Content warning: This article discusses sexual harassment on social media.

If you’ve scrolled through the “For you page” of TikTok recently, you might have come across Sabadabadoodle — a creator whose content consists of captivating kicks, some artwork of her favorite anime characters, and some lifestyle-type videos. She’s amassed well over a million followers, more than 30 million likes on her videos thus far, and the numbers keep growing by the day. Outside of the app, people know Sabadabadoodle as Sabrina, a tae kwon do instructor as well as a student here at the University of Toronto. 

The Varsity recently sat down with her to get to know the person behind the screen.

Kicking it off-screen

Sabrina has been practicing tae kwon do — a Korean martial art — since 2006. Currently a holder of an impressive third-degree black belt, she’s training for her fourth-degree black belt while also training students of all ages in tae kwon do, including students with disabilities. 

Outside of training, Sabrina balances school, work, and life just like the rest of us at U of T, spending her days transitioning between school, work, and posting online. You might think that in order to balance viral fame and ordinary life, you’d follow a strict regimen, but Sabrina begs to differ. “I don’t have a strict schedule whatsoever. My sleep schedule is actually garbage,” she explained. “I try to do my videos at night or in between breaks, because I can get really caught up in editing, because it’s so fun, right?” As someone who failed at media projects in high school because I could hardly use a crop tool on Photoshop, I’d disagree that editing is fun — but for Sabrina, it allows her to further express her creative vision.

An unexpected rise

Like a lot of people, Sabrina’s introduction to TikTok was through people in her life: “When the pandemic first hit… I downloaded it because [my sisters] kept sending me the links.” At first, she thought the app was “a complete joke” and “lame,” but over time she made an account and began posting visual arts content, such as drawings of some of her favorite TV and anime characters. 

Later, she began posting the occasional video of her tae kwon do skills, such as her kicking a water bottle mid-air after balancing it on her leg. “I stopped doing visual arts because I realized I wasn’t challenging myself as an artist, and I got really art blocked,” she said. Eventually, she realized her tae kwon do content was getting more views and began shifting more toward the content we see today. However, you can see her go back to her drawing roots occasionally.

She didn’t expect to ever get such a massive following — her closest brush to going viral was occasionally getting a hundred likes on Tumblr posts. Despite her large audience, Sabrina seems incredibly humble. Even when her tae kwon do students recognize her from TikTok, she asks them if they saw the drills she posted and tells them to continue working hard. She even takes her siblings’ teasing with stride, recalling how her sister would yell out “Is that Sabadabadoodle?” or “Can I get an autograph?” in public. 

The darker side of viral fame

Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 33 per cent of women under the age of 35 have experienced sexual harassment online. Unfortunately, Sabrina also deals with a horrifying amount of derogatory and inappropriate comments on her videos. From the time she started posting on the app, she would receive unsolicited sexual comments, which were quite stressful for her to deal with.

But she’s never been shy to call out people posting such comments on her videos, as she’s posted many videos rightfully calling out the creepy and hurtful commenters. “Sometimes I’ll do my best to ignore them, but other times I will stand up for myself and make a point that it’s not okay, it’s not right.” 

She added that she believes girls should not experience such comments just because “that’s what the internet is.” She does her best to be a role model and inspire women to stand up for themselves on the app and across all social media platforms. 

“For the girls who literally [just] exist, or even myself trying to make nonsexual content; men, or just people in general, need to understand that it doesn’t matter if they’re doing something that may be suggestive to you. Just be quiet.” 

Sabrina mentioned that because she may appear like a minor to the algorithm, even though she’s an adult, the app sometimes flags her content just because she’s wearing a sports bra or leggings, leading to punishments for otherwise innocuous content. She feels that TikTok could do more to not penalize people creating regular content and catch people that are actually producing inappropriate content. She also hopes TikTok can begin to better moderate comments and remove those that are derogatory, but may not be seen as derogatory without context. 

Sabrina is truly an example of what a great, responsible content creator looks like. Her goal of being a role model for other girls on the app is admirable, and the fact that she balances school, work, and viral fame goes to show she’s exactly the person for the task. Hopefully, she and other creators like her can be the ones to kickstart change.