Who is “That Girl”, and why do Gen Zs worship her routine?,Nursyazwani Jamil,The Skeptic

A slim, brunette woman in a matching workout set takes a video of herself in the mirror, with a green smoothie in hand. The caption reads, “POV: This is your sign to become “That Girl” with me”. The video cuts into shots of her day: making the bed at 6am, working out in the gym, writing a to-do list and capturing a flat lay of her avocado toast. I glanced at the wall clock in my room. The hands point to half an hour before noon. I am still in bed, wearing my pyjamas, with my hair in a messy top bun.

You may have come across the “That Girl” trend on social media page: it went viral with a total of 1.5 billion TikTok views to its hashtag. The trend encourages a lifestyle of self-improvement, for young women to become the best version of themselves. It was no surprise that the video showed up on my TikTok For You Page (FYP); a personalised feature where the app recommends an endless stream of videos curated to a user’s specific interests, based on its algorithm. Like any other Gen Z addicted to this platform, I am only surprised these “That Girl” trend videos weren’t promoted to me sooner.

As a viewer, I genuinely find these videos relaxing: watching a random American girl of my age going about her routine, just as the 1.7 million others who have liked her video. I spoke to 23-year-old Singaporean student Sabrina Sim, who told me:

When I come across it (the trend), I do feel inspired and sometimes a little jealous. But I am also aware that it might not be realistic to set these standards for myself, so I just treat it as entertainment.

I would not really see myself as “That Girl”, although I admittedly enjoy watching these videos. I do, however, find that these videos motivate me to plan and incorporate certain habits into my own daily routine. However, on my low days where I am unproductive, I find myself feeling inadequate looking at my incomplete to-do list. This naturally got me thinking, what happens when someone tries to follow the routine to become “That Girl”, and fails?

The ideal woman?

Each era has its own image of the ideal woman, and “That Girl” is definitely one for the Gen Zs. Born on Tiktok, she lives on YouTube and Instagram – but who is “That Girl” exactly? She religiously commits to a routine. She starts her day at 6am, works out, showers, eats breakfast, journals, and meditates, all before 9am. Most importantly, she films all her activities, while looking serene and effortlessly aesthetic. Highly productive, “That Girl” is a girl-boss who always looks polished and absolutely has her life together. She balances work, fitness, and her social life through these bite-sized tasks, in a routine that sets her up for success in achieving something greater.

French philosopher Michel Foucault refers to this notion as “The Culture of the Self”. At its core, it is a self-imposed technique or discipline where individuals undergo a certain operations – exercises on their bodies, their mode of thinking, behaviour and way of being – in order to reach a state of happiness, wisdom or perfection. This describes the “That Girl” routine, as it inculcates a type of self-care discipline into a routine that progressively gets internalised for women to become their best selves.

Young women on social media worship the “That Girl” routine. With increasing awareness of mental health, these videos are framed as aspirational “self-care”, promoting positive mental well-being rather than the usual toxic “thin inspiration”. Made by women for women, the trend portrays itself as a coping mechanism for mental health; a cure that bridges expectation versus reality. The “That Girl” routine sells a lifestyle for everyday girls to achieve their ideal life.

However, despite making the “That Girl” lifestyle seem achievable, it is incredibly difficult to attain all the time, and this can be a problem. It promotes an unrealistic expectation for impressionable young women to follow every day, striving for perfection. While the premise of the “That Girl” trend is to inspire, I am curious to find out the effectiveness of the trend – are these girls really living their best lives in becoming “That Girl”?

Seeing this trend all over her TikTok and YouTube feed, YouTuber Karina Gomez could not help but wonder if the “That Girl” routine would benefit her. Considering that she has always aspired to be a morning person and had not gotten around it, she decided to give it a whirl. Karina liked that the trend added a challenge to her goal. Also, after noticing that there was a lack of body diversity in the videos she was seeing, she wanted to represent plus-sized women. Karina documented and shared on her attempt to become that “That Girl” for a week in a YouTube video.

After getting over the hurdle of waking up at five in the morning, Karina found the “That Girl” routine motivating. It truly testified to the concept of creating the best version of oneself, making her realise that she can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to. She felt good, productive and was even ahead of her work schedule, which never happens. This was mainly attributed to having more time to get things done with a concrete set of schedule in the morning. “It gave me the idea that you should never knock down something until you try it,” she said. Apart from trying something new, the “That Girl” routine helped her nurture habits that she was interested in, like waking up early and working out daily. Checking off one box at a time, Karina noticed that she was making more positive changes in her lifestyle.

I had the chance to chat with Alicia Santoso, a content creator in Singapore who creates lifestyle vlogs from beauty to study content on TikTok and YouTube. With a notable 239.8K TikTok followers, Alicia echoed the same sentiment that daily lifestyle videos can act as a source of inspiration or a challenge to do better for some. She told me:

I think it is good if someone wants to try and achieve the same lifestyle or productivity, as long as they do it responsibly and within their boundaries.

