youtube do not exhibit as strong a trend. Because Youtube videos are long, they must be well thought out and original for viewers to subscribe, making physical appearances much less of a factor. With TikTok, the inherently shorter videos mean that users’ preferences are less based off of content. For other platforms like Facebook and Reddit, the explanation for the lack of lookism is even more obvious––users rarely see the creator’s face. 

But what about apps like Instagram and VSCO, where the fundamental purpose of the app is to show aesthetically pleasing images? Shouldn’t lookism be more prevalent there? The answer is that yes, but there’s a catch. Since it is overwhelmingly obvious that the purpose of the images are to appeal to the user’s eyes, it is known that lookism is an issue that today’s society desires to address. Thus, purposeful steps are taken to combat this seemingly glaring lookism, with models posting makeup-free selfies or pictures with their cellulite to indicate that lookism is an issue to be combated. People also feel more self conscious following models due to their appearances because revealing that they did so makes it obvious that they are committing an act of lookism. 

Due to this paradox, the underlying lookism on TikTok is even greater. Although the substance aspect of TikTok is minimal, it is enough to act as a veil for lookism. In other words, people can claim they follow a certain creator due to their content, when it is actually because their physical appearance is appealing. As a result, lookism finds a convenient hiding place behind this weak argument of “substance.” However, this judgement based on appearance doesn’t always lurk in the darkness––thirsty comments and suggestive videos already throw lookism out in the open for teens to embrace. Sometimes, even videos with absolutely no effort go viral solely due to the creator’s looks. These peculiarities only serve to bolster the suspicion that lookism is ever so prevalent. 

Even as society progresses with tolerance, safe havens like TikTok that allow lookism to breed under the guise of entertainment continue to drag us behind. It is imperative to peel away the outer layers of judgement and scrutinize the underlying structural problems with our ways of thinking in order to avoid moving forward complacently. 

About Serena Mao

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