Trigger Warning: This article includes mentions of eating disorders.
Who is “That Girl?”
Well, technically she’s an ideal, or an aesthetic, not a real person. As Evan (@defiantgay) put it, “She’s Pinterest incarnate.” She truly has her shit together, all the time — clear skin, manicured nails, matching workout clothes, and a routine for everything. Her meals are always healthy, her home is always clean, and she never allows anything to interrupt her from achieving her goals.
The trend took off on TikTok around April 2021 and has consistently stayed mainstream; references to it have even spread to other social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest. The hashtag #thatgirl on TikTok currently has 2.6 billion views. It consists of vlog-style videos, tutorials, and lists of resources to help people become “That Girl.”
So, what’s the draw?
As Sara Elly told Glamour, “I discovered the ‘That Girl’ trend when I was pulling myself from rock bottom… What appealed to me most is the active support system made up of a community of people that wanted to do better.”
The timing of the trend confirms that Elly’s experience was likely a common one. (April 2021 marked over one year of the COVID-19 pandemic.) At a time when so many of us were struggling with poor mental health, it makes sense that a community would form around self-care.
As the trend rose in popularity, so did critiques of it.
In her video, Taylor Cassidy (@taylorcassidyj) explains some of the harmful effects.
“When you look at the “That Girl” trope… all you’re going to see is skinny white girls eating ‘healthy’… The problem with that is, it designates being ‘healthy,’ ‘successful,’ or ‘pretty’ to one category. It says ‘You can only have these things if you look like this.’”
Cassidy argues the trend also limits people’s idea of what food is considered healthy. Many “that girl” videos don’t include a variety of cultural dishes.
While an individual TikTok vlog may not prove harmful on its own, the lifestyle is rooted in having “that girl” products. From the matching lounge sets to a constant flow of green juice, skincare products, gym memberships, and minimalist home decor, “That Girl” is arguably defined more by her wealth than her health.
This type of trend isn’t new.
Does a cultural obsession with the aesthetic of wellness sound familiar to anyone else?
The most common critique of “That Girl” is that it’s simply repackaging diet culture and the #thinspo era of Tumblr. “That Girl” offers yet another inaccessible picture of “health.”
In her video, Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn) talks about the various ways wellness was sold online in the 2010s and how it eventually led to a prevalence of eating disorders among many influencers who promoted the lifestyle.
“Health and wellness does not have an aesthetic,” Lee said, “Striving for these things should not take precedence over your mental well-being or take over your life.”
IMO: Leave #ThatGirl behind
It seems like more people who enjoy the trend are becoming aware of the toxic pressure these videos can put on people to achieve perfection. On a viral video by Kaylie Stewart (@kaylieestewart), the top comment (by @samz2510) says “Reminder you don’t have to do everything here to be “that girl” 💜 you can be “that girl” at your own pace :)”
But is this sentiment a big enough shift away from comparison and self-criticism to purely see these videos as harmless motivation? I’m not convinced.
As 2022 unfolds, I’ll be interested to see how Gen Z handles the return of indie sleaze and other 2010s trends. I hope we continue to hold each other accountable in comment sections and IRL when it comes to trends that may prove harmful.