Aisha* is sitting at a cafe waiting for her friend to arrive. As she often does when she’s alone, Aisha opens up the TikTok app on her phone to pass the time. The familiar logo flashes on her screen as she waits for the app to load. She scrolls once to skip the sponsored advert that comes up on her screen and the first video that greets her on her For You Page (FYP) is of a woman in her early 20s wearing athleisure. Aisha’s fingers hover over the video as she deliberates whether to scroll past but the words “Here’s how I got rid of my hip-dips” written in bold catch her attention. The woman flexes her slim, muscular figure. With a catchy, upbeat tune playing in the background, the woman proceeds to tell Aisha that the secret to eliminating hip-dips is to heal your gut and to find out what your hormone imbalances are. Aisha was intrigued; it was the first time she had ever heard the term “hip-dip” in her life.
Later that day, Aisha stands in front of the mirror in her bedroom examining her body and poking the slight indentations at the side of her body. She opens up the TikTok app for the third time that evening and navigates towards the search bar. Her search history includes the terms:
“What are hip dips”
“heal your gut to get rid of hip-dips”
“how to get rid of hip dips”.
She starts typing the following words into the search bar: “hip dips surgery”.
TikTok is good at many things, but perhaps it’s best at putting a name to things you didn’t know there was a word for. ‘Hip-dips’ are a great example, this refers to a hip shape that many TikTok users have deemed an insecurity. If you haven’t heard of hip-dips, you can count yourself lucky because similar to cellulite, bingo wings, and skin pores, hip dips burst onto the scene as a previously unheard of insecurity that needs to be fixed with absolute urgency.
At the time of writing this article, the hashtag #hipdips on TikTok has 1.1 billion views with the most popular of these videos being on the topic of embracing your insecurities. Not long ago, the term “hip-dips” was seldom ever heard, but now within a few months, TikTok went from populating the app with videos about hip-dips to creating solutions, and now embracing the “insecurity”. Why is there, all of a sudden, a surge in content surrounding hip-dips? Why have we reached a stage where compilations of “celebrities with hip-dips” are getting millions of views? And why does it feel like the algorithm is trying to get us to embrace our hips when we weren’t the ones with the problem in the first place?
The recurring joke on social media is that you can open TikTok and lose hours on the app without realising. Partially due to the solitary nature of scrolling on the For You Page (FYP), the TikTok experience is unlike any other social platform. On the one hand, TikTok encourages you to feel connected to the content you consume by creating small pockets of communities that can feel like friends. The actual experience is extremely isolated, with users scrolling on the FYP for hours without interacting with a single other user of the app, just consuming content.
Users often describe TikTok as a private story that is ironically extremely public, unlike other platforms the media you upload to the platform can be seen by any user (on their FYP) if the algorithm decides.
While Twitter is known as the social media platform that thrives on its users’ readiness and willingness to share their thoughts, opinions, and views to the public, TikTok creates a false sense of security amongst its users. The feeling of “we’re all friends here”, share your opinions and the algorithm rewards you with viewers that agree, relate, and more importantly; ready to comment and share their similar stories. “We’re all friends here”, even if you don’t upload, liking and engaging with content feeds the algorithm and as a viewer, you’re rewarded with more content that is all too relatable.
But what happens when the algorithm feeds you a video of someone who looks like you sharing their discontent with the way they look? Maybe you scroll past, but what if this video was part of a larger trend that dominates your FYP? Before you can realise it, there are countless videos on your FYP of people who look like you taking the steps to change the way they look.
Another seemingly regular body part that is extensively discussed as an insecurity that needs fixing is hyperpigmentation. While hyperpigmentation has been a topic of conversation in skincare communities for a long time, TikTok has taken the conversation to a whole new level by not only suggesting that there is a medical cause for hyperpigmentation but also that the only way to fix it is facial/derma fillers. This is a common occurrence on TikTok, where every obscure “insecurity” is actually caused by an underlying health problem and has a fix that involves a lot of effort, and/or lifestyle changes, and likely a cosmetic procedure that will cost you.
Bloating, similarly, isn’t a new insecurity or topic of discussion, however, the rise in popularity of ‘heal your gut’ and natural remedies for bloating is a cause for concern. Users, but particularly content creators, on the app regularly recommend at-home remedies such as the now widely popular ‘internal shower’, a homemade natural laxative. These remedies for bloating are framed as healthy, however, they are reminiscent of the flat tummy teas that have been scientifically proven to not work and in some cases, even cause harm. Tummies and bellies do not exist on many corners of TikTok, it’s all just bloat and inflammation which can be healed by healing your gut, alternatively non-surgical liposuction.
The list of normal, everyday body features and quirks that are seen as insecurities or health/fitness problems is ever-growing. Currently, people are talking about armpit concealer and double lip lines, I’m sure by next week they’ll be talking about new “insecurities” that TikTok’s algorithm will no doubt feed to its users in the form of relatable videos via their tailored FYPs.
The main problem with how TikTok conversations about these insecurities occur is the underlying pressure for people with these insecurities to change the way they look. Scrolling through the app it isn’t uncommon to see hacks, tips & tricks, and guides on how to get rid of all too common body “problems” and features. “Here’s how I got rid of armpit hyperpigmentation using glycolic acid” or “If you want to reduce joint pain, increase flexibility, and get rid of hip dips, try pilates” are just two common openers for videos on TikTok when addressing current body and beauty trends.
The repackaging of toxic beauty standards into a health and wellness issue hasn’t gone unnoticed. Glycolic acid is recommended by many beauty gurus and influencers on the app, however, many dermatologists have warned people against using the product as a deodorant or to combat hyperpigmentation. Dr Vanita Rattan has said that using glycolic acid on your underarms directly can lead to burns and an increase in hyperpigmentation if you’re not careful. So why do we constantly see these hacks being pushed on us as something that is “good for you” using health and sometimes even medical terms? If healing yourself was tradable, TikTok would gift-wrap it in a feel good trending song.
You could spend all day debunking TikTok health advice but the fast paced trend cycle on TikTok means that the beauty hacks of today are not the ones of tomorrow. While it can be easy to fall into the trap of repackaged toxic beauty standards, it’s important to take any advice you see on social media with a pinch of salt. Anyone can post advice online but on platforms like TikTok where there is little to no interaction with other users, watching videos on how to “improve” your life by changing the way you look can hit closer to home.
Feeling connected to creators that regularly appear on your FYP can trap users into feeling a false sense of security and familiarity which can negatively impact viewers when they come across this type of content.
There is no easy solution to this problem, however, as Muslim women it’s important to remember that our bodies are an Amannah and we have a duty of care to look after them. While advice like the ones highlighted in this article are commonplace on a platform like TikTok, it has always existed in magazines, comments from people “in real life” and even other platforms like Instagram. Ultimately, reminding yourself that your body is your responsibility and taking care of it is your duty is a good way to help you not fall into these traps.
*Name has been changed
Sara is a student and writer based in London trying to make a living from being chronically online. Sara’s writing focuses on the intersections between health & wellbeing, communities, and urban environments. She is also intrigued by internet culture and “performed identity” in online spaces. Sara has bylines in Amaliah, Refinery29, Metro Opinion, and gal-dem.