TikTok’s That Girl is meant to promote wellness, but some say it does the opposite

She wakes up early to work out, drinks smoothies and keeps a daily journal.

She is That Girl, one of the latest trends on social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok — the hashtag #thatgirl on TikTok alone has over 800 million views.

The videos often show young women sharing their daily routines like when they wake up and what they eat. The visuals are usually picture perfect —  a bowl of sliced fruits with granola or matching workout outfits. 

The idea is to encourage others to become the best versions of themselves. But some experts argue that rather than empowering women to eat well and stay active, the trend could be doing the opposite.  

“People usually aren’t posting random, representative snapshots of their day-to-day [life],” said Dr. Elia Abi-Jaoude, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“When you’re constantly looking at the most carefully curated videos, you may think ‘If that’s what everyone else is doing, I should be doing the same.'”

A spin-off of old trends

Although That Girl videos became popular during the pandemic, similar versions have existed for years.

“We’re constantly going through phases, and this is the new term for it. A few years ago, it was the ‘Girlboss’ with her 10,000 planners,”  said Keiana Byfield, a 23-year-old who creates videos for YouTube in Whitby, Ont.

Keiana Byfield, a 23-year-old from Whitby, Ont., who posts videos on YouTube, says wellness trends similar to That Girl have long existed online. (Submitted by Keiana Byfield)

The term Girlboss was made famous in 2014 by Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, a women’s clothing retailer based in Los Angeles. The term was used online to encourage women to work hard, look their best and become financially successful.

That Girl isn’t an inherently toxic trend, says Byfield.

“The issue is how people perceive things,” she said. “It’s OK to take inspiration from bits of a trend, but you don’t have to become the whole thing.”

Living the perfect life

Imran Rai, a 22-year-old model from Vancouver who also creates YouTube videos, says young women had been sharing makeup tutorials and morning routines on sites like YouTube before the latest trend.

But the difference with That Girl videos, she says, is that young women are no longer just sharing their personal routines but instead aspiring to an idealized version of what a perfect woman does.

Imran Rai is a 22-year-old model from Vancouver who posts videos on YouTube. She says the latest trend encourages some women to aspire to an idealized version of what they think That Girl must act and look like. (Submitted by Imran Rai)

“It started off with morning routines and then moved to what That Girl eats for dinner,” said Rai.

“Now, people are following somebody’s entire structure of their day.”

Rai, who speaks on her YouTube channel about suffering from disordered eating in the past, says she is familiar with how social media drives feelings of insecurity and mental illness.

“If you are going to be on social media, you have to be very sensitive of which accounts you follow and how they make you feel,” she said.

Jillian Murray, a 22-year-old from London, Ont., says the pressure some young women feel to be That Girl led her to post a YouTube video on the drawbacks of the trend. (Submitted by Jillian Murray)

Jillian Murray, a 22-year-old from London, Ont., posted a video on YouTube in May highlighting problems with the trend.

“I find it makes me feel bad. It seems like there’s only one way to be productive,” she said.

“If you don’t get up at 6 a.m., then you’re not That Girl and you’re not good enough.”

Something missing

Vanessa Faga, a 21-year-old from Montreal who posts That Girl content for TikTok, says her experience has been different. 

She says having a daily routine and sharing it with others helps her stay motivated and is something she wanted to do long before routines showed up under the That Girl label.

“I was waking up every morning and I felt like there was something missing,” she said.

“For me, it was getting up in the morning and making a smoothie. These habits helped my personal growth and made me feel better. I got motivated from seeing other people and forcing myself to have healthier habits in my everyday life.”

Vanessa Faga, a 21-year-old from Montreal, says posting social media videos of her morning routines has helped her maintain a healthy lifestyle. (Submitted by Vanessa Faga)

An element of escapism

Still, these trends can sometimes make women feel inadequate, says Jennifer Mills, an associate professor of psychology at York University in Toronto.

“We see from our research studies that [fitness or wellness content] doesn’t actually motivate or encourage positive behaviour as much as it does trigger feelings of inadequacy,” said Mills.

“‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I’m not healthy enough,’ or ‘I’m not thin enough.’ This kind of social comparison can end up making women feel worse about themselves.

But even that may not stop women from keeping up with the content, she said.

“It could be the pursuit of tips, information, or advice, but it could also be more subconscious than that,” said Mills.

“You could just sort of tune out and fantasize about how wonderful life would be if you ate healthy foods and lost weight. There is that escapism element to it.”

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