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Wellness on TikTok is booming—and choreographed dances don’t even scratch the surface

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsApril 17, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/theverest; Graphics: Well+Good Creative

“Bye, I’m going to go learn a new TikTok dance” was the near-constant refrain I heard from my college-aged sister, Rory, while I was visiting my parents’ house over the holidays a few months ago. She was a relatively early adopter of the now ubiquitous social media platform—and I was not. So, it took me a while to understand that when she’d spend hours upon hours in her childhood bedroom perfecting her rendition of the viral Renegade dance (set to Atlanta rapper K Camp’s song “Lottery”), she was actually practicing a self-care ritual. Wellness is carving out a presence on TikTok (currently the most downloaded app from the App Store) just as it’s found its place on other platforms in the past decade—and synchronized dances only scratch the surface.

TikTok’s 800 million active users have viewed its #wellness-tagged videos nearly 160 million times and its #health-tagged posts 4.3 billion times. While TikTok is still most popular among teenaged users, the number of adults flocking to the platform has multiplied by more than five times between October 2017 and March 2019—and it’s surely grown even more since then, if the trending #over30 hashtag is any indication. Among the content creators generating such buzz are doctors and nurses, trainers and ballerinas, dietitians and foodies, meditation experts and therapists. With the coronavirus pandemic continuing on, and #stayathome being the hashtag dominating our lives, there perhaps has never been a better time for these TikTok stars to use their platform to provide healthy value to the many lives they reach.

“Researchers are seeing that people moving together in synchrony reduces stress.” —Anita Blanchard, PhD, psychologist

What differentiates TikTok from other social mediums is its inherent community focus—something crucially missing in many of our lives as we shelter in place—because it allows people to practice wellness in synchronicity with others. Once something like a dance is shared on TikTok, it’s easily learned, practiced, and reposted by other users who bond over it. This is a departure from Instagram, where the mark of a successful post is very much reliant on the number of comments and likes it receives. But with TikTok, a winning video more so relies on how much people interact with the content IRL—either by emulating or building on it. “Researchers are seeing that people moving together in synchrony reduces stress,” says psychologist Anita Blanchard, PhD. “And I think the idea of being so isolated, but having the ability to move together and exercise in tandem creates both physical health and mental health.”

In other words, in a time when an estimated 13 percent of Americans are unemployed and still more have shifted to remote-working situations to stop the spread of COVID-19, TikTok has become a digital destination for communicating about various categories of your wellness routine—from fitness to food and mental health to skin care. And sure, a platform like Facebook can foster close-knit communities, but TikTok offers the opportunity to share your wellness practices and do them with others. Anybody who likes to dance can connect with someone who’s an ocean away by doing that same (often-complicated) dance, fostering a connection not dissimilar from they way mirror neurons fire up when we mimic one another. And while TikTok certainly is not an antidote for the sadness and uncertainty many of us are feeling right now, it does offer an influx of free wellness practices that simulate the togetherness we yearn for in a physically and socially distant world.

Fitness on TikTok: Fast, fun, and oh-so-accessible

TikTok users like Jalaiah Harmon, creator of the viral TikTok Renegade dance, undoubtedly deserve a special place in the platform’s Hall of Fame for inspiring countless others to master heart-rate spiking choreography, but there are so many other forms of fitness-forward content as well. Yoga, running, and ballet are just a few of the exercise modalities you’ll find.

Cassey Ho, founder of Blogilates, has garnered 1.2 million followers since she first started making Pilates-inspired TikTok workout videos in December 2019. “Every year, there’s a new platform, and you have to ask yourself if this one’s going to stick,” says Ho (who started Blogilates on YouTube in 2009). That’s because content needs to be created with the specific platform in mind, meaning a YouTube video can’t double as a TikTok video, and with all the social platforms available, a creator needs to be wise about where they focus their time and resources. For Ho, at least, the decision to hop on the TikTok train has paid off in spades.

“The beauty of TikTok is that you can keep trying things and people don’t unfollow you. Your content is always pushed to someone new and pushed to a new audience, so there’s always a chance for discovery,” Ho says. Indeed, TikTok’s algorithm constantly serves up content from unknown names, so TikTok users can expect to experience wellness serendipity and learn something new and helpful during each session.

“Since the start of quarantine, I have been actively referencing the #indoorworkout [tag]. It’s an easy and simple way to get quick circuits in throughout the day.” —Chrissy Goncalves, TikTok user

Chrissy Goncalves, a TikTok user with AskGenZ (a resource anyone can use to ask questions to members of that generation), says the open and broad algorithm is what led her to curate her own TikTok workout routine. “Since the start of quarantine, I have been actively referencing the #indoorworkout [tag]. It’s an easy and simple way to get quick circuits in throughout the day.”

It’s worth mentioning that since anyone with internet access and a smartphone can create content on TikTok, some videos actually share harmful or at least unverified information. Many pages, Ho’s included, peddle pieces of shame-driven advice about bloating, “slimming” meals, and exercises for “long legs,” for example.

Still, psychologist Chrysalis Wright, PhD, who specializes in social media behavior, believes that TikTok has the power to do more good than harm, so long as users approach their feeds with a healthy dose of scrutiny. “Having free, readily available access to fitness instructors and dietitians who are providing quick, bite-size tips on wellness can not only motivate viewers but can also make information easily available and easier to understand,” says Dr. Wright. “This, in turn, promotes and encourages wellness, and demonstrates how people can make small changes that lead to reaching to larger goals.”

