Athletes within the Period of TikTok
As the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic begins, I have to think about the absolute madness of the past 12 months. In all the events that completely changed 2020 compared to previous years, the spread and newly discovered trust in social media has been profound. Especially the video app sensation from TikTok. This platform combines all of the previous elements of previous apps like the comedic randomness of Vine, the thirst traps of Instagram, and the interactive ability of Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
With this incredible movement, there have also been incredible consequences for the mental health, body image, and eating disorders of the users. What began as an opportunity to share, like, and create content as a form of entertainment in a state of mass isolation quickly turned into a competition for beauty, productivity, and general social acceptance in a community of strangers.
Women in sports had a unique battle with quarantine as their off-season never really resumed and the rise in social media consumption did not support their mental health and body image experiences. As an athlete, I expect my body to change and look different when I’m in season and out of season. I need different sizes of pants, bra sizes and even shirts for athletics during my peak season, both winter and spring. While I was expecting these changes, I didn’t expect the abrupt end of my track season in March 2020.
Like many athletes, I have struggled with body image for most of my life. I started in the competitive world of ballet and then switched to athletics, where certain body shapes are desirable over others. When the world was quarantined last year, I came straight out of my winter season with bulging muscles and confidence in my body. But over time, my muscles slowly began to deteriorate. To fill my time, I decided, like many others, to download TikTok, where I consumed video after video day in and day out and saw other, often smaller or “more in shape” girls throughout the app. Influencers like the D’Amelio sisters, Emma Chamberlain, Olivia Rodrigo, and so many others involuntarily launched a thin revolution that had nasty effects on thousands, if not millions, of women and girls who not only felt isolated from the pandemic, but rather also that her beauty now depended on her size.
Amidst this there was also a positive attitude towards health and body image. One of the most famous influencers to speak about her struggle with body image and social media is former USC volleyball player Victoria Garrick. Garrick has written tons of TikToks and Instagram posts, and even delivered a TED talk that unveiled the facade created by fitness influencers and models to promote an unhealthy and unreachable lifestyle with thigh gaps, six-packs, and thin arms. While the content of others and Garricks is often comforting, this movement was significantly less popular than the “What I Eat in a Day” videos, coupled with unprofessional diets and weight loss advice.
Constant use of social media in the early days of the quarantine has maintained a very strong presence even a year later. Women in sports often have problems with body image and social standards, as the women depicted in the media do not have the bodies of athletes, but the bodies of people with personal trainers, specially tailored diets and, frankly, drugs. Female athletes as a collective demographic battle with body image and eating disorders due to the female expectation of a woman’s body in connection with the need to compete in a grueling competition that requires the highest levels of physical strength and endurance.
My body got me through 20 years. In those 20 years, he managed to survive 14 years of ballet, roughly nine seasons, and a global pandemic. While we as athletes may have seen a negative drop in our levels of activity over the course of the pandemic, that doesn’t mean we need to trust ourselves, our bodies, and our abilities.