Why TikTok is embracing ‘hot girl IBS’ trend

Dozens of young women on TikTok are embracing a new “hot girl” trend in a bid to normalise one of the most common digestive disorders in the world.

In her late teens, Canberra’s Finn Burton could never imagine having sex.

Not because of religious or moral reasons, but because she – like one-in-three Australians – suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

“I would always be in pain, and just really bloated and sick from constipation, or all of these different things,” Burton, who has a following of 406,000 on TikTok, told news.com.au.

As a result of her then undiagnosed condition, she missed out on everything from school camps and swimming carnivals to “normal things, like going to see a movie or to grab food with friends”.

And when it came to sex “it was just off the table”.

“When that sort of stuff started happening, I remember my friends would tell me stories, and I would just be like, ‘I could never do that.’ Because of bloating, or you’re feeling constipated, or you’re feeling nauseous – so that was a really big thing that I didn’t understand, like how people had sex, because I felt so bad all the time.”

Now, along with fellow TikToker Megan Dijkman, she’s among a new wave of women embracing the “Hot Girl IBS” movement on the social media platform.

Under the trend – which has drummed up more than 60 million views on TikTok – cramping, bloating, gas, and abdominal pain, among other symptoms, are “gorgeous”, paving the way to a world where the “girls don’t poo” mentality is a thing of the past.

Medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer told news.com.au it was astounding “we talk about headaches, colds and Covid-19 openly but not IBS”, despite the fact it’s the most common digestive disorder in the world.

“All too often IBS sufferers are embarrassed about their symptoms when, in reality, this is a very real and natural part of their lives … Aussies don’t need to suffer in silence and should be able to talk about their bowel issues openly.”

That girls don’t “go” is a myth that’s long been perpetuated by popular culture – lest we forget the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie let a fart slip in front of Mr Big, and promptly fled the scene – and one that Burton herself has struggled with.

“The biggest thing for me, honestly, was that I’ve always struggled with my IBS in terms of feeling like it really affects my femininity,” she said.

“It’s kind of very frowned upon for women to talk about pooping and farting, and if you do talk about that then, you know.”

It makes sense that IBS is such a hot topic among young women – a study from London’s UCL suggested that gender roles and body image are key factors, with the pressure to eliminate “unattractive” symptoms like stomach bloating making Gen Z more likely to seek treatment than other demographics.

That pressure meant that, for Dijkman, whose IBS was a result of her being an undiagnosed coeliac, “if I planned to have an event, I’d be like, ‘Well, I can’t eat a lot before it because otherwise I’m going to look bloated’”.

“And whenever I did experience IBS, it was very draining in terms of, like, it just made me very exhausted and want to go home,” she recalled.

“I didn’t want to do anything because I was just in pain – or I felt like I looked pregnant, like I actually looked pregnant, and it was very stressful. And then the more I stressed and the more I was annoyed by [my IBS], the worse it got.”

It also meant not being able to do things that others take for granted.

“I would never wear jeans out because I’d have be in something comfortable, which is so … you want to wear jeans out, you want to wear nice, tight pants out, or a skirt, but you just can’t,” Dijkman said.

“And with the beach – going to the beach, I’d literally, and this sounds so unhealthy, but I just would not eat. If I was going to the beach, in the morning I’d just not eat breakfast because I would look and feel awful.”

Burton experienced a similar situation: “I’ve spent so much of my life feeling uncomfortable in pants – I didn’t even realise it was possible to not feel like your pants are suffocating you.”

What she has come to realise – and what seems to be the entire point of the “hot girls have stomach problems” movement on TikTok – is that “IBS doesn’t take any of that [femininity] away”.

“You’re still a strong woman, you can still be confident in your sexuality. It doesn’t take any of that away,” she added.

“It feels so much better when you’re able to just talk about it, and joke about it, and laugh about it. It makes it so much easier.”

A new over-the-counter treatment in Australia – called SilicolGel – will also hopefully help tackle both the stigma around IBS and the symptoms of it.

The oral gel, which has been available in the UK for nine years, “acts like a magnet that absorbs some toxins and gases that are causing or can cause symptoms of IBS”, Dr Brewer explained.

“It wraps them up like bubble wrap and then helps the body to naturally dispose of them,” she said.

Burton’s diagnosis – and being able to understand and deal with “what kind of things trigger a reaction” (like certain foods or her anxiety) – has not only impacted her physical health, but her overall relationship with her body.
“I feel like I’m not so angry at my body anymore – because I understand why it’s doing the things that it’s doing,” she said.

“There are definitely still days where it’s out of my hands and I can’t do anything, but on the days where I can do stuff to manage it, it’s so much nicer, it’s so much better, and I feel so much less shame surrounding my body and the fact that that’s what I’m dealing with.”

Originally published as ‘Hot girl IBS’: Why young Aussies are embracing TikTok trend

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