Why the TikTok ‘Snatched’ Trend Is Problematic and Potentially Harmful

Photo: Getty Images/ Oleg Breslavtsev
Spend some time scrolling through social media, and it becomes clear that being “snatched”—which on TikTok could mean anything from being in possession of a tiny, accentuated waist to defined cheekbones, a tight jawline, or lifted brows, depending on the creator in question—is the heavily touted trend of the moment. Regardless of what snatched is being used in reference to on social media, treating bodies as malleable objects capable of matching the latest ideal can negatively affect an individual’s mental and physical health.

And the snatched trend, in particular, is problematic for not only this reason, but because it also appropriates a term with roots in Black and LGBTQ+ communities and applies it to groups (or for purposes) outside of its original intent—often as a thinly veiled (pun intended) code word for "skinny." This is something that delineates from its original definition, according to April Baker-Bell, PhD, an associate professor at Michigan State University who specializes in Black language education and linguistic justice.

Snatched has long been a term used to compliment an individual’s appearance. “When I think about what ‘snatched’ means, I think it could look very different—there's no one image in my mind [embodying] what that means in the Black community,” says Dr. Baker-Bell. “I think snatched could be used for a full-figure woman, someone very thin, and someone who's slim thick. It's not limited within the Black community.” The term has also been used on shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race to express a look that blows people away.

When the roots of well-intentioned terms like snatched are ignored and their meanings are twisted, the original creators suffer, and it's possible to end up with yet another unattainable body standard.

But that’s not the message you’d get by searching #snatched on social media. Instead, you’ll be met primarily with videos of women with tiny waists performing bodyweight abs exercises or showing off their flat stomachs post-cardio. You’ll also find clips of women trying to chisel their jawlines and cheekbones with microcurrent devices, contouring hacks, and filler. [Editor's note: We're opting not to link out this content here because we don't want to give it a greater platform as it may be harmful to your mental and physical health.]

Snatched is far from the first expression from marginalized communities to migrate into popular culture—and have its meaning distorted along the way. Consider the term “squad goals,” which stems from Black culture. In the mid-2010s, the expression entered mainstream culture and was used by “everybody and their mama” to describe friend groups, says Dr. Baker-Bell. Exhibit A: In 2015, Taylor Swift’s crew of famous gal pals was quickly dubbed #SquadGoals. But as writer Judnick Mayard explained in the Guardian at the time, “[#SquadGoals] refer to the allies they’ve found in this life that is inundated by racism, sexism and elitism affecting those who look like them.” Ever since the original meaning was lost, the expression hasn’t been used as much within the Black community, says Dr. Baker-Bell.

“Black language, African American Vernacular English, or African American language is a coded language that's used within our community to communicate certain ideas, but it's also a language that is kind of protected from dominant culture,” says Dr. Baker-Bell. “Usually, when dominant culture starts using some of the terms that we develop in-house, so to speak, it loses its value within our own community.”

Essentially, it’s linguistic appropriation, says Dr. Baker-Bell. “The issue with this is that—especially in this current racial climate, which has always existed—Black people contribute so much to this country, to the culture, but less of it is attributed to Black people,” she explains.

There’s also a clear double standard: When Black individuals use their language in school or professional settings, it’s often not seen as valuable, and they may be corrected and told these expressions will prevent them from becoming successful, Dr. Baker-Bell explains. At the same time, white individuals on social media and in real life use these terms (often without the original meaning) to their gain, she notes. “We see people co-opting and using it and just simply playing in the language and not thinking about how this group is discriminated against,” she says.

While some may advocate for the appreciation of Black language, Dr. Baker-Bell argues that can't be possible without first appreciating the people. “We have to make sure that we're advocating and we're standing up for these communities. When Black people are murdered in the streets, when Black trans people are killed, we don't see as many people who want to use the language standing up to advocate for these specific communities.”

When the roots of well-intentioned terms like snatched are ignored and their meanings are twisted, the original creators suffer, and it's possible to end up with yet another unattainable body standard, which in this case is the opposite intention of the term in question. Snatched is about celebrating diverse bodies and beauty, not making you feel bad if you don't fit a certain mold.

The harm of the TikTok ‘snatched’ ideal

When tips to help you become snatched—or achieve any other body ideal—are promoted online or IRL, it perpetuates the myth that people can easily control their weight, body shape, or size, says Maddie Friedman, AM, LCSW, a clinician and therapist lead at Equip Health. “It overlooks the reality that everyone's DNA is different, everyone's gene pool is different, and certain body ideals cannot be obtained by manipulating food or [utilizing] other channels that could theoretically alter your shape or size,” she says.

The problem: 79 percent of Americans report feeling unhappy with how their body looks at times, according to an Ipsos survey of more than 1,000 people. And the ingrained need for acceptance, belonging, safety, and love can lead some folks to try their hardest to match their body to the new ideal, no matter how difficult or potentially dangerous it is, says Carise Rotach, MA, LMFT, an eating disorder therapist at Equip Health. Trans women and non-binary individuals may be particularly at risk, she notes; concerns of passing may influence trans folks’ body image, and genderqueer college students already have a heightened risk of eating disorders.

