The problem with TikTok’s 'That Girl' Trend
We need to talk about That Girl. You know, the one who really has her shit together.
If you’re not familiar with her, let me introduce you.
Before you’ve groggily snoozed your first alarm, That Girl has consumed a litre of lemon water, meditated, filled out her five-minute gratitude journal, smashed out a full body sweat session in the gym, eaten her baked oats and made her bed. Oh, and according to her apple watch, she’s already reached her daily goal of ten thousand steps.
Essentially, she’s a living and breathing Pinterest board; a walking blend of green juice, matching activewear sets and charcoal facemasks. She’s the embodiment of the ‘health is wealth’ mentality and her favourite quote is probably something like ‘rise and grind’.
You love to hate her and hate to love her, right? Well, nowadays it seems like everyone wants to be her.
From whipped coffee to feta pasta to soap brows, TikTok can be thanked for breeding many-an-internet-trend. The latest hot topic to infiltrate my For You page is the ‘become That Girl with me’ movement.
In recent weeks, it’s been nearly impossible to open the app without being bombarded with Gen Z girls documenting their carefully curated and impossibly aesthetic morning routines or listing their ‘top five tips to live your best life’. Their glossy self-help videos are typically brimming with aesthetic hustle-porn-esque imagery of productivity, accompanied by a soothing instrumental soundtrack or motivational spiel. Some even feature a before-and-after weight loss transformation, captioned with ‘let’s glow up together’.
At first glance, you’d be easily forgiven for dismissing this trend as harmless. On paper, being reminded to eat your veggies, move your body, cut out toxic friends and drink more water are hardly offensive ideas. They might even serve as a positive reminder to perform some well-deserved self-care.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching girls kick goals and I’m all for women encouraging other women to be their best. But what happens when a collective digital obsession with self-optimisation is taken too far?
The more videos I watched of these seemingly perfect girls with their seemingly perfect lives, the more a gnawing sense of insecurity started to trickle in. Soon enough, I was venturing down a dangerous rabbit hole of comparison. A self-pity scrolling party, if you will.
Now don’t worry, I’m not writing this to lecture you about ‘the dangers of social media’. By now, the notion that online platforms can trigger unhealthy thoughts about body image, spark self-doubt and foster insecurity is old news. Yawn.
But the That Girl trend is different. It’s a whole new playing field. It’s not as painfully obvious as Kardashian approved waist trainers, laxative teas, or appetite-suppressing lollipops. It isn’t forcing self-doubt down our throats like perhaps scrolling through a sea of Instagram models or face tuned bikini thirst traps would.
You see, the issue with this trend lies in its nuance and subtlety.
Tactfully disguised as wholesome motivational content, That Girl is an indirect but insidious catalyst for comparison. These videos are posing as raw, authentic documentation of typical everyday life. In reality, they are meticulously crafted highlight reels that serve as a sugar-coated form of self-improvement propaganda.
Behind the inspirational quotes, Pilates, and smoothie bowls lurks a dangerously narrow definition of self-worth. I began to ask myself, what do all of Those Girls have in common?
It didn’t take me long to notice a clear pattern.
Body type? Slim. Skin colour? White. Status? Privileged.
Kind of hard to become That Girl if you don’t tick the three threshold criteria, isn’t it?
The first issue is that this trend is acutely selective. One where waking up early, exercising and eating well equate to success, just as long as you have a flat stomach, clear skin, expensive serums and trendy bedroom décor to match.
In other words, the That Girl trend is promoting the message that your productivity, health, success and happiness are only valid if your life looks a certain way. It’s a highly performative, ‘one size fits all’ approach to self-improvement and self-worth.
Get in that workout, girl boss, but make sure you look photogenic while you do it!
The second issue is that this expectation that we should be constantly working on ourselves and consistently improving is totally unrealistic. In fact, obsessing over how productive or ‘perfect’ your day-to-day is could lead to major burnout. It's eerily reminiscent of contemporary hustle culture: if you’re not always exhausted and pushing yourself to the limit, you’re not working hard enough.
Overconsuming these idealistic ‘what I eat in a day’ or ‘get lean with me’ montages could undoubtedly prompt girls to develop a harmful fixation with their appearance. It’s a slippery slope leading towards unhealthy eating habits, diet culture and poor body image.
Do I believe that every girl who has jumped on the That Girl content train has done so with the intent to harm? No. I doubt many, if any, have.
The truth is, we could all ‘be better’. We could always fit in one more weekly workout, eat a little healthier, work harder, or sleep longer. But amidst the struggle of balancing work, relationships, life admin and everyday stressors, being That Girl one hundred per cent of the time is frankly not possible.
Achievement isn’t always aesthetic, and the grind isn’t always glamorous. Often self-improvement encompasses chaos, mess, mistakes and imperfection. Sometimes, hard work involves crying over an assignment at 11 pm, eating a bowl of migoreng at 11.30 pm, and then pulling yourself together to submit by midnight before collapsing into a heap, wearing the same pyjamas you’ve been in for the past 48 hours.
I think we should all aspire to be that girl. But not That Girl you saw on TikTok. Not That Girl whose morning routine is so aesthetic it resembles an artsy short film or That Girl who lost X number of kilograms in Y number of months. I’m talking about that girl. That girl your younger self would look up to. That girl who loves herself unconditionally. That girl working towards becoming the best version of herself. For each and every one of us, that girl will look a little different. And that’s okay.