The Death of “That Girl”

“That Girl” is the internet’s new ideal of perfection; perfect body, perfect health, perfect life. But what darkness lies behind the green smoothies and hot-girl walks? Who is “that girl” really, and why has she fallen from grace?

“Good morning,” a chipper voice halts your late night TikTok-doom-scroll,”welcome to a day in my life,” the voice continues as a thin, white woman steps into frame, lifting her Lululemon crop top to display a toned stomach. The video goes on to document her daily intake of celery juice and baked oats, as well as her 15-step skincare routine, with the caption “follow to become that girl with me.”

“That girl” was a trend born out of TikTok in late 2021 and early 2022, fluctuating in popularity numerous times before reaching its final peak this past summer. Unlike most other aesthetics with which “that girl” may be closely associated, the trend is more of a lifestyle than it is a fashion subculture, placing an emphasis on health and wellness. As is implied by the name, “that girl” is both inspirational and aspirational, cultivating a sense of motivation in others through awe and envy. We’ve all seen her: “that girl” wakes up no later than 6:00am, “that girl” hits the gym every day, and always has glowing skin, sculpted abs, and the perfect thigh gap, “that girl” meditates, journals, always clears out her inbox, and never misses a deadline, “that girl” is clean and never has a hair out of place, “that girl” wears only authentic gold jewelry, Glossier perfume, and a has an endless supply of perfectly coordinated, pastel workout sets. But who is “that girl” really?

“That girl” is the new standard of  self-improvement that we’re all failing to live up to. “That girl” is the promise that if you wake up early every day, never skip a workout, and use 12 different face creams, you will be “that girl” who is living out the ideal life we all wish we had. But the trend is merely a performance that turns “self-care” into a never-ending job. Additionally, as discourse around wellness and health, both mental and physical, becomes more mainstream, they have become commodified and turned into mechanisms for generating productivity. The trend indicates that the point of having a healthy mind and body is to be more prosperous within the capitalist system. While “that girl” offers us shortcuts to fruition, it only creates more work and further heightens quixotic expectations for women. 

The height of the pandemic brought about enduring challenges for most individuals—unemployment, disease, and self isolation—and our diets, exercise, and personal routines and habits quickly became the only areas in our lives in which we could maintain a sense of control. The influencers of the “that girl” aesthetic capitalize on this; they lead followers to hyper-fixate on self-improvement until all they can think about is whether their morning ritual is good enough. The trend has conditioned us to treat ourselves like a project. It creates a constant internal narrative that says that we could always be doing better: “I should eat cleaner,” “I’m not exercising enough,” “I should wake up earlier,” “ I need to clean more,” “I don’t read enough books.” 

Striving to improve quality of life through exercise, a balanced diet, and prioritizing mental health are generally positive and healthy habits to adopt; however, like most content online,  it’s fabricated, creating a continuous cycle of self hatred in which we compare ourselves to false representations of perfection: “That girl” is the epitome of success, she’s healthy, she’s wealthy, she achieves every goal with complete ease, her beauty is effortless, but above all, she is impossible, she is “the sinister side of success.”

As we slowly came out of the pandemic, the trend began to fluctuate, reaching a final surge of popularity this summer, but the trend is now in a plunging decline. As we’ve returned to normalcy, we no longer require the social distractions that first drew audiences to the trend, and the collective is recognizing the falsehoods and fundamental flaws that make up “that girl” as a character, as well as the toxic culture of self-optimization that the trend contributes to; we’re realizing that obsessing over food and exercise isn’t healthy, it’s disordered. 

Additionally,  the trend was most popular during the summer months, as we enter autumn, trends are beginning to shift dramatically. “That girl” is characterized by pastel palettes, clean lines, minimal prints, elevated silhouettes, and  athleisure wear; however, above all, the central objective of the aesthetic is to appear clean, coordinated, and put together at all times. As we enter fall,  popular fashion and culture is witnessing a resurgence in Tumblr-esque grunge and indie sleaze fashion from the early 2010s. These fashions are defined by their rejection of perfection and notion of “not caring”, featuring dark, neutral, and autumnal tones and 90s rock motifs, with a strong emphasis on messiness and free-spirited styles, including oversized t-shirts and jackets, leather, flannels, and ripped or torn items; these aesthetics’ set out to showcase complete, unadulterated authenticity, including the difficult, unattractive, and unsophisticated parts of our reality. In stark contrast to “that girl’s” demand for perfection, the persona that these darker aesthetics present are far from perfect; their rooms are messy, their shoes are dirty, they eat pizza and forget to drink water some days, they stay out late and wake up even later, they have acne, don’t make their bed, rewear their favorite t-shirt even though there’s a whole in it, and sometimes they fall asleep in their makeup. The central theme of this trend is that it is ok to be less than perfect both in appearance and lifestyle, further separating us from the forced excellence that “that girl” pushes.

Despite “that girl’s” apparent faults, the trend has helped many people to introduce positive habits and lead more well-adjusted lives. Now that “that girl” has fallen from her pedestal, there is hope that we will continue to seek to improve ourselves, to be the best we can be as individuals, but will discern between what is healthy, and what is obsessive.