If you’re active on social media, you’ve definitely come across the viral phenomenon of ‘that girl.’
This wellness architype originally rose to popularity on Tiktok, with women sharing their routines of being ‘that girl,’ or giving tips and tricks for other women to obtain this lifestyle for themselves. The virality eventually made its way to YouTube, and people have made lengthy videos detailing how, you too, can become that girl.
That girl has become the pinnacle of aspirations for females everywhere. After all, being super productive, healthy and mindful is something that everyone should aspire to be, right?
Deconstructing what it means to be ‘that girl’
Whilst this female prototype celebrates and endorses women to be healthy, mindful and productive, the aesthetic nature of this trend is what garnered its popularity. Not to mention in every video ‘that girl’ consisted of the same formula: being a slender and attractive woman.
The halo effect
As we know, being conventionally attractive is something that has become profitable. In advertisements we always see attractive people selling us items. Influencer careers were built on the back of pretty privilege, as they directly profit off the commodification of beauty.
The Halo effect is a psychological term coined in the 1920’s by Edward Thorndike (I). As humans, we hold a cognitive bias that influences how we see others. When we see someone that’s attractive, we attribute them to have positive characteristics in a biased manner. For example, we may think an attractive person has more intelligence or financial stability.
The mechanisms behind ‘that girl’ isn’t something new; after all, people have been chasing a balance of living a healthy and happy life for a long time. What’s new is the comparisons we make between what kind of person we are, and what kind of person that girl is.
That girl isn’t just healthy and mindful, she’s content in life. She’s happy and has good relationships. She’s smart, funny and everyone loves her; but most importantly - she’s definitely better than you. That girl is almost always conventionally attractive too, adding to the toxicity of health being seen as a certain look, body and lifestyle.
Whilst the birth of the trend was intended to be inspiring and motivating, consuming this content excessively can become harmful to us. No-one's life can be depicted in a few clips on a tiktok, and life certainly doesn’t consist of a highlight reel of images glamourising our day-to-day tasks.
The popularisation of these videos also creates the assumption that living a perfect life is easy. This can leave us feeling guilty for struggling to reach our goals, and make us feel like failures.
One narrative I’ve seen emerging of this trend is it’s perceived as a transformative lifestyle that can remove unhappiness from one's life. In fact, it’s presented as a rather easy choice to make. I can imagine the infomercial jingle would go something like this:
“Not happy with yourself? Tired of being unorganised and not maximising your potential? Become that girl! For the small price of giving up all your free time, your friends and passive interests, you can be that girl today!”
Social comparison theory
According to this theory, we have an innate drive to compare ourselves to others. We use other people as sources of information to rank our social and personal wealth. According to Festinger, there are two types of comparison. Upward comparison - when we compare ourselves to those slightly better than us - and downward comparison, when we compare ourselves to those who are ‘worse’ than us.
The addictiveness of social media means we’re consuming more content every day. Having a constant digital stream of information means we’re comparing ourself more than ever to a pseudo world where perfection is the standard.
This paired with imposter syndrome is a sure-fire way of ensuring we’re never content with our own lives.
Let’s talk about productivity
Productivity is something that has corrupted the way we function as humans. This idea that we need to be doing something useful with our time has led to a generation of burnt-out people.
In a perfect world, we’d achieve everything we desire with ease. However, we are not machines. We cannot function at high speeds for long periods of time; it’s just not realistic. Whilst the idea of being ‘that girl’ promises a healthy and happy life, even watching videos of people partaking in being that girl exhausts me.
Truthfully, no-one is that girl, not even the girls creating these videos. Social media is an illusion and whilst we know this, it can be difficult to actively remember that a 20 second tiktok doesn’t paint a full picture, or half the picture... or even a quarter of the picture.
Life is unpredictable, and whilst I love the idea of romanticising my life, doing my laundry or washing the dishes is never going to be something I look forward to. Sometimes striving to perfection can be our downfall; we’re not going to get there fast, if at all, and that’s ok because we were not made to be perfect.
There is no one prototype for being the perfect person; the truth is we’re all different. Eventually the trend will fade and with it, so will that girl. Instead, let’s strive to become something more permanent than a viral video. Rather, let’s choose to embrace our strengths and flaws and work towards being a healthier and happier version of ourselves. If that doesn’t involve 6am starts and 3 mile runs, then that’s totally ok with me.