December 10, 2019

TikTok Is a Healthier Online Space

“There’s a TikTok that’s just a boy saying, “I may be ugly, but at least I’m also … dumb and annoying.” Then he dances while Ariana Grande’s “Successful” plays. It’s extremely funny, and a little bit sad, and I think about it every day.

Kids on TikTok call themselves ugly all the time, most of the time as a joke, but not always, and I’m never sure how I’m supposed to feel about it. “Why do I look like this? What’s the reason?” asked the popular TikToker @emmwee in her car without makeup. “Me being shocked at how ugly I look,” wrote Brittany Tomlinson, better known as the kombucha girl, at one moment in an unrelated video. “I like a boy but I’m ugly, what do I do with that?” sings 18-year-old high school senior David Postlewate, in one TikTok about a highly familiar experience.

David isn’t ugly by any means — none of these kids are — but the internet has created a never-ending conveyor belt of people so bafflingly good-looking that everyone else is immediately rendered ugly by comparison. “I know that I’m not going to look like Benji Krol,” says David, referring to the TikToker with a nest of raven hair and 5.6 million followers. “But I’m my own person, and that’s what makes you beautiful,” he says, not consciously referring to the One Direction song.

The thing about TikTok is that as much as it is a place for teenagers to goof off in their bedrooms, it is also the world’s largest beauty pageant. After all, part of the fun about making TikToks is getting to stare at your face for as long as you want, and if you happen to be very, very beautiful, then other people will enjoy staring at your face, too. A stunningly massive portion of the app is devoted to genetically blessed users, e-boys like Benji Krol and human Barbies like Loren Gray. A scroll through the TikTok’s home For You feed will reveal plenty of content where, despite whatever action is going on in the video, the real takeaway is “I’m hot.””

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