AN ANALYSIS ON THE “THAT GIRL” TREND
Its Toxicity and Misconceptions of Wellness
By Eva Fournel
Oh, to be that girl.
Who is ‘That Girl’?
This social media lifestyle trend started gaining popularity in late 2020 and early 2021 on TikTok and Instagram, most likely because of the pandemic. While most of us were limited to the typical joyous, yet Instagrammable, activities like going out or taking trips, we learned to romanticize the simpler parts of life. The trend isn’t exclusively about fashion, fitness, or food, but rather incorporates all these factors to put an emphasis on wellness and self-improvement. Posting these tips and routines in an aesthetically pleasing way is, or initially was, intended to be motivational. “That Girl” is not only inspirational, but aspirational as well.
Though, aspiring to a highlight reel we only witness through a screen can be tricky, especially when that highlight reel is supposed to be something as typical as a morning routine. Yet somehow, it still feels like we’re doing it all wrong.
Toxic Depiction of “Healthy”
The creators aim to promote a ‘healthy’ and seemingly effortless lifestyle, but as they attempt to promote healthy eating, they do so in an obsessively planned and strategic way. Most of this content includes recipes and cooking videos, usually consisting of plant-based meals in small portions, disregarding what else these women may eat in a day. It alludes to meal prepping and treats eating as a routine, something that you need to learn. While eating is something that can be adjusted to people’s desired plans for their health and appearance, it is a very personal journey, one that can’t be taught in a 15 second video.
Some ‘that girl’ creators even go as far as to post grocery lists of food their viewers must get to be “that girl”— mind you, I’ve yet to see any of these creators be licensed nutritionists, and, given the history of the internet, many vulnerable young women can account for how dangerous ‘food/eating tips’ can be. Gen-Z girls suffered enough through the eras of “thinspo” on Tumblr or Freelee the Banana Girl on 2016 Youtube.
Lack of Relatability: Wealth and Resources
The “That Girl” trend typically portrays an unrealistic lifestyle funded by creators’ wealth. It’s this content that promotes consumerism as the trendy lifestyle, coining certain products as the staple pieces to live this lifestyle correctly. Seeing items like a Nespresso machine, GymShark or Alo workout sets, Drunk Elephant, or The Ordinary skincare, “essentials’ hauls, etc, on a constant loop teaches viewers that attaining such items is part of the journey of becoming a “that girl”, which is toxic and unrealistic. It unintentionally encourages a consumerist mindset that we need to continuously purchase specific items to successfully achieve the life we’re sold — an expensive checklist.
With her modern apartment decorated to a t, her organic groceries from Whole Foods, and her whole cabinet filled with skincare, it’s clear that money isn’t a concern for ‘That Girl’, and that she certainly has the means to accomplish this lifestyle. Further, the fact that she can afford to fit in workouts, elaborately cooked meals, and time to socialize with ease all in one day shows that time isn’t a concern either. For a full time student, someone working a 9-5, or a young woman balancing multiple jobs, time and money are a major concern. While seeing these types of videos may inspire some to make time for the gym this week or to make a healthy breakfast, it may also disappoint them to see that this trend is a depiction of ‘success’, and that their circumstances don’t allow them to embody this aspirational figure quite as well. Because ‘That Girl’ is promoting a lifestyle, as opposed to something like outfit ideas, it is much more challenging to replicate, and it’s important to remember that.
The Poster Girls and The Look
The criteria to become ‘That Girl’ seems very strict and very clear. The trend promotes a certain way of dressing: “sleek”, “clean”, and “sophisticated”. The pieces are usually very simple, including neutral-colored bralettes, blazers, matching workout sets, and sleek mini skirts. As far as the comments go, while I’ve seen many that are just young girls thanking the users for the ‘tips’, others have responded with “I’m too poor for that”,alluding that they aspire to make the kind of money that can afford them this lifestyle one day.
Aside from its costs, the “that girl” poster people can be toxic as well. Now, that isn’t to say that the women themselves are toxic, but the pattern of this type of women being showcased as the ‘goal’ are. Almost all TikTok compilations showing inspiring photos of “that girl” icons are white and skinny—not to mention their financials. When creators describe a “clean” or “sophisticated” look, and then show images exclusively of white and skinny young women, it perpetuates the idea that being white and skinny is the foundation of ‘That Girl’. This brings back the key question: Is it the outfit or is she just skinny? Regardless of how many recipes are taught, workouts are shared, or skin care routines promoted, the spokespeople (or at least the popular ones) behind these rituals all seem to look the same. For a trend that’s meant to be motivating, that’s actually pretty crushing. This isn’t to blame women for the way they look or accuse them of negative intentions, this is more to call out the toxicity of the trend and the hidden message it puts out. While some may justify the trend, saying that it of course applies to anyone of any body type, constantly uploading the same reference images of Matilda Djerf, Emily Mariko, or Lily Rose Depp, says otherwise.
What do we do with this trend?
Eradicating this trend is clearly unrealistic, and because social media and culture is the way that it is, if it ever were to be wiped, a new trend would come along. Perhaps one way to apply these tips to our lives is to one, apply them in moderation: we don’t need all these silly products, and we don’t need to follow all of these rituals to feel good about ourselves. Two, we can apply them to our lives off of social media, the lives we live behind the screen. We can learn to appreciate the days we spend at the gym or the healthy elaborate breakfasts we’ve made, without feeling inclined to post about it or religiously stick to it. Will these rituals come as naturally to us if we aren’t trying to prove that we follow them to others? What aspects from these videos and inspiration pictures will stick with us long-term and off camera?
Once again, I believe that the original intentions of this trend were to be inspirational and motivational: the journey to feeling good about yourself, your productivity, and feeling good in your own skin. However, because this trend is so strategic and ritualized, it blurs the lines between self-love and self-care. It brings into question, what is the path to feeling good in your own skin? Does it come from rituals or letting go of rituals?
This question is probably too heavy and complex to answer in 15-60 second videos, and perhaps that’s why it isn’t a trend, but I think I’d rather let go.