The Body Positivity Movement Across Social Media:
Tiktok Influencers Sienna Mae Gomez and Brittani Lancaster Use Their Platforms To Promote Normalizing All Body Types and Open Up About the Road to Eating Disorder Recovery
By Reese Trowbridge and Maggie Saalman
Tiktok, a social media platform that has gained widespread popularity in recent years, is currently home to some of the biggest content creators and influencers across the internet. From creating dances to popular songs to following relevant trends, creators use the platform as an outlet for self-expression and producing lighthearted entertainment. However, while many influencers contribute some degree of true talent to their content, it’s no secret that looks play a large role in the number of likes, views, and follows a creator gets– and in the age of social media, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to open apps like Tiktok and Instagram without comparing yourself to the people on the screen.
Specifically in the United States, the media strongly idealizes thinness and the importance of fitting into society’s “standard” of beauty. Adolescents and teens, many platforms’ target demographic, are amongst the population most strongly influenced by this idealization, especially with the growth of social media in recent years. The importance placed on physical appearance in the media leaves teens vulnerable to attempting to achieve the impossible when it comes to their body, leading to dieting, weight loss, and even the development of an eating disorder. So, how are young adults expected to navigate social media without succumbing to the pressure to conform? Many influencers, recognizing this societal dilemma and the impact social media has on the impressionable youth, have begun sharing their own stories of struggling with an eating disorder, and promoted normalizing all different body types. Joining the body positivity movement that has been seen across social media (the origins of which can be found in The Black History of the Body Positive Movement), influencers Sienna Mae Gomez and Brittani Lancaster have aided in emphasizing a movement that has been a long time coming.
Sienna Mae Gomez, 16-year-old dancer and body positivity advocate, has boomed in popularity over recent months, changing people’s perspective on body positivity as she grows. Though Sienna does not fit into the plus-sized category, in which there are already countless influencers on the app, she adds to the societal issue by emphasizing one main message: nearly all of the “perfect” influencers seen across social media just know the right poses and filters that make them look the way they appear on the screen. She pushes to change the narrative around what women are “supposed” to look like and normalize all body types.
Beginning her journey accidentally with a viral video of her dancing in low-rise sweatpants with her stomach out, Gomez has become one of the largest body positivity influencers on Tiktok in what seems to be overnight. With over 12 million followers in just a few months, the teenager from Arizona details her own struggle with body image and what led her to the huge platform she has built today.
“It really just started when I saw the positive impact,” Gomez comments when asked where it all began, “I was almost shocked because I was like ‘I didn’t know people would want to see this.’”
Growing up Latina in a competitive dance community that was predominantly filled with tall, thin girls was one of the main contributors to Gomez’s struggle. From a young age, she was forced to place focus on the way her body looked and fight the internal battle of constant comparison to her peers in the studio, and in the media. As a member of the first generation to grow up on social media, Gomez found it difficult to find someone on the internet that looked like her.
“I think society’s standard of ‘beautiful’ or ‘normal’ is people like Kendall Jenner, who is obviously so beautiful, but I don’t look like Kendall Jenner.”
Reese: Outside of the body positivity community, there are a lot of potentially harmful trends, especially across Tiktok that glorify eating disorders. So I want to know your take on these videos, have you seen them, and have they affected you?
Sienna: Yeah I definitely have seen trends, I might be butchering the name but I think it’s called “skinny-fying” or something like that where girls will be like “one week of not eating” and stuff like that. I saw that a while ago and was like “oh my gosh this isn’t good” while all the comments were like “I guess I’m not eating today.” Or on videos of really beautiful skinny girls, they’re like “oh I guess I’m not going to have food” or “how do you look like this” comparing themselves, and it’s so draining.
Seeing the impact she could make, Gomez continued to post, gaining followers and growing her platform for purely being herself and promoting a body type that has been overlooked across the internet.
“I didn’t know I could have that big of an impact,” Gomez tells Zenerations, explaining the choice she made to embrace this newfound opportunity. “What I’m trying to do is be a middle body representative, because I feel like there are a lot of really skinny girls that are very body-positive, and there are a lot of curvier girls that are very body positive, but I personally have never seen somebody that is a middle body representative”
The teen eventually became known for her “squirrel dance,” which quickly gained popularity from her audience and became a widespread trend amongst all women, including celebrities like Lizzo, that support her body-positivity movement. She strives to be the role model that she never had for other young girls, and counteract the negativity on the internet around body image and the promotion of diet culture.
