This is about one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
On a Monday afternoon, I was told over Zoom I was losing my job. It wasn’t a great fit, anyway; I wasn’t especially happy in the role. Still, it’s the kind of bad news that suddenly makes life a lot harder for an already anxious and depressed person.
I turned to my familiar coping mechanisms: wine, naps, eating directly from a pint of ice cream while crying. Nothing I was doing felt particularly destructive, and some of it even almost felt helpful. Still, I couldn’t ignore the feeling I wasn’t doing enough. Maybe I had lost my job because I wasn’t good enough or had my life together enough. Maybe I needed to change not only my coping mechanisms but my daily habits themselves. I didn’t expect to find the answer on TikTok. But there she was: #ThatGirl.
Who Is #ThatGirl?
I might have swiped past the video at any other time. In my fragile state, though, I watched—and kept watching. The hashtag #ThatGirl brought up hundreds of videos of young women walking the viewer through their carefully curated habits and routines. None of them were sobbing into pints of ice cream. Instead, they woke up early, worked out, wore cute clothes, made beautiful breakfasts of fruit and juices. Their apartments were modern and minimalist. They planned their mornings in bullet journals and took bubble baths at night.
#ThatGirl is a clear aesthetic: white, thin, young, beautiful. In contrast, I'm a fat, queer, depressed 28 year-old who speaks and writes openly about my mental health. Some quintessential #ThatGirl advice looks like it could actually be helpful—especially as the world feels like it's falling apart—but would it increase or decrease my motivation, productivity, and sense of self?
"Routines can give us something to expect, something that makes us get out of bed in the morning on the hard days, something that helps give us a feeling of mastery and completion," says Kristen Gingrich LCSW, CADC, a therapist who makes wildly popular TikToks under the handle @NotYourAverageThrpst. I certainly needed something to help me get out of bed on the hard days, which seemed to be more frequent than not. I decided that if I wasn’t naturally #ThatGirl, maybe I could try to become her.
For the next week, I tried to stick with a #ThatGirl routine. Instead of stumbling out of bed after snoozing four times, I woke up early and made my bed. I ate healthy breakfasts and salads, took walks in the sunshine, and washed my face before bed. I drank water instead of Mountain Dew (the least #ThatGirl drink I can think of). I did everything I was supposed to, everything that promised to make me "perfect."
Did it work? Did it make me look younger, feel better, act more in control? Read on to see how each activity benefited me or did the opposite.
Waking Up Early
No snooze? No problem, I thought. It turns out that wasn’t always the case. But when I did manage to drag myself out of bed with ample time before my day began, I felt a little more focused. I even brought out my journal for some reflection. Longform journaling often triggers my anxieties and causes me to ruminate, but sticking with bulleted lists and crossing off tasks was the way to go.
"I will always advocate for people to check in with themselves in the morning and the evening," Gingrich says. "Ask yourself, How am I feeling? How do I want today to go? Is there one thing I want to accomplish? How did my day go?" While I would have preferred sleeping in, getting up a little earlier gave me time to check-in and start my day off positively.
Working Out Early
Whether I’m at a lower weight, higher weight, or somewhere in between, it doesn’t matter: I don’t like exercise. But, in the name of journalistic integrity, I decided to work out every day for a week—and I stuck with it. The trick? Gentle 10-minute morning workouts, not the grueling hour-long sessions I used to think meant I was "doing it right."
Gingrich confirms the efficacy of this: "Daily exercise, whether it’s an hour at the gym or parking in the further parking spot away at the grocery store, has so many benefits for our mood and mental health."
Note that an hour at the gym is perfectly valid, but so is a walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even a 10-minute, low-intensity YouTube workout. This is advice I had heard before, but since I didn’t believe it could lead to immediate, dramatic weight loss, I didn’t try it. However, once I realized that these were 10 minutes a day I wasn’t spending feeling sorry for myself, I began to really see the value.
Green Juice, Green Everything
#ThatGirl meals seem more aesthetically pleasing than they are delicious. I didn’t want to deprive myself of tasty things, but I tried to get as many nutrients as possible and not rely on pre-packaged, frozen foods. Still, I felt guilty for not whizzing up green smoothies or eating leafy greens for every dinner. What if, to be #ThatGirl, I needed to eat all-green all the time?
Registered dietitian Morgan Murdock disagrees. "Trying for perfection with food will never be the right way to go about proper nutrition. All bodies are different, and our needs are different." For a nutritious meal, she recommends incorporating a protein, carbohydrate, fruit or vegetable, and a "flavor factor" since food has to taste yummy.
A main tenant of #ThatGirl is the aesthetic. Most #ThatGirl TikTokers are tall and slender with long hair, white teeth, and a tan. I couldn’t change my deathly pallor or lose weight in a week, but I could at least try to put effort into my appearance. However, putting on some eyeliner and curling my hair still didn’t make me look anything like the girls in the videos. I’m 28, not 18; I’m a size 16, not a size 2. I couldn’t help but compare myself to them, anyway. This is where my pursuit of #ThatGirl