When I first joined Instagram in 2011, it seemed like everyone posted horribly edited photos of their DIY manicures and bathroom mirror selfies complete with duck lips. It was a real and candid, albeit a little chaotic, representation of our lives. Then came the shift to a more curated social media presence, and we all started caring a lot more about what people on the internet thought of us. For the next few years, people downloaded the FaceTune app and started sliding left and right on filters to ensure they looked their absolute best. It quickly became exhausting, but then TikTok entered the scene, delivering quick 15- to 30-second videos that were refreshingly low budget and entertaining.
At first, the content was as similarly authentic as the early days of Instagram — full of amateur makeup tutorials, DIY projects, and botched haircuts — but within the last year, I started to notice a different type of content on my For You Page. Many of the organic videos have been replaced with clips from microinfluencers showing off their aesthetically pleasing bathroom vanities or their incredibly involved and seemingly impossible 12-step morning routines — and just like that, the "that girl" aesthetic was born.
It's hard to define exactly what it means to be "that girl," but she is calm and cool, always wakes up smiling, vlogs her daily meditation practice and two-miles-long walks, and spends an hour on her skin care as a self-care practice — and you definitely want to be her. A quick search of the phrase "that girl" on TikTok produces hundreds of similar videos that, at the time of writing, have 3.5 billion views.
The trend is supposed to be aspirational and motivating, but I have mixed feelings about the "that girl" aesthetic. On one hand, I follow quite a few creators who make this type of content and find myself gravitating toward it every time I open the app — I just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. The videos are engaging and downright beautiful to watch. On the other, I don't know if our collective obsession with it is a good thing. While I appreciate the sentiment — that we should be prioritizing ourselves, pouring endless time into our well-being, and striving to become the best version of ourselves — I also think the trend is more harmful than we realize.
I'd like to believe the intention behind these videos is to show viewers that anyone can be "that girl" — which sometimes includes an audio soundbite from an August 2021 E! News interview with Rihanna saying to fake it till you make it — but that messaging is drowned out by thousands of videos perpetuating an unrealistic standard with great skin, clothes, and work-life balance to boot. The sheer number of videos with this similar messaging can make you feel like you're the only person who isn't already "that girl."
To me, the "that girl" aesthetic on TikTok feels a bit like those overly edited photos we all used to post on Instagram. We enjoyed looking at them in the moment, but turns out all these years later, they weren't all that great for our mental health. What's even stickier about these overly put-together, I-woke-up-like-this types of videos on TikTok is that it's even harder to tell what's real and what's not. Because it's a video, your mind reads it as being an accurate representation of what's being shown — their skin is always that clear, their hair always looks that perfect, their self-care routine is always that comprehensive — when really, we're still only seeing what the creator wants us to see.
I don't think the "that girl" trend needs to vanish altogether — as I said, I enjoy watching the videos, too — but I do think they should be taken, or viewed, with a grain of salt. It's OK if you don't feel like "that girl" most of the time, it's OK if you don't wake up looking video-ready the second you open your eyes, and it's OK if all you can muster up the energy for in the morning is running a brush through your hair. The reality is, you're already doing just fine.