TikTok Trend Normalizes Disordered Eating

A viral new TikTok trend using audio of model Bella Hadid’s voice has raised concern online for normalizing disordered eating and making light of eating disorders.

The audio, originally taken from a video of Hadid from an i-D cover shoot, features the model’s voice saying, “My name, my name is Bella Hadid.” While it was originally set to a supercut of Hadid during fashion week, TikTok users soon began using the audio to make light-hearted videos of themselves feeling attractive or trying out beauty tools.

But things took a turn when users began pairing the audio with examples of restrictive or disordered eating, from blotting grease off a pizza to skipping breakfast, in order to suggest that they feel like a supermodel like Hadid when they monitor or restrict their eating. More extreme and troubling examples have since emerged, with users sharing that they feel thinner after throwing up or that they feel like Hadid after losing their appetite for weeks at a time due to mental health struggles. To date, the Bella Hadid audio has been used in more than 93,000 videos on the platform.

Why the videos are concerning

Although users might make the case that this trend is rooted in humor, experts caution that it may be harmful. For Jennifer Rollin, an eating disorder therapist and the co-founder of the Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Md., the trend is troubling because of the danger it poses to those who are vulnerable to disordered eating or are in recovery for an eating disorder and could easily be triggered.

“This trend normalizes and pokes fun at disordered eating, equating eating less or eating in a certain way with looking like a model—both of which are really unhealthy standards for people who are watching,” Rollin says, adding that the videos may give viewers “ideas” for disordered eating tactics. “It can normalize disordered eating, making it almost the ‘cool thing’ to do, which is incredibly damaging and harmful to people who are susceptible to it.”

Read More: How Eating Disorder Survivors Are Seeking Out Support Online

Even for those who do not struggle with disordered eating, the trend could exacerbate a problematic misunderstanding of how serious these conditions can be. According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, while the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that of the nearly 30 million Americans who are struggling with eating disorders, 26% of them attempt suicide. Studies also show that people with eating disorders are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Edie Stark, a social worker who specializes in eating disorders, notes that making light of the issue only furthers the lack of recognition of the real harm of eating disorders.

“There’s a common belief when someone has an eating disorder that they’re not sick enough,” Stark says. “This trend reinforces that belief.” Stark argues that a person who’s struggling might see one of these videos and think, “Other people are doing it—it’s not that serious. They’re joking about it, so maybe I don’t have a problem.”

For Abbey Sharp, a registered dietician who uses TikTok to debunk myths that have emerged from diet culture, a primary concern about the trend is that the videos could prevent people from seeking the help they may need. “Eating disorders are a real, major mental health issue. They’re not a joke,” Sharp says. “With this trend, it’s glamorizing it like it’s something to be proud of.”

Sharp also sees the TikTok trend as a departure from the usual “wellness” content that is popular on the platform—videos where creators share what they eat in a day or detail their workout routines, which she views as another harmful form of diet culture. She’s also wary of a troubling return to the aesthetic trend of extreme thinness popularized in the Y2K era, which could have serious consequences for those who are vulnerable to disordered eating. “Unfortunately, we have been seeing the early-2000s ‘skinny era’ making a comeback,” she says. “And as a result of that, there is a return of the glamorization of a lot of these disordered eating behaviors, like extreme examples of restraint, dietary control, or willpower.”

Hadid herself was not involved in the making of this trend, but, as a model, she has long been subjected to unsolicited feedback about her body. The trend’s association with her name is sobering, given that she has spoken openly about her past struggles with anorexia and body dysmorphia. (A representative for Hadid did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.)

Pushing back against the trend

TikTok Trend Normalizes Disordered Eating

TikTok’s algorithm suggests videos and creators that are trending on each users’ “For You” page, so a given user doesn’t have control over what content shows up in their feed. Rollin recommends taking proactive steps to try to minimize one’s exposure to upsetting or potentially harmful content.

“If people are feeling triggered by this trend and similar trends, work to scroll past the videos or hit ‘not interested’ to try to change their algorithm,” she says. “It can also be helpful to follow people who are promoting more anti-diet and body positive content on the app.”

Sharp believes that TikTok needs to take a stronger stance when it comes to determining what is problematic content. She encourages users to block and unfollow accounts that produce it, and to call out those videos and creators like they would for promoting other forms of inappropriate content.

“As soon as this trend is over, there’ll be another one and another one,” she says. “Until the voices speaking out against this kind of content are loud enough, I’m not sure that we’re going to really see much as much of a decline.”

Stark’s advice to TikTok users is to show themselves some grace, especially if they’re struggling. “Be mindful and take care of yourself when you’re on social media—and understand if you’re feeling triggered by a video, that’s valid,” she says. “If you’re able to see that stuff and be OK, keep yourself safe, but know that you don’t need to change your body. You don’t need to blot your pizza or diet to be better. You’re worthy, just as you are.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237; in case of a crisis or emergency, text “NEDA” to 741741 for 24/7 support.

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