TikTokers Are Taking Care Of Their Mental Health Ironically & It Might Just Be Working

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
The answer to nailing wellness is something that people have been deliberating on for centuries. Five-minute meditations, positive psychology, gratitude journals, and the ‘that girl’ trend have all been stepping stones recently in an attempt to attain inner zen. But for those who struggle to cultivate a routine or prioritise mental health habits, these practices are far from simple.
When others tell me about their restorative 5am morning runs, I scoff with judgment and a hint of jealousy. Because the thought of me being a matcha-latte-drinking, matching-activewear-set-wearing, early-morning-girlbossing culprit is laughable, but also — if I have to admit — a little bit aspirational.
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Thank goodness for TikTok, home to meta references and self-deprecating humour. 
@lamebaby47

if you see me on a walk know that i’m doing performance art #fyp

♬ original sound - yeehaw
“I’m about to fuck around and start doing really healthy habits ironically because I think that’s the only way I’m going to them,” says TikTok user @lamebaby47. “I’ll start waking up at seven ironically, I’m gonna go on a walk every day ironically. No, ‘cause it’s ironic and camp and that’s what’s gonna make it fun for me. And then eventually that’s just gonna be my routine.”
It’s so ludicrous and so far away from typical approaches to wellness that it just clicks. The idea has resonated with many. One comment says, “like ‘oh look at me i’m dOiNg tHe DiShEs” and another reads, “THATS HOW I STARTED EATING GOOD BREAKFAST I WAS LIKE haha oats and greek yogurt im so quirky ♡ oop I'm gonna slip a fruit in too hehe so quirky ♡”. 
TikTokers are praising this type of psychology that they say has improved their self-esteem and has helped them implement healthy habits. Cyberpsychology researcher and mental health practitioner with The Indigo Project Ash King finds this trend amusing, but tells Refinery29 Australia not to write it off.
“It’s a unique approach, I’ll give it that. It feels like a bit of an extension on that Twitter trend, “Might fuck around and …[insert healthy or productive behaviour here],” she says.
“In any case, engaging in healthy, self-care habits has intrinsic physiological and psychological benefits. We know that things such as exercise, sleep and healthy eating are irrefutably good for us. We also cop a dose of dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ chemical, when we achieve something or do something good, which can make us more likely to do those feel-good things in the future.”
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Who exactly are we pointing fun at? 

The only contentious aspect of this wellness trend is the element of irony that it depends on. King asks us to critically think about the cynicism employed here. Who exactly are we pointing fun at? 
“Irony can be considered a gentle form of criticism intended to help teach others (and whose targets tend to be deserving of it). But in this case, is irony being targeted at the trope of “self-care” or at the individuals themselves?" she says.
Especially here in Australia where Tall Poppy Syndrome runs wild, sarcasm and dry humour are essentials in our comedic backpacks. But hypercritical self-deprecation does nothing for our long-term selves, and King notes that it’s not the way to foster a connected, authentic relationship with ourselves — which is what the trend is aimed at. 
“Wanting to present ourselves as ‘cool’ online by treating everything ironically or by being consistently self-deprecating might give us a brief, cheap, self-esteem boost in the forms of likes or comments,” King says.
In our social media economy, social capital can come from being relatable or ‘quirky,’ so this trade-off of short-term humour in place of long-term personal growth is an exchange many are willing to take. But King warns that over time, people can internalise these criticisms which can lead to a destructive and toxic relationship with ourselves. 
“I think what we have to consider here is: does the end justify the means?,” King asks, as she points to the multitude of reasons people are motivated to engage in healthy behaviours. 
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"The issue with this ‘ironic’ approach is that it doesn’t tackle the deeper, self-critical and destructive attitudes we hold in regards to ourselves."

Ash King
“Perhaps we are learning to love and respect ourselves and want to treat our bodies and minds with kindness? Perhaps we are wanting to set a good example for our kids or our mates which might inspire positive behavioural changes in them? Perhaps our wife has threatened to leave us unless we get our shit together? Or perhaps we lowkey hate ourselves and are engaging in self-care as a gesture of comedic irony?”
When posed with the question of whether this trend can stick it out for the long-term and actually help improve someone’s mental health, King remains realistic.
Self-care is a lifelong pursuit and therefore requires, I would think, genuine, compassionate, and enduring reasons to do so. The issue with this ‘ironic’ approach is that it doesn’t tackle the deeper, self-critical and destructive attitudes we hold in regards to ourselves. How would you feel if someone was nice to you ironically? Probably not great.”
But for those who have started eating fruit with their oats and Greek yoghurt, or who have felt motivated to wake up at 7am, or felt driven to wash dishes all because of irony, King is optimistically supportive.
“If engagement in these supportive behaviours helps transform one’s self-concept into one of kindness, compassion and curiosity, then hell — it might be worth a shot.”
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