Social media’s problem with unrealistic lifestyle culture
Your alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. in your perfectly organized bedroom. You roll out of bed with no problem before sauntering off to the bathroom to complete your full ten-step skin care routine. Next, you make your bed and begin a sunlight–filled journal session. Not only do you work out, but you wear a matching workout set and go for a walk too. You make a green juice, drink a lemon water and cook a plant-based meal. Wait. But you forgot to look perfect while doing it. The morning is ruined. How can you be “That Girl” without this essential step?
What is “That Girl”? Contrary to the name, “That Girl” is not a particular girl or person. It can be anyone who wishes to take on the lifestyle that comes with being “That Girl.” “That Girl” is someone who has their shit together. She wakes up early, she works out, she eats healthy, she never looks tired, and most importantly, she’s incredibly productive.
The “That Girl” trend first began on TikTok in April of 2021. Now, instead of only being on TikTok, “That Girl” trend videos have traveled over to YouTube and have been adopted by lifestyle creators.
When researching the “That Girl” trend on YouTube, a video made by the content creator Vanessa Tiiu comes up titled “The Ultimate Guide to Being ‘That Girl’.” The video has over 1.9 million views. It begins with a vibrant montage of the different parts of being “That Girl”: working out, nourishing your body, journaling, practicing self care, and overall working on yourself. With each phrase she puts up, ten glossy and glamorous images of mostly skinny and attractive women working out in cute workout sets are shown. For the most part, the pictures she includes show a glamorized version of everything she mentions.
Tiiu then shares her own “That Girl” morning routine: waking up at 5:50am, following her skin care routine, making her bed, journaling, walking, drinking lemon water, working out, getting ready and dressed up for the day, eating a healthy breakfast and getting started on work.
Surface level, there isn’t anything wrong with this. The consistent theme with the “That Girl” trend is the ideology that it’s all about bettering yourself and becoming the best version of yourself. Underlying is a theme of needing to be consistently productive. “That Girl” content creators will include the phrase “super productive!” on the thumbnails or titles of these videos to lure people in. While the “That Girl” trend inspires many to “get up and get at ‘em,” it also creates a narrative that you need to be productive every morning and every day if you want to have it together. While some will say that self care and mental health is important in being “That Girl”, most videos don’t actually showcase relaxing or self care.
This trend is a highlight reel just as a lot of social media is. It is easy to splice together short clips of staged selections of one’s day, especially in TikTok videos where it is easy for a creator to take a two–second clip of themselves making an acai bowl and then another of them going for a jog. We rarely get to see what’s happening behind the scenes. How long does it take to make this video? Are the creators filled with energy and positivity consistently? Is everything as perfect as it looks in those curated shots?
Social media is known for negatively affecting the mental health of teenagers, especially teenage girls; it’s a breeding ground for toxic comparisons. According to BBC News, “Heavy social media use was linked to negative well being and self-esteem, regardless of a young person’s mental state, with more girls experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness” (BBC News). If this trend is about wellness, then there should also be clips of those days where you don’t want to get out of bed, or you take a little bit longer working on something. It’s one thing to romanticize your life, and another to force images of perfection 24/7. Undoubtedly, this cannot be positively affecting the mental health of not only those watching the videos, but also those creating the videos who might feel like they have to display perfection.
The “That Girl” trend shows tiny shots of girls living their best lives and also creates the illusion of perfection. The girls in the videos are always put together: their hair and makeup is done, they wear trendy outfits, and nothing about them or their living space seems to have any flaws. The “That Girl” trend pushes the subconscious requirement that if you want to join the world of “That Girl,” you too must always be put together and everything must be “aesthetic” or aesthetically-pleasing while you’re doing it.
Connected to that is the physical image of “That Girl.” Those who engage in the trend often say anyone can be “That Girl” and you can be “That Girl” in any way that works for you, but many of the creators making successful videos in this genre are white and follow conventional beauty standards. My search on YouTube only saw two popular women of color creators out of the top forty videos. This is a consistent theme when it comes to creators, especially those who make lifestyle content.
That being said, is this content truly all bad? I’ve been watching lifestyle content since I was in seventh grade. I started off watching Bethany Mota and discovered more creators that made similar content from there. I consistently watched lifestyle videos with the goal of trying to be super productive.
Young girls today are watching these videos which promote being ultra-productive. This can become harmful, especially when girls are younger because they shouldn’t have to worry about looking perfect while completing everyday tasks. But these videos suggest that you’re not good enough if you don’t. Add the additional layer of a lack of representation in this genre, and it then suggests that you must be white, skinny and wealthy if you wish to achieve this seemingly glamorous lifestyle. If you’re not, then you’re not worthy enough.
At this point, I still enjoy lifestyle content: it often inspires me on days where I know I have a lot to do but am not feeling motivated. I tend to tune out the productivity narrative all of these videos have in which they push being as productive as possible. I take these videos with a grain of salt. If I like the journal idea they have, I’ll translate it to my own journaling. If they get up early in the video, and if I’m feeling up to it, I’ll get up early too. Overall, I think it’s okay to watch these videos, but we have to be aware of the underlying messages some of them give out, regardless of whether the creators are conscious of it or not. We must remember that all forms of social media are highlight reels. They show us the best points of someone’s day. It’s completely fine to be productive and get your stuff together, but it’s also okay if you have days where you don’t feel like doing anything at all.
Mikayla Tolliver is a second-year writing major who knows the value of some rest and relaxation. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.