To conform to the “body type of the moment,” some folks may go so far as to modify their lifestyle, like exercising more or restricting their diet, the latter of which may increase the risk of an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Or, they may use external measures such as drugs or cosmetic surgery, adds Friedman, which could also come with serious consequences. Research shows that depression and anxiety may develop after undergoing an aesthetic procedure, such as a face lift, particularly in people with depression-prone personality traits.

What's more, the media perpetuating this snatched stereotype makes it seem attainable, when in actuality it's not for the majority of people. This is especially harmful for impressionable audiences. “Young people [in particular] will see videos saying, ‘do these exercises’ or ‘eat these 10 things’ or ‘cut out this’—[essentially] a roadmap to achieving this beauty ideal that's being lifted up on social media,” Friedman explains. “And innocently enough, they’re like, ‘Okay, let me find a way to fit this.'”

Engaging in these promoted behaviors can damage a person’s relationship with food, movement, and their body, Friedman says, adding that it can be like a match that ignites a flame in individuals who are already susceptible to an eating disorder. (For the record, eating disorders are often influenced by a combination of genetics, environment, and other factors, according to UNC Health.) “So it may not be until they dabble with [restrictive eating] or exercise that this cascade goes into effect where a snatched waist is not snatched enough and the line keeps moving,” she notes. “It's a really slippery slope to illness.”

Though the current standards for “snatched” are often promoted by white women on the internet, they’re not necessarily the only ones dealing with the ideal’s potential ramifications. “People in all body shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, from all cultural and racial and ethnic backgrounds, can and do experience eating disorders,” says Friedman. Not to mention, “people of color are less likely to get appropriately assessed and diagnosed because of the stereotype that only thin, white women get eating disorders.”

To make matters worse, the beauty ideal is always in flux. So while the snatched look may be desirable in this very moment, the opposite could be true soon. “It leads generations and generations of people to be working toward an appearance ideal that they may or may not ever achieve because it keeps changing,” says Friedman. “What that leads to, I think, is just a vast majority of people who never feel that good in their bodies. It leads to people feeling like they can always be doing more or doing something different to achieve some type of end that really has very little to do with who they are as unique individuals.”

How to overcome the pressure to be snatched

To accept your body as it is, you first need to stop blaming yourself for feeling like you need to live up to a certain, often thin, appearance standard. Over your lifetime, you've likely been inundated with messages highlighting what bodies are supposed to look like in order to be loved and seen as attractive. (Exhibit A: the latest reality TV shows featuring slim, bikini-clad women finding their perfect romantic partner.) You’ve also been “indoctrinated with anti-fatness” and ideas of what is and isn’t an ideal body, says Friedman.

“When we feel pressured to fit into a norm,” she adds, “it's important that we understand this happened to us. Generations before us have passed down messaging—without the intention necessarily of causing harm—that reinforced these ideas of the standard of beauty. Then every other outlet we're exposed to just perpetuates them.”

To start minimizing the societal pressure you face, think critically about the media you consume. According to Rotach, when you see a new look or body type trending online, consider the content creator’s objective (is it to sell waist trainers or supplements, or is it to make you feel good about yourself?), who’s sponsoring the content, and, if it’s promoting a certain body descriptor, what the term’s origins and meaning actually are. Taking a few extra moments to unpack the videos or photos you’re viewing can help minimize your susceptibility to their toxic messaging.

Then, take charge of your feed. If you see a post encouraging the snatched look or another body standard that makes you uncomfortable, block it from your algorithm, suggests Rotach. (Instagram, for instance, has a “not interested” button on suggested posts that will hide related content from your feed. That said, don’t be afraid to report harmful content.) “When you say no to that enough, [the websites] kind of stop trying,” she says. You can't necessarily stop seeing magazines at grocery story checkouts or driving by a billboard, Rotach adds, but in terms of social media, you can tell the algorithm, “This isn’t what I want to see.”

After blocking the posts that make you bad about your appearance, take things a step further in a positive direction by following the individuals who look like you and the communities that give you a sense of belonging and boost your self-confidence, says Rotach. “If you only ever see people with thin bodies as the object of desire and affection, it can be hard to imagine that anyone who doesn't look like that could have those things,” adds Friedman. “And make sure that your social media feeds do not exclusively feature influencers who are talking about how little they eat and how much they exercise—that is often really, really harmful to people.”

While making these changes to your internet use can be valuable, they may not fully heal your relationship with your body. That’s why it’s important to chat with a mental health professional if you notice that what you eat, how you move, or what you look like are taking up a big chunk of your brain space, advises Friedman. “If these concerns are feeling overwhelming, then it's important to make sure that you're talking to someone about it because it can grow in the darkness,” she says. “We know eating disorders, in particular, thrive in secrecy. And so the more guilt and shame, or the more distance that a person feels from their life and their loved ones, the more that these mental health concerns can amplify.”

Everyone simply wants to feel as though they belong—but restricting eating habits, increasing physical activity, or having surgical intervention can be mentally and physically harmful paths to achieving that end. “If we offer people other ways to feel belonging, they won't need those harmful or eating disorder-like behaviors,” says Rotach. “[Attaining] this snatched beauty standard, which very few of us were ever supposed to use to describe ourselves…that's a never-ending pit.”

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