“I think we’ve all been through a phase or a few phases where we’re like ‘well I don’t look like that so I’m not gonna eat I’m gonna go on a diet’ and I think that is the stigma that needs to change, and that’s what I think I’m trying to put out there.”
Gomez, though not the founder of the body-positive movement, has become extremely successful through her promotion of normalizing every body type, shape, and size, which has been widely accepted and encouraged by Tiktok’s audience. This, the influencer believes, is a major step towards changing society’s standard of beauty. She hopes to continue spreading her message on and off Tiktok, extending her reach and message to teens across the internet.
“Everyone has different bodies, and glorifying one isn’t realistic,” the young influencer comments when asked what can be done, “I really think if we drop the stigma of this one way looks good, then everyone can just focus on bettering themselves.”
Another member of what she has coined “Body Positive Tiktok,” Brittani Lancaster, has made her mark on the platform by sharing her road to recovery from two common eating disorders: anorexia and binge eating disorder. Primarily known for her “What I Eat in a Day” videos, the 22-year-old from Portland, Oregon has built a community of followers that are actively changing their perspective on society’s standard of beauty. Lancaster, now being in recovery for a little over four years, began her Tiktok journey by accident just under a year ago with a viral video celebrating three and a half years in recovery.
“It just hit me in that moment that there was hardly anybody on TikTok talking about body positivity or eating disorder recovery, and I realized there was this niche of TikTok that needed to be addressed,” Lancaster commented when asked how she got started, “I was like nobody’s talking about this and I wanna talk about it.”
Overnight, Lancaster saw the positive impact her story could have on the app and social media in general where people typically shy away from the uncomfortable topic of disordered eating. Now coming in with almost 800,000 followers on her page, the viral influencer uses her platform to promote intuitive eating, a tool she discovered in her recovery that teaches people to listen to their body and its cravings.
“With intuitive eating, primarily what I believe is that you don’t have to create this really toxic mindset of good or bad foods– you just have food. You listen to your body and what it’s craving.”
Lancaster’s battle with body image began developing at the age of sixteen after realizing in her early teenage years the emphasis placed on body shape and size, which is something she never thought to be concerned about. From here, the high school sophomore and three-sport athlete strove to fit society’s beauty standards, eventually leading to the development of anorexia, followed by binge eating disorder lasting through her late teenage years. Lancaster credits many aspects of her life that contributed to her struggle. From comparing herself to peers in high school to models and celebrities in the media, she found it increasingly difficult to avoid the temptation of developing unhealthy habits.
“Social media definitely played a big part in it,” Lancaster claims, speaking on her personal body image issues and the dangers of the internet, “I never saw anybody with a different body shape in the media, especially on social media”
Lancaster, along with many other influencers, has made strides towards fighting the negativity around body image on the internet, voicing her opinion on triggering and harmful trends. Videos that promote eating disorders or that can affect those struggling are extremely dangerous to not only those in recovery, but the impressionable youth that has become the primary audience of the internet. Lancaster uses her platform and her own videos to counteract the toxicity on the platform, and create what her followers call a “safe-space” for them to turn to.
“I think sometimes people don’t realize the large effects social media can have, especially when things go viral… we, as a TikTok community, have to be better about trying to limit harmful or triggering posts because in the end, they’re not doing anyone any good”
Though both Gomez and Lancaster have different stories, when asked their thoughts on the impact social media can have on impressionable teens, both influencers had come to the same conclusion: social media is the root of insecurity and poor body image in many teens, and something needs to be done about it.Both women, along with hundreds of others on the internet, are members of the on-going body positivity movement that strives to change society’s perception of beauty and show their audience that normal bodies are exactly that– normal.
“All of the ‘body-positive’ Tiktokers– we all have different stories, we’ve all been through different things, we’ve all had different eating disorders and yet we all help people. The more that people tell their stories, the more likely we are to help people, and that’s ultimately the goal”Brittani Lancaster
Reese Trowbridge is a 16 year old junior at Bayonne High School with interests in biology and medicine. Along with being a Zenerations writer, she has served as many positions in Student Government and is apart of Model UN. Her work mainly reflects her passions which include the environment, music, and mental health.
Maggie is a 16 year old rising senior at Valhalla High School in New York. She is a writer for Zenerations and is very excited to use this platform to make changes in the world today. She is the President of her Human Rights Club at school and is also an ambassador for Our Future Of Change which is a coalition bringing awareness to human trafficking. She also is the captain of her all girls robotics team and is fluent in American Sign Language. Maggie is passionate about STEM, pop culture, and intersectional feminism. In the future, she wants to work in the medical field and travel the world while doing it.