Tackling the toxic body checking trend

Recent TikTok trends create a struggle for those with body image issues. Graphic by Haley Morkert.

GENEVIEVE KARUTZ | OPINION COLUMNIST | gkarutz@butler.edu

Content warning: Discussions of body image, body checking and body dysmorphia.

The second I tried on my dress for prom, I knew it was perfect. The long, sparkly silver dress caught my eye immediately. I felt beautiful and confident in a way I never really felt on a daily basis. But at the prom, everything changed.

While I was dancing with friends, a girl loudly pointed out in front of everyone how “boney” I looked in my dress — the dress I had altered to fit me just right. The comment stung bitterly. I was surrounded by laughter from everyone who heard it. My heart dropped, and my whole body just wanted to crumple up. I felt humiliated. 

Someday I might forget who she was or exactly what she said, but what I won’t forget is the awful feeling I felt in that moment: feeling ashamed of my own body.

I really struggled with body insecurity after hearing that. I would stare at my body in the mirror uncontrollably. I would measure my body parts and write the sizes of my waist, hips and chest down in the notes app on my phone.

Little did I know at the time that what I was experiencing has a name: body checking.

Broadly speaking, body checking is when a person examines their body shape or weight compulsively. According to Healthline, it can range from “completely avoiding looking at [one’s] body, to casual checking as part of your preparations for the day, to compulsive and anxious check-and-check-again behavior loops.”

When I read this definition, I immediately knew which category I fell under. I compulsively check my body everywhere: in mirrors, in window reflections and even in random photos in my camera roll. I spent hours posing for photos so I could find the angles that made my body look the most conventionally attractive. I body checked so often that even my own mother commented on it.

Body checking trends featured online are adversely affecting many viewers like me. When it comes to TikTok videos, I’ve seen body checking take on a variety of forms, from people showing how far they can fit their hands around their waist while wearing a corset to men seeing if they can drink a bottle of water with their arm around a woman’s waist and butt.

Such trends bother me because unlike when I would simply stare at my body in the mirror, these videos aim to set standards for the “dream body” on a public platform. These trends, like the water bottle trend, also target and objectify women. Oh wow, surprise, women being pressured to fit a certain body standard on the internet. But seriously, these videos are not worth your time. They all focus on body size and shape — over-emphasizing the importance of how our bodies look — which gets exhausting after a while.

According to Butler psychology professor Dr. Tara Lineweaver, many of the images we see in magazines, on social media or on TV set unrealistic body expectations. She believes this could make it really hard for people to feel good about how they look.

“I think one of the things that we have to realize is every body is different, and every body changes pretty consistently from day to day,” Lineweaver said. “Your body might look different from hour to hour, your weight might change, but that doesn’t mean that there’s something substantially different about you as a person.”

All of the various unrealistic expectations help build up the groundwork for why people feel the need to body check in the first place.

Lauren Zimmerman, a junior dance performance major, describes the perfect example of body checking to be when a group of girls get ready to go out and they all want to take pictures in the “skinny mirror.” She recalls wanting to throw out a mirror last year in her sorority house because it was a “fat mirror.” The “skinny mirror” refers to mirrors that — for whatever reason — seem to make you look skinnier, and “fat mirrors” allegedly do the opposite. 

“We’ll make jokes that we want that mirror to follow us around wherever we go,”  Zimmerman said.

Moments like this reinforce the idea that being fat is a bad thing. It also promotes a very binary way of perceiving bodies, promoting the idea that you can only be fat or skinny. It’s this common misconception that leads to so many people developing eating disorders or engaging in unhealthy practices like body checking.

However, there are many videos on the Internet that promote self-love. These videos may focus on someone’s body, yet they are not body checking. 

Why? Because body checking is all about the intent. It doesn’t matter what size or how conventionally attractive a person is, what matters is the message. Body checking is not about confidence and accepting oneself. It is about tearing down others by promoting an ideal body standard.

To determine if someone is body checking, it’s important to view the context of the social media post and judge it from there. If someone is trying a tight dress and is looking to see how it fits, that’s probably not body checking. But if someone were posing or showing off how far they can suck their stomach in, that would be another story. Distinguishing between these different types of posts is important to make sure we don’t accuse someone for body checking aimlessly.

Intent can be difficult to interpret at times. If the person seems to be trying to push a certain standard, it most likely is body checking. An example of this could be seen when I was called boney by the girl at prom. She body checked me in that instance, and her comment suggested that I did not have a certain desirable “look.”

However, if a person is just wanting to show off their new outfit they bought at the mall, it’s probably not body checking.

Being cognizant of how and why body checking occurs can help you notice body checking in everyday life. A common misconception is that body checking is a new concept, but that’s not true. Body checking has existed for years.

I can think back to early 2011-12, when thigh gaps and being as thin as possible was promoted by the media. Girls on my bus would play a game where they would wrap their hands around someone’s wrist and if their hands fit around, the girl was declared skinny. If not, the girl was considered fat. This game had the hostile intent of trying to teach girls that being anything besides skinny is a bad thing, which is completely ridiculous. 

The fact that young girls were playing games that involved body checking at such a young age shows how whether it’s through social media or not, body checking has always been a problem. How could we let body checking become so accepted that even little girls normalize shaming each other for entertainment?

Even though thigh gaps and thinness aren’t as popular in media as it was in the early 2010s, body shaming still occurs frequently and is a huge reason why body checking continues to thrive. 

According to Very Well Mind, “Body shaming is the act of saying something negative about a person’s body.” If body shaming were a tree, body checking is only one branch. From people being shamed for acne, their height or body hair, there are too many ways people are criticized for their body in its natural form.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand how shaming others for their bodies would lead to people feeling pressure to change themselves. This pressure to look a certain way and fit the “beauty standard” leads to people body checking in order to cope.

Fortunately, body positivity is a huge movement that exists and is getting stronger every day. Body positivity is the arch-nemesis of body shamers and body checking. The whole movement promotes the idea of supporting all bodies and encourages everyone to love themselves as they are.

From Rihanna’s inclusive clothing lines to artists like Lizzo who are working to normalize every type of body, I love that artists are showing their support and representing those who may not fit into the strict beauty standard.

Even across TikTok, I have seen plenty of body positive content that rejects body checking trends. Although body positivity is increasing, we still have a long way to go to stop body shaming.

Every day is a challenge for me when it comes to body checking. Whether it’s hearing someone say “I’m so fat” when I’m eating twice the amount as them at dinner, being tempted to compare myself to others at the gym or even just looking in the mirror, I constantly have to fight urges to shame myself.

Trying to accept my differences from the beauty standard and from others has helped me. When it comes to social media, Zimmerman has taken a similar approach. 

“I see this TikTok where this girl looks a certain way, but I know that I don’t have to take these extreme measures to try and look like that because I understand like every single body is built differently,” Zimmerman said.

I understand that all bodies are unique. But honestly, as much as I try to spread the message of body positivity for others, I realized I have been unsupportive of myself for years. It’s going to be a long journey for me to fully learn to love my body, but knowing I am not alone gives me strength. Every day that I work towards being intentional with how I use social media, the journey towards self-acceptance grows closer.

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