Who really is That Girl and why does everyone want to be her?
Photography via Instagram courtesy of @everpeachyy
Stepping into a new season of life sparks a motivation in yourself to look within, to seek a change, to self-improve, maybe even create a “new you.” In the hazy, dreamscape of a new year, a new job, or even overcoming a challenging situation, the possibilities of what’s ahead seem eternal, even optimistic. The world is at your feet. We can do whatever we want to, be whoever we want to be, so I thought: why not be the best I can be, why not be “That Girl”?
In my own doom-scrolling on TikTok, light shines through when I am told, “this is your sign to become That Girl,” and given instructions on just how I can do it. First step, romanticize the little things in life by truly finding the beauty in myself, in the things I do, and in everything that surrounds me. Second, wake up really early (4:30-5:30 a.m. is ideal), do a very attractive looking workout (perhaps some yoga for today) in a matching workout set, drink lots of water, and be “well.” Next, make myself a green-hued beverage (kale smoothie, matcha latte, your choice), and eat a healthy breakfast (read: small, plant-based like a smoothie bowl or overnight oats) to satiate my hunger after said attractive workout. Finally, journal away my daily affirmations and gratitudes, then be productive by following a detailed, endless schedule — all while looking idyllic. Oh yes, do not forget to document this journey of self-improvement in beautiful, peaceful, and effortless BUT minimal and highly stylized photos and videos. Whew, okay, seems easy enough. I can be That Girl.
Except, wait, none of the people in these videos … look like me. None of them seem like me. I don’t see me. So, can that really be me? Can I really be That Girl?
“What exists within the frames of these TikToks, the white, skinny bodies adorned in neutral athleisure, sitting in spacious, lush homes filled with expensive furniture and bathroom counters holding luxe makeup and skincare, makes clear what lurks on the periphery of the trend.”
Who is That Girl? On the face of it, the That Girl trend is a motivational and highly aesthetic-based lifestyle focused on productivity, self-improvement, and wellness. Staples of this lifestyle include waking up before the sun to start a productive day, exercising daily and eating healthy, a clean, minimalist aesthetic (makeup, clothes, room, even water bottles all look the part), and practicing positivity. Due to social media’s accountability of “if you didn’t post it, it didn’t happen” and the visual focus of this trend, That Girl thrives on Instagram and TikTok where you can peruse through short clips of people’s daily routines. In reality, it is just the highlights of them. The issue with this lies in the simple message being pushed here: she is everything you should want to be, everything you should be. From the title of “That Girl” alone, there is a clear implication that one “kind” of girl is “perfect” and is the dream goal to work towards. However, for many people, this ideal will always be out of reach.
What exists within the frames of these TikToks, the white, skinny bodies adorned in neutral athleisure, sitting in spacious, lush homes filled with expensive furniture and bathroom counters holding luxe makeup and skincare, makes clear what lurks on the periphery of the trend. That is, the capitalist ideals of constant consumption and a harmful “rise and grind” mentality, the toxic body standards, fatphobia, and ableism that lie in “wellness” (diet) culture, and the lack of (intersectional) representation of people with disabilities, Black people, and people of colour that is the underlies That Girl.
That Girl is not even the first of its sort. She is the amalgamation of all that came before her. She is a naturalized, beautified version of her predecessor, the Girlboss, a figure of female empowerment based on the capitalist standards of selling one’s labour and constant productivity as a sort of achievement. That Girl is the TikTok style of the fashion blog’s forever favourite archetype for shilling products, the French Girl. Laid-back, classic, beautiful, and “never gets fat”. And don’t forget that apparently you can become her if you just buy the new Chanel lipstick or this season’s Sézane dress. Similar to these earlier aesthetic embodiments of the idealized woman, the That Girl trend, while seeming to be attainable with some effort and spending, creates an exclusive fantasy that places you on an isolating hamster wheel of excessive and obsessive self-work with no end in sight. That is, unless you are a thin, upper- to middle-class white girl.
Criticism against the trend range from the “healthy” eating being a step away from toxic diet culture practices like restrictive eating and calorie counting that leads to disordered eating, to the spreading unrealistic, generic wellness methods for complicated issues like mental health, to the inherent racism, classism, fatphobia, and ableism from TikTok promoting wealthy, white, thin, able-bodied version of #thatgirl over others.
However, as counterprogramming to That Girl, creators on TikTok and Instagram have gone on to parody the typical aesthetic patterns of That Girl, dissect the messages the trend spreads, and present alternative motivation that is both inclusive and realistic. As a break from the curated, performative aspect of That Girl, content creators Jana and Amelia, @everpeachy on TikTok, show the reality that is not always shown on camera while Kayla Jean, @kaylajean.h on TikTok, presents how hard it is to maintain such an aspirational lifestyle. Other creators like the Cognitive Corner and Frankie Simmons have pointed out how the praiseworthy aspects of That Girl, like her “overfunctionality”, may not always equate to personal wellness or actual self-improvement. Just because That Girl looks perfect, it does not mean she has it all together nor does she have to.
On the other hand, while the aesthetic components of That Girl feed into problematic, some values of the lifestyle like seeing/growing the good in yourself, practicing self-reflection to a certain extent, and forming beneficial habits that fit you have been positively adopted by in “the realistic That Girl” niche. For other sources of healthy, long-standing motivation, people searching for more accessible and diverse sites of inspiration can turn towards wellness influencers and community builders that account for the different intersections of race, class, gender, abilities, and body shape that impact people’s lives. For example, Kim and Shanelle, founders of the Villij, a wellness club for Black women and women of colour, seek to create inclusive community spaces to “nurture mental, emotional, and physical health” after facing exclusion in the white-washed wellness industry. Jessamyn Stanley, creator of The Underbelly Yoga, and author of Every Body Yoga, and Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl in Om provide flexible and inclusive approaches on wellness, healing, personal growth, and improvement.
Just as That Girl was not the first of her kind, she will certainly not be the last of her kind. The aspirational, perfect woman archetype will always change, persist, and exist. Like the #realisticthatgirl says, understand what is for you and what might not be the best for you, take what you can and want, and leave everything else.