Top 4 TikTok trends empowering women, gender-nonconforming people

Photo of a phone with Tik Tok App open
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TikTok has become the fastest-growing international social media platform from millennials to Generation Z as users can post short clips of, well, anything. TikTok’s large presence has resulted in viral trending videos of people reusing recorded sounds and video filters for memes or challenges. Women and gender-nonconforming folks have utilized this as a platform for advocating intersectional feminism, appreciating our differences and encouraging self-love and self-care. In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are four TikTok video challenges about embracing our uniqueness and raising awareness against problematic beauty standards.

Curly hair challenge (2019)

The original video of this challenge sent the opposite message of its evolved trend. Original creator, Anya Starr, repeats the lines, “I don’t need to straighten my hair,” in her now-infamous “hEaT dAmAge checkaudio and fails to commit to her words as she is seen straightening her wet curls through a long process of combing, blow-drying and flat ironing. However, followers of this trend soon changed the video’s message into embracing and caring for their natural curls. The women and gender-nonconforming people are usually first depicted as being unhappy with dried and damaged hair from long-term use of heated straightening tools and then transitioning to proudly showing off their curly hair. The message uplifts curly-haired women and gender-nonconforming individuals who have struggled with Western beauty standards that only accepted straight or wavy hair. Embracing their natural curls is an acknowledgment of inclusive beauty, normalizing unique physical traits as beautiful and is another step toward rejecting toxic standards imposed onto women.

Dancing to my toxic/cheating ex’s voicemail challenge (2019)

This trend became a subtopic within “Me dancing to,” a larger viral trend. True to the name, users would post themselves indifferently dancing to their ex-partner’s voicemail to distance themselves from their past toxic relationships. User Bella, @trapm0neybella, first started the trend with the video, “Day one of dancing to voicemails from my cheating ex boyfriend” as viewers see Bella casually dancing to a recording of her boyfriend pleading to reach her through tears. In the voicemail, he attempts to undermine Bella by saying, “I tried to talk to you all day about this but you just blew me off” and “I’m telling you the truth … And you still don’t trust me.” Bella did not seem to show any signs of reconnecting with her past boyfriend as she vibes with a short dance. The challenge gained greater visibility after user Tenley, @tenleyearles, posted a video with the same format, titled, “Dancing to my Ex yelling at me for wearing leggings to school part 1.” These videos may have taken a lighthearted spin on the manipulative and degrading language from their former partners, but they convey warning signs of unhealthy relationships and raise awareness about domestic abuse. 

Be a lady they said (2020)

TikTok videos featured the original audio from American actress Cynthia Nixon’s viral recitation of writer Camille Rainville’s 2017 blog post, “Be A Lady They Said.” The original audio source has garnered differing opinions, but TikTokers trended it, taking videos of themselves recreating a part of the audio focusing on the exasperating and contradicting societal beauty standards for “ladies.” Examples of these conflicting standards from the audio included, “Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it … Don’t wear those sweatpants; you look like you’ve let yourself go,” and “Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Eat up. Slim down.” Tiktokers posted themselves acting to the lines with a sense of anxiety and claustrophobia. As a more somber video trend in this list, these videos convey society’s long history with the objectification of women. The message to women and gender-nonconforming people is clear — to not solely rely on the affirmation of others but to love ourselves and demand respect for our personal beauty.

Beauty and culture (2020)

There is no official name for this viral trend, but almost as a continuation of the “Be A Lady They Said” videos, this next trend features the intersectionality of gender and heritage. Users proudly affirm their non-Western physical features by showcasing portraits and photos of women from their own ethnic group. Famous TikTok hair artist @laetitiaky attributes the creative stylings of her hair to portraits of women of African ancestry with similar hairstyles. User @radaradara emphasizes her nose that looks different to Western standards and appreciates that difference with paintings and portraits of women from her Indigenous Navajo ancestry in her caption stating, “sometimes i envy others but then i remember who made me so beautiful.” These videos not only empowered women and gender-nonconforming individuals to appreciate features of their face and body but also symbolized embracing their own ethnic’s cultural and facial uniqueness. 

With numerous trends delivering the message of women empowerment, TikTok has become a new platform for uplifting women and gender-nonconforming people through building self-love. TikTok also hosts a yearly challenge hashtag dedicated to International Women’s Day. 2020’s hashtag, #WomenWhoWow, was a challenge to feature “important women in our lives.” This year, TikTok has introduced weekly hashtag challenges throughout the month of March to celebrate women. Cheers, to all you beauties! 

Contact Emily Lui at [email protected].