TikTok: survival of the prettiest

Michelle Lin, Staff

Making its debut in China in 2016, the popular video-sharing app TikTok has seen massive expansion since then: by 2018 the app became the most downloaded app in the US, available in over 150 markets. After TikTok purchased the extremely popular app Musical.ly, more and more celebrities such as Post Malone, David Dobrik and Noah Schnapp started using the platform, even advertising their fans to do the same. Just like its prior competitor Vine, TikTok gives people an opportunity to grow an audience and become an influencer. However, important questions still remain: how exactly can people on the app become famous? What does one need to do to go viral? How does one become a TikTok star?

The answer to those questions remains quite simple: beauty. As one of the most popular TikTok stars, Charli D’amelio started with a small audience, but overnight, her follower count grew into the millions. Currently, D’amelio holds over 20 million followers that enjoy watching her lip-syncing/dancing videos, and will continue to increase as long as she possesses this popularity known as the “hype.” The 15-year-old’s sudden rise to fame originated due to her fan’s attraction towards her facial features, body shape and ability to dance. 

Groups and individuals considered “TikTok famous” tend to appear more attractive than the average person their age with ideal body structures. Those who typically fit a certain beauty standard usually attract more followers, which then attracts more companies, therefore allowing them a higher chance of going viral on the app. TikTok stars such as Loren Gray (38.4 million followers), Jacob Sartorius (21.9 million followers) and Baby Ariel (30.2 million) all tend to captivate their audience’s attention through the clothing they wear and the dances they perform that allow viewers to sexualize them. 

Although a handful of TikTokers may become famous for a special talent of theirs, they still gain the majority of their fans from their physical attractiveness. For example, Troy Zarba (known as Zarbruh) became recognized for his ability to record creative transitioning videos. However, one might notice the main comments in his videos made by his fans usually involve complimenting his style and features. 

The app itself does an excellent job of advertising stereotypical beauty norms in its community, as they allow users an opportunity to perform dances and sings songs that may deem sexual. When one does not fit this ideal body type or facial beauty, one must work twice as hard to figure out a special talent in order to go viral

Normally, TikTok celebrities usually find friendships and relationships with other TikTokers to gain more audience members. With that, oftentimes they start creating friend groups that contain drama and romance–all something that further intrigues their fans. TikTok cliques such as the Hype House and the Sway LA are known for the attractive members inside: Hype House members include Addison Rae (13.1 million followers), Chase Hudson (11.4 million), Charli D’amelio, Dixie D’amelio (8.2 million), Avani (9.7 million). What do they all hold in common: beauty. Those in the group with the least amount of followers, Connor Yates (189 thousand followers), Calvin Goldby (228 thousand) and James Wright (559.6 thousand), usually are known to lack appealing features and enough masculinity. The same concept applies to the members of the Sway LA group as they all tend to uphold the ideal muscular body types and styles. 

Although TikTok offers a higher chance than any other media platform for ordinary people to become recognized, that does not mean everybody and anybody can become famous. Fame relies strictly on physical appearances with the slight exception of one possessing a rare talent that may attract fans. Even then, those relying on their talents to engage audience attention usually hold lower follower counts than those that are labeled as beautiful/handsome.