Tweens Take On TikTok

TikTok alters the self-esteem and self-image of impressionable young girls, and we need to talk about it

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A young girl scrolls through video after video on her phone, each one showing model-like teenage girls. She wonders why she does not look like them. 

The social media app TikTok uses an algorithm specifically tailored to each user that creates a personalized feed called a “For You Page” which shows the user content they most want to see.

Senior Olga Muys, an avid TikTok user, believes this algorithm has damaging effects on impressionable young girls. “The thing about the TikTok algorithm is that it shows you what you want to see,” Muys said. “If you’re an insecure 13-year-old girl, your For You Page might make you spiral.”

Muys presents a scenario common amongst young girls: “You go into TikTok and you see these girls who are older and you’re 13, your brain is developing at rapid rates, and your self confidence is at an all time low. Obviously you see girls who are gorgeous and you’re like, ‘I want to get there now,’” Muys said.

Muys has noticed that unlike other social media sites such as Instagram, these preteens are not few-and-far-between “influencers” who specialize in making content based on their attractiveness but instead are seemingly ordinary people. 

“I think with TikTok, [the girls] seem more like regular people who look insanely beautiful all the time, and [young girls are] like, ‘why don’t I look like that?’” Muys said.

The thing about the TikTok algorithm is that it shows you what you want to see. If you’re an insecure 13-year-old girl, your For You Page might make you spiral.”

— Olga Muys, senior

Even though Tiktok may exacerbate the fact that young girls want to look more attractive or mature, this phenomenon has existed throughout history. Young girls in the ’80s and ’90s flipped through fashion catalogs filled with attractive models, and teen magazines like J-14 or TeenVogue showcased young, stylish celebrities catered towards an impressionable teen audience for much of the 2000s.

“In the 80s and 90s and even the 2000s before social media, most external fashion forces and that kind of pressure came from print magazines and fashion journals,” Muys said.

But Tiktok functions far differently from a magazine or journal, the most notable difference being that Tiktoks are videos instead of pictures. And even though video has existed in the form of movies or television shows for many decades, Tiktok videos take away the professionalism of movies and television and showcase “ordinary” attractive people instead of meticulously done-up celebrities.

“TikTok was sort of a game changer because video is so different from photo; it’s like [the people ] are more real… and that probably amplifies the negative effects.” Muys said.

Despite being past the age where Tiktok has the most influence on self-esteem, Muys clearly understands the impact that these videos can have on young girls. However, she emphasizes that the app is not entirely negative and there are plenty of positive aspects to Tiktok as well.

“[TikTok] can have positive effects; it connects people and exposes people to new ideas and new things that they might like.” Muys said. “But at the same time, I think that if you’re not already kind of secure in yourself, which you are not when you’re 12, it can definitely lead to a lot of negative feelings and [negative] influences.”

• Art by Audrey Guo