CULTURE

Who Is "That Girl" on TikTok?

We spoke too soon. We were too quick to wipe the sweat off our brows, grateful for the fall of the millennial Girlboss era in which we were all supposed to aspire to the protofeminist CEO type.

However, since everything has a reboot these days, a new version of the Girlboss has emerged on TikTok and is now firmly embedding herself in the Gen Z consciousness. Her name: "That Girl."

But who the hell is That Girl?


She was born, like all terrible things, from a TikTok trend. The viral That Girl videos are usually aesthetically curated montages of a perfect day in That Girl's life, or sometimes a collection of images that come together to form an image of a very specific lifestyle and aesthetic.

@kaylieestewart

this is your sign to become THAT GIRL this summer 🥦🏃🏽‍♀️🧡 #thatgirl #morningroutine #summer2021 #healthylifestyle #fyp

According to these TikToks, this how That Girl spends her days:

First, she wakes up early — something that all "self-made" successful people tell you is the key to their wealth (often, it's nepotism but … go off). The time on her alarm or your Apple laptop reads "6:30" or something equally horrifying, and then the videos invariably pan to the morning light streaming in through the windows. Okay, That Girl, you're up before the birds. What's next?

The answer? Caffeine. Depending on your brand of That Girl, she'll either make herself a coffee or a matcha. Whichever her drink of choice, she'll make sure to make it aesthetically appealing — pouring the (probably non-dairy) milk over ice, then stirring in her beverage so you can watch the ASMR-satisfying stir.

The next step is a workout. That Girl always works out, and she always does it in matching athleisure sets with either a complex home step up or at a fancy gym. Cue the camera panning to a mirror selfie of her abs and (almost always) thin, white body. She throws a thumbs up to the camera in self-congratulation and is off to the races.

Now, breakfast. That Girl has two main breakfasts of choice. Cereal? A piece of dry toast as she runs out the door to live her busy life? Last night's leftovers? Of course not; those are our lives, and we are not That Girl. That Girl eats carefully curated breakfasts, usually of the smoothie bowl or baked oat variety. She shows us her bowl, a beautiful arrangement of strawberries, bananas, chia seeds, coconut flakes and blueberries. Time to start her day.

Sometimes, That Girl spends her day working — flashing us images of her bullet journal, busy calendar, and her multiple-screen workstation.

Other times, she's just vibing, going on walks, socializing, or reading some self help-book (probably The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle).

At night, That Girl has an equally elaborate bedtime routine and wakes up to do it all again. Her life is beautiful (so is she, obviously), her days are structured, productive, and busy, and she is … what? Happy? Successful? Enviable?

Because really, what is all this for? Who is all this for? And why are we all supposed to be breaking our backs to be That Girl?

To be fair, Gen-Z didn't invent That Girl — they just gave her a new name. The archetype of the "put together" girl has been around since long before TikTok. Sometimes she's framed as neurotic and overly intense — usually by the male gaze which subsequently deems her unattractive — and sometimes the rhetoric of feminism is evoked to make this archetype the paragon of female empowerment — i.e. Ms Girlboss of yore.

But really, That Girl is just … a person. There is nothing inherently good about her just because of how she spends her days.

I understand the temptation of wanting to be That Girl. In chaotic times — whether it be stirred by the global pandemic, the climate crisis, or just a good old fashioned existential crisis — it's a saving grace to have something to aspire to, to give us structure.

But often, the reason we gravitate towards That Girl and her life is because we have been socialized to get our validation (internal and external) from being productive and attractive. That Girl's lifestyle seems to be set up to achieve two things: being successful and being hot.

@kaylieestewart

6 weeks till hot girl summer 💦🔥 #motivation #thatgirl #summer2021 #healthylifestyle #fyp

Framing That Girl as the archetypal Hot Girl is where this iteration gets pretty problematic.

In most of the viral TikToks, That Girl is a thin, white, able-bodied, conventionally attractive cis-passing woman. While some of the aesthetics in these videos are purely decorative — it doesn't matter, really, if the bed isn't tightly made, the matcha doesn't look perfect, and the oat bowl isn't adorned with beautifully placed summer fruit — the aesthetics of thinness, and conventional "hotness" are not window dressing in these videos. They're part of the point.

And though many people (read: us) have been throwing around the term "Hot Girl Summer" to manifest a carefree mindset for our post-Covid summer, the term feels a little too earnest in these videos. It almost seems like they're really trying to teach you how to be A Hot Girl.

This is problematic in a lot of ways. First, and most obviously, it subscribes to narrow, Eurocentric beauty standards. More dangerously, it attributes this very contrived idea of hotness to hard work. If only you exercised and made smoothies every day, then you would have the "perfect" look and life, That Girl says.

And because hard work is moralized as the ultimate virtue, That Girl moralizes hotness and tells us that, if we're not, it's because our lives aren't together.

This is the most awful and annoying aspect of That Girl: She thinks that if your life doesn't look like hers, then it's wrong. That Girl looks down on you if you're not an early to bed, early to rise person. That Girl scoffs at your Lucky Charms breakfast. That Girl will tell you about her workout routine even if you didn't ask.

Aspects of her life are things most of us should try to incorporate into ours, like eating healthy and doing some sort of exercise, but it doesn't have to look like hers, and we don't have to try to look like her either.

Most of us who lived through other iterations of That Girl know that there is always a new, ephemeral ideal to revere — but we're also more likely to know that these are hollow figures that we don't actually have to imitate.

But since TikTok is largely populated by a younger demographic, more impressionable viewers might take That Girl as law and feel inadequate if their lives don't measure up. In her search for existential meaning and control, That Girl might take pleasure in other people's jealousy as an affirmation of her success — don't we all want to be the type of person other people model themselves around?

This cycle gets no one anywhere.

That Girl is just another creation of the social scripts that tell us our value comes from what we do rather than who we are. If smoothies, oat bowls, and planned daily routines make you happy, power to you. But living a different lifestyle can be just as valid as living That Girl's life — maybe even more valid if it comes without the superiority complex.

To That Girl, in the words of Olivia Rodrigo, bard of our time: "Good for you, you're happy and healthy … not me."

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