Why ‘that girl’ isn’t real

Ava Fisher, Opinions Editor

Every college student is well acquainted with the experience of trying to balance different areas of life. As college students, we embody the roles of academics, friends, employees, volunteers and various other labels all at once. When rushing from a class that ends at 5 to a shift that starts at 5:30, students can feel like something is bound to slip through the cracks.

Social media does little to ease this feeling. In the age of influencers and side hustles, feelings of stress and inadequacy can only grow. 

With the increasing popularity of TikTok as a social media platform came the rise of inspirational TikToks, with whole corners of the internet dedicated to short clips of successful and attractive people who seemed to simply “have it all”. One trend that has really taken hold is the ever-elusive image of “that girl.”

Who is “that girl,” exactly? She is someone who wakes up early every morning, eats a healthy and picturesque breakfast, and runs 5 miles all before many students roll out of bed for their 11-a.m.s. She is the standard for health, wellness, success and generally having your life together. The “that girl” trend has inspired millions of views, but the supposedly inspiring trend can become toxic. 

The issue with pursuing the image of “that girl” is that she isn’t real in the first place. She exists only in short videos, with perfectly coordinated loungewear and sunlight pouring through the blinds. She also must be documented for a platform; simply living her life isn’t enough. Real life is a lot more complex. While “that girl” is shown to us for a few minutes, the day of a college student is 24 hours of stress, tasks and juggling. 

This sanitized, curated form of wellness isn’t new. It contributes to a growing culture of wellness that monetizes and appropriates cultural practices for a profit. When TikToks promote cultural practices for the sake of inspiration and media growth, they remove these practices from their original context. They repackage cultures as their own new, and most importantly, marketable experiences.

In addition to concerns of cultural appropriation, the “that girl” aesthetic has garnered criticism for being inaccessible. Critics of the movement have noticed a pattern that has emerged: She is thin, and she is white.

She is also presumably wealthy, given that the healthy foods she eats often cost much more than a quick and cheap fast food meal. While there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting a healthy lifestyle, the limited diversity represented in this trend could quickly convey the message that “that girl” is the only ideal, looking and acting a certain way. 

These messages, whether they’re intentional or not, only contribute to the epidemic of poor mental health of college students. When students are already overwhelmed with balancing their difficult lives, additional messages of their inadequacy could cause them to spiral. 

Despite its shortcomings, the “that girl” trend, or any other trend of wellness and self-improvement, doesn’t need to be toxic. There is a lot to admire about “that girl.” 

“That girl” promotes self-reflection and improvement for its own sake. Many young women may feel they have to grow in order to serve their relationships or obligations, and this example can be empowering.

It is also admirable in its recognition that growth is an evolving, dedicated process. Too often on social media, we are exposed to the “final product” of a person, a celebrity who has been styled and instructed prior to making any single movement. The “that girl” trend is realistic in the way it acknowledges that growth and self-care are actually very difficult, and they require dedication and consistency.

When the world is such a stressful place, people that want to romanticize life ought not to be shamed. There’s beauty in acknowledging that even the small pleasures of life are worth celebrating.

However, college students must be aware that inspiration can quickly become discouragement. If students treat “that girl” as gospel and do not allow themselves grace, they will inevitably fall short of their expectations. Real life is messy. Real growth isn’t linear, and that’s okay. 

If you find motivation in “that girl,” that’s great. Go pursue a growth mindset and live your best life. If you find other paths of self-care more appealing, that’s also wonderful. Regardless of what path you choose, or what inspiration you model your life after, recognize that as people, we live complex and difficult lives. 

The beauty of growth is not in achieving some arbitrary standard of success, but in the journey of becoming a better person. As college students, we can find simple and consistent ways to go on this journey every day.