Mental-health content on TikTok: Joy-sparking and honest, but not expert-vetted

“Laughter is the best medicine, so for me, TikTok has been an unintentional resource for wellness in that way,” says TikTok user Taylor Lott. “While so many other platforms have necessary yet bleak information on the current climate, TikTok offers humorous relief.” Certainly, other platforms—specifically Twitter—deal in comedy, but TikTok’s particular brand of humor is America’s Funniest Home Videos-meets-Vine (RIP). The laughs are mostly apolitical, always relatable, and rely on a fair amount of talking animals.

As silly as it may seem to say that watching a video of a hedgehog getting wrapped in a blanket counts as a “wellness practice,” Lott makes a fair point: Joy is a resource that’s more valuable than likes, followers, or comments. Laughter is hugely beneficial for stress relief, but it’s not the only mental-health perk people get from scrolling TikTok.

The #mentalhealth tag on the app has 434 million views, and it might just be one of the most pep-talk-laden destinations on the web. Take @taylorcassidyj’s most popular videos for evidence, which feature her running up to the camera and saying: “Stop. Don’t give up! You’re literally almost there. You’re almost there! Look, you’re almost there! It’s right over there! So stop. Get up, keep going!”

@taylorcassidyjdon’t give up!! You CAN do it 💛💛 ##selfcare##selflove##encouragement##dontgiveup##mentalhealth##blacktiktok##melanin♬ original sound – taylorcassidyj

Beyond motivational words, Genuine vulnerability is also highly valued by TikTok users: As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported late last year, teenagers specifically have started to use the platform as a place for discourse about sensitive topics like sexuality, struggles with depression, and relationship abuse. “It’s exciting and shows that young people are willing to have conversations that people a few generations ago have not had,” Jessa Lingel, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s kind of like, ‘How can we all get through this together? How can we share content to deal with this together?’”

What’s missing, however, is more direct-from-professional content that’s long been available on Instagram, where users can follow mental-health professionals. Hopefully in time, mental-health experts will sign on the way pros in the fitness, food, and beauty categories have.

Food and health on TikTok: Equal parts helpful and potentially harmful

“I joined TikTok about two months ago and started using it for a good laugh and mindless pleasure,” says Stephanie Grasso, RD, a clinical dietitian nutritionist with almost 55,000 TikTok followers. “I thought it was time to make my first TikTok after scrolling through and watching inaccurate nutrition information being spread.” And, to be sure, there’s a lot of bad intel swirling: While there are accredited dietitians on TikTok, like Grasso, serving up well-researched advice, there are seemingly just as many users with no credentials offering unscientific advice on subjects like bloating, weight management, and skinny-making “miracle” practices.

Luckily, a number of pros like Grasso are determined to drown out body-shaming rhetoric with nutrition advice designed to help their followers eat for energy, cognitive health, and athletic performance. “I use evidence-based research and my clinical experience to emphasize fundamental elements of nutrition to help keep healthy,” says Grasso, whose videos feature healthy recipes and nutritional myth-busters.

@stephgrassodietitianhttps://thebetternutritionprogram.com/product/better-rainbow-nutrition-evaluation/ ##dietitian ##weightloss ##wellnesstips ##mealprep ##fyp ##healthtips♬ Heartless – Diplo & Julia Michaels feat. Morgan Wallen

Anecdotally speaking, people like Grasso seem to be accomplishing that mission. My sister and the other TikTok devotees I reached out to for this article tell me that the healthy recipe ideas, posts on intuitive eating, and myth-busting are three especially helpful takeaways from the app. Still, though, it’s difficult to avoid posts that try to make you feel bad about yourself and your choices. “Like any social media platform, viewers should try to emphasize the benefits of the app and minimize the potential negatives of the app,” says Dr. Wright. “Follow those who provide useful tips and suggestions and avoid those who engage in body-shaming others. Try to keep the vibe positive to fully reap the benefits of the app’s potential.”

Beauty on TikTok: A wild west of DIY hacks, dupes, reviews, and expert intel

TikTok has become home to a lot of DIY beauty-ritual ideas (think: hairspray made with avocado oil, sea salt, and essential oils)—but that’s not all. It also offers a wealth of money-saving tips (e.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer is a pretty great dupe for Tatcha’s Silk Canvas Primer); beauty hacks (you can totally mixyour lip balm with eyeshadow to make your lips and lids matchy-matchy); and has convinced me, personally, to buy products I was on the fence about (like the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer Hot Air Brush).

Besides everyday humans sharing their beauty hacks on TikTok, though, makeup artists and dermatologists also get a ton of airtime. Dermatologist Joyce Park, MD, has more than 100,000 followers and uses her presence to share remedies for dry hands, causes of rosacea flare-ups, her own skin-care routine, and the most common conditions she treats as a derm.

And while TikTok offers so much valuable content across a number of categories, to get the very most from it, Dr. Blanchard says you’re going to want to get your friends involved, even if just virtually. “If you’re not quarantining alone, getting on TikTok together would be the best way to get the most out of what you see. Doing it with someone is going to give you the most psychological and physical bang for the buck,” she says. “If you can’t [create videos with someone who is physically with you], try to do it with someone on Zoom or FaceTime, so you feel like you’re doing it together.”

This applies to every single wellness ritual you see on TikTok: choreography, healthy baking, TikTok meditations, and more. This is social media after all, folks. We may not be in the same room as one another, but we can still dance together.

Now that you’re hooked on TikTok, here’s how to keep from furiously appstrurbating before bed. And, setting boundaries with Instagram is important, too.  

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