Alicia also acknowledged that Gen Z’s culture of romanticising life plays a part in the appeal of these videos. The idea of appreciating and enjoying the simple things in our everyday lives, like we were in a movie or a Korean drama.

This made me wonder if we were missing the whole point of being “That Girl”. The premise of the routine is not just about getting one’s life on track, but rather taking control of it all – the ups and downs, powering forward but also slowing down when we need to.

Alicia elaborated further by explaining that when she watches aesthetically-pleasing videos of vloggers going about their daily routines – making coffee, putting on makeup, studying – it inspires her to want to do the same. In a way, viewers live vicariously through the video, imagining themselves living the same aesthetic or productive life.

Perhaps the rising appeal to this aesthetic could have been amplified in the era of the pandemic. In this COVID-19 climate of work from home and other various restrictions, people crave control. The “That Girl” videos are centered around a routine that helps bring a form of structure and normalcy for the viewer. The content creator benefits from being accountable for their goals and the viewer gains by living vicariously through them.

The downside

While feeling good and productive was a huge upside to the “That Girl” routine, disappointment hits just as hard when one slips up. Karina explained that she had several unexpected changes to her schedule that week, which meant that she was unable to keep up with the routine – and that made her feel bad. Taking it as a learning point, she underlined the importance of always taking with a grain of salt any trend and aesthetic; to personalise your routine to fit your needs, not the other way around.

Personalize your routine to fit your needs, not the other way around.

Karina’s experience clearly shows that it is unrealistic for the “That Girl” routine to be achieved each day. The stress of completing a task list, can be demotivating, especially on a bad day. Despite setting a schedule, there are bound to be days where you’re unable to follow through. That is perfectly okay – it’s human, even. It does not make you any less adequate.

Karina emphasised seeing the trend as inspiration rather than comparison. Before attempting the challenge, she found herself comparing her personal routine to those she watched online, even though she had previously felt quite satisfied. It made her question if what she was currently doing was enough. As a Psychology major, Alicia believes this unconscious pressure experienced behind the screen was an example of a bias called the upward social comparison – whereby we compare ourselves to someone who is perceived to be or performing better than we are. It is very real, particularly on social media, where people are inclined to post more of the positive than the negative, due to the need to portray a positive image and seek approval from others. Alicia explained:

I believe that social media is very biased; no one wants to show their negative sides, and it can cause some people to compare themselves and feel negatively about their own lifestyle.

Additionally, being a content creator who works from home and is in charge of her own schedule, Karina acknowledged that she is privileged to be able to follow the “That Girl” routine easily, without much disruption. One thing that the “That Girl” trend misses to highlight is that our individual lifestyle inherently affects our personal routine.

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the term “habitus” to describe the way people perceive the social world around them and react to it. A habitus is shared by people with similar backgrounds, such as social class, nationality, ethnicity, and education. With the involvement of technology today, social media and its algorithms are good at uncovering our habitus; targeting content to people of the same background and taste that you engage with.

However, as many habitus exist on the same social media platforms, it can mask the differences between one habitus and another, and lead us to misperceive our social world. Simply put, it is unreasonable to expect that an American university student could have the same lifestyle and routine as a university student in Singapore, with background and geographical location just two of the many reasons for the difference. The “That Girl” routine is no one-size-fits-all solution – we ought to shape our own routine accordingly.

Productivity looks different for everyone; we all have different ways to be our optimal selves. The “That Girl” routine that begins at five in the morning may be effective for some, but that does not necessarily mean it is the most achievable or sustainable for others. The key point here is to do what works best for you, and at your own pace.

Alicia highlighted that while finding a healthy balance between work and life is vital, mental health should be the top priority when seeking productivity and positive mental well-being:

I am really happy to see that some people feel motivated or inspired by my videos, but I also want to remind my followers that life is not aesthetic 24/7 and it does not have to be.

As social media is essentially a portrayal of everyone’s highlight reel, it is unreasonable and unfair to compare it to our real lives. Snapshots of someone else’s success can lead to us invalidating our own journey. Successful habits and mental well-being naturally take time to hone. We should celebrate every win, especially the small ones, and make the non-aesthetic moments count too.

The girl in the TikTok video I watched ends her video getting into bed at night. The video then repeats itself, playing on loop. As “That Girl” takes on the next day, she continues to accomplish her next to-do. Or not; I guess we never really know. What I do know is that we can only focus on the next thing that we have to do.

I look at the time on the corner of my screen. It is well after midnight. Knowing that I feel most productive and comfortable in this period of the night, I take another sip of my coffee before powering on to my next task.

The post Who is “That Girl”, and why do Gen Zs worship her routine? appeared first on The Skeptic.

The “That Girl” social media trend promises an idealised glimpse at a perfect life, but sets unrealistic expectations for one-size-fits-all routines
The post Who is “That Girl”, and why do Gen Zs worship her routine? appeared first on The Skeptic.