LSC alumna combines science communication and dietetics to engage TikTok users on body image disorders

Growing up in the age of the internet, lots of people dream of going viral. For one LSC student, this became a reality when her TikToks on health and Dietetics went viral overnight. Going viral on TikTok means that a video has at least 300 views, likes, or shares that are outside of one’s immediate network, in other words, hundreds to thousands of new people were being exposed to Monica’s content. By using knowledge and skills from her course work in the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) at UW-Madison, Monica Starck helps engage the public about eating disorders and creates an online community for those who are struggling with them.

Girl with text, thumbnail of a TikTok post
Thumbnail of a TikTok Post by Monica

Monica, like many people growing up in the 2000s, used the internet for entertainment by watching a lot of YouTube videos. Although Monica was only a consumer of social media content, this all changed when she took LSC 432, Social Media for the Life Sciences, with Don Stanley. Throughout this class, students were tasked to create social media posts on their passions. With Monica’s interest in Dietetics and love of YouTube, this was a natural transition for her to create video content that jump-started her involvement in social media.

Monica now makes videos on TikTok, which is a popular social media platform where people create short videos (1 minute or less). Additionally, due to the large variety of topics, it is easy for a diverse audience to find videos that they connect with.  Monica creates videos for people who are struggling with body image disorders; some examples are eating disorders, people’s relationship with food, diet misconceptions, and body positivity. In one of her videos, she explains binge eating, when it is a problem, and its causes. She said it has taken her a while to find this online niche, but this is something that she really enjoys doing.

In her videos, Monica channels her creativity and utilizes skills that she learned from her LSC classes to reach and speak to a variety of people. Monica’s main takeaway from LSC is to engage with the viewers, to show acknowledgment of what they are saying and how they feel. Essentially, she learns to understand who her audience is and what they want. She also focuses on making her content relatable to everyone who watches. One way that she does this, is by breaking down language commonly used by dietitians and translating this to more simple language. Monica says that, “You want to make content that is relatable and accessible, so I use basic words that everyone knows.”

For many people, scientists included, who wish to build an online presence, getting started can be the hardest part, but Monica offered some helpful advice. She said for starters, “that you don’t need any fancy equipment, just your phone is enough.” Second, she said that it’s important to practice what you want to say, “that way you can be more authentic to your viewers on camera.” Lastly, it is important to find your niche. She said, “You should explore the things you are interested in and find an audience that cares about that topic.” In general, it’s hard to make content about broad categories of information, thus it is key to find something specific and within your interests to make content for. Finding something you are passionate about, and sharing that passion, is going to make you successful.

Girl smiling
Monica Starck, UW-Madison Class of 2020; B.S. Life Sciences Communication & Dietetics

Monica hopes to continue making videos about Dietetics after she graduates from her master’s program at Illinois State University. There are a lot of misperceptions around body image disorders and Monica wants people to know that they aren’t alone in their struggles. Thus, she wants to continue making content and connect with as many people as she can. While she has been successful on TikTok, Monica mentioned that there is still plenty to learn about the platform and how to keep her audience engaged with new content. Monica enjoys making content and would love to keep creating TikToks, “if people want it, I’m still getting questions and people wanting support. I’m willing [to make content] but I am still learning too.”

Monica Starck graduated in May 2020 with a degree in Dietetics and Life Science Communication. Her videos display a creative expression of science communication. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s in Dietetics, with hopes of becoming a licensed dietician.

To view her content, check out Monica’s Tiktok here

Story by Sarah Kubiak, LSC B.S. ’22 and LSC’s 2021-2022 Lenore Landry Scholar