Gut instincts: TikTok users fight traditional beauty standards by showing off their bellies

November 5, 2020

At the end of August, Brooklynne Webb, 16, posted a video to TikTok of herself pulling down the waistband of her leggings to show off her relaxed belly alongside three others doing the same.

Then the trolls began to comment: “She needs to drop some calories,” a user named Peepings wrote.

Initially, the comments hurt Brooklynne’s feelings, and she worried that the remarks could affect her followers who struggled with their own body images.

“I was thinking … ‘how are the other people who are watching my videos and seeing these comments feeling about their bodies?’ Brooklynne, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, told NBC News in an interview.

Instead of taking the video down, Brooklynne decided she’d post another TikTok. In her next video, she held a red Slurpee beneath a screen grab of the comment about her weight. Then, the video cut to Brooklynne, again showing off her belly, dancing and grinning widely.

For every trolling comment made about her body, Brooklynne posted another video  of herself, joyfully dancing with her belly out beneath the hateful message. Since the end of August, the videos of Brooklynne dancing with her bare midriff have been viewed about 200 million times.

“The best way that I could think about approaching it was to stand there and smile and say, ‘This is who I am.’ It doesn’t matter what size I am. I’m perfect just the way I am,” she said.

The “ body out” movement could mark a shift in how TikTok affects some users’ body images.

Teens have reported that TikTok has warped their perceptions of their bodies. However, more recently, users like Brooklynne have started movements to normalize all body types and shapes to dispel harmful beauty standards. Women and girls joyfully showing off their relaxed, unaltered stomachs has become a sweeping trend on the platform in recent weeks. Experts said the trend could help young people re-evaluate beauty standards and adjust expectations of what their bodies should look like.

“They’re showing what a normal body looks like, and none of us are really used to seeing that in the media. … When we see these sorts of videos online, social media, they’re kind of breaking the illusion that everyone is perfect except us,” said Charlotte Markey, a professor of Psychology and Health Sciences at Rutgers University and author of The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.

Those who spoke to NBC News said they feel images on social media platforms like Instagram can perpetuate unrealistic body standards and may even be altered to perpetuate unattainable beauty standards. But because TikTok is video-based, showing an unaltered body in motion on it feels more true to life, participants said, and it lets them show their bodies more honestly.

“It makes me feel super, super genuinely happy,” Brooklynne said of seeing the movement grow on TikTok. “It makes me feel like social media and this social construct of bodies is starting to change to be overall more positive and loving and accepting.”

Traditionally, Markey said, social media presented an opportunity for users to show perfected and sometimes manipulated images of themselves, perpetuating a potentially harmful beauty standard, but she said Generation Z has begun to set more realistic standards.

“I do think that Gen Z has really started to push back against that, and we see a different, more empowered moment on social media where young people are saying, like: ‘I’m not going to spend all this time trying to make myself look perfect for you. Here’s my belly. … I don’t really care,'” Markey said.

Research contact: @NBCNews

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