At the end of August, Brooklynne Webb, 16, posted a video to TikTok of herself pulling down the waistband of her leggings to show off her relaxed belly alongside three others doing the same.
Then the trolls began to comment.
“She needs to drop some calories,” a user named Peepings wrote.
Initially, the comments hurt Brooklynne’s feelings, and she worried that the remarks could affect her followers who struggled with their own body images.
“I was thinking … ‘how are the other people who are watching my videos and seeing these comments feeling about their bodies?’” said Brooklynne, of Victoria, British Columbia.
Instead of taking the video down, Brooklynne decided she’d post another TikTok. In her next video, she held a red Slurpee beneath a screen grab of the comment about her weight. Then, the video cut to Brooklynne, again showing off her belly, dancing and grinning widely.
For every trolling comment made about her body, Brooklynne posted another video joyfully dancing with her belly out beneath the hateful message. Since the end of August, the videos of Brooklynne dancing with her bare midriff have been viewed about 200 million times.
“The best way that I could think about approaching it was to stand there and smile and say, ‘This is who I am.’ It doesn’t matter what size I am. I’m perfect just the way I am,” she said.
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The movement could mark a shift in how TikTok affects some users’ body images.
Teens have reported that TikTok has warped their perceptions of their bodies. However, more recently, users like Brooklynne have started movements to normalize all body types and shapes to dispel harmful beauty standards. Women and girls joyfully showing off their relaxed, unaltered stomachs has become a sweeping trend on the platform in recent weeks. Experts said the trend could help young people re-evaluate beauty standards and adjust expectations of what their bodies should look like.
“They’re showing what a normal body looks like, and none of us are really used to seeing that in the media. … When we see these sorts of videos online, social media, they’re kind of breaking the illusion that everyone is perfect except us,” said Charlotte Markey, a professor of psychology and health sciences at Rutgers University and author of “The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.”
Those who spoke to NBC News said they feel images on social media platforms like Instagram can perpetuate unrealistic body standards and may even be altered to perpetuate unattainable beauty standards. But because TikTok is video-based, showing an unaltered body in motion on it feels more true to life, participants said, and it lets them show their bodies more honestly.
“It makes me feel super, super genuinely happy,” Brooklynne said of seeing the movement grow on TikTok. “It makes me feel like social media and this social construct of bodies is starting to change to be overall more positive and loving and accepting.”
Traditionally, Markey said, social media presented an opportunity for users to show perfected and sometimes manipulated images of themselves, perpetuating a potentially harmful beauty standard, but she said Generation Z has begun to set more realistic standards.
“I do think that Gen Z has really started to push back against that, and we see a different, more empowered moment on social media where young people are saying, like: ‘I’m not going to spend all this time trying to make myself look perfect for you. Here’s my belly. … I don’t really care,’” Markey said.
While body positivity has grown on the app for a while — many users pointed to the singer Lizzo as one of the leading forces of body acceptance on the app— the tummy-out trend appeared to gain traction over the last month, according to some who have taken part in the trend.
But young women acknowledged that the tummy-out trend isn’t perfect, and they said that while the movement is meant to be inclusive, some have noticed that it appears to be mostly white or white-passing people who go viral and earn clout from the trend.
“I think going forward that trend has to include women of color and Black women. I would like to see more of it, because I haven’t. I know there are definitely body positive women who are Black that are out there, and they also deserve the hype,” said TikTok user Mia Cleary, 21, of Jacksonville, Florida.
Cleary posted her own video this week showing off her stomach and dancing around to a remix of Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later.”
“I had seen that specific trend, like, a million times on my ‘For You’ page, and so I did it,” Cleary said of the stomach-showing trend. “I have this mindset of ‘We’re in a pandemic. Who cares? I look happy. I am happy.’”
Cleary described herself as the type of person who would never wear a bikini before TikTok. But she posted a video of herself this year wearing a black and white striped two-piece swimsuit and said she was inundated with positive messages. Since then, she’s made sure to include body positive images on her page, including participating in the tummy-out trend, she said.
“The response is always overwhelmingly positive,” Cleary said of the comments on her video.
Those who have reached out to Cleary have expressed a sense of relief at seeing her share her body, a reassurance from her videos that their bodies are beautiful, too, after recognizing someone who they feel looks just like them.
Seeing images of bodies that haven’t been perfected for social media on platforms like TikTok gives viewers a chance to re-evaluate perceptions of their bodies as imperfect, Markey said. She added that, as an expert in the field, she finds the belly-out trend among young women “really fun to watch.”
“This is what we want for young people,” she said.
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