TikTok trends come and go, while some are light and fun, others are more sinister, leaving issues associated with them lingering long after the fad fades. Recently, body checking has been trending on TikTok. Some people overtly call out the term while others discreetly do body checking behaviors. In response to this phenomenon, TikTok has made it more challenging to find body checking content on the app. When you search the term “body checking” on the app resources for eating disorders and a message saying “You’re not alone” pops up in place of videos. We talked to experts about what body checking really means, why it’s more prevalent right now and how to ease yourself out of it.
What is body checking?
“Body checking is examining your shape, weight and different parts of your body compulsively,” explains realistic body therapist Zeynep Demirelli. The act of checking can be done in a variety of ways, “like stepping on the scale every day, taking pictures, looking in the mirror, touching/pinching one’s skin or looking at one’s reflection on the window of a shop while walking on the street,” says Demirelli. She notes that it diverges from the casual “let me see how I look” glances we’re all prone to. Body checking “is done frequently, obsessively, and there is usually fixation on specific body parts.”
Psychologist and NYU School of Medicine professor Rachel Goldman, PhD, who specializes in health behavior change, notes that, like most things, body checking falls on a continuum. “While this behavior is common and can happen at any time throughout the day, for instance, when you are walking past a mirror or see a reflection of yourself, this behavior can also be problematic,” she warns. When the behavior becomes something that you’re seeking out on a more regular basis and feels like something you “need to do” and results in anxiety, those are signs that it may be unhealthy, says Dr. Goldman.
How have TikTok and other social media platforms contributed to the prevalence of body checking?
“Social media has many positive attributes, but unfortunately there are also downsides, and in particular these platforms can bring up a lot of comparisons for people, make them feel bad about themselves and encourage them to do something that is not healthy,” says Dr. Goldman. Demirelli notes that most social media platforms showcase the entire body, but none quite as much as TikTok, where the videos feature dance challenges, outfits of the day and weight loss transformations. “These trends that keep showing up on social media platforms are encouraging people to participate in these behaviors, which are also putting an added focus on one’s body, shape and size,” adds Dr. Goldman.
Demirelli says these kinds of videos can leave viewers feeling self-conscious and more inclined to do body checks. “At first look, these videos may appear innocent, but they are actually body checks in disguise. They make us feel as if someone is holding a mirror in front of us, continuously reminding us of how we look,” she says.
How can someone break the habit of body checking?
“We’re trying to encourage people to be more body neutral—taking the focus off of one’s appearance and rather on all that our amazing bodies do for us,” says Dr. Goldman. “Unfortunately, these trends are not helping and rather are only contributing to diet culture.” She says the first step is acknowledging that you want to stop. “This is a huge first step. When we identify something isn’t working for us, we want to make a change,” says Dr. Goldman.
Then work towards becoming aware every time you do a body check. “Like any behavior, the more we do something, the more automatic it becomes. Someone may not even realize they’re participating in this behavior multiple times a day,” says Dr. Goldman. You can keep track of this through some self-monitoring, like jotting down every time you participate in body checking. “What would also be helpful would be to write down how you’re feeling when you do it. The point of this exercise is to become aware of how often you are doing it and how it’s impacting your daily life.” Once you have some of your patterns jotted down, Demirelli suggests trying to identify any potential triggers to avoid.
Once you have a better understanding of your habits, you can start questioning your body checking. Dr. Goldman suggests asking yourself, “What am I looking for when I do this? What was I expecting? Did something change since the last time? What would happen if I didn’t participate in this behavior? And was it helpful to/not to body check?” She recommends finding an alternate behavior to participate in during that time. “Maybe something distracting and/or maybe even something that you enjoy doing to slowly substitute the behaviors,” she says.
“The key isn’t to completely avoid body checking, but to minimize it, especially if it’s impacting your life,” says Dr. Goldman. “Remind yourself that any behavior change can take time, so be patient and kind to yourself.” If you need a more detailed guide, Demirelli walks us through the steps of journaling about body checking. First, provide a brief description of the situation. “An example could be ‘I was watching a show and having breakfast.’”
Then list your stream of thoughts. (“Wow, Rachel is wearing a nice dress in this episode. She looks very good, very skinny. Why don’t I look like that? My body is awful. Why am I eating this anyway? Am I bloated? Let me check.”) Write down any emotions accompanying these thoughts and rate the intensity of these emotions. (“I feel insecure, like a failure. I am ashamed of my body. I worry that I am inadequate.”) Work to create a healthy alternative thought: (“She is an actress who does this as her job. Everybody is different. An actress looking skinny does not mean I am inadequate. If I do a body check, I will most likely feel even worse about myself. Let’s not do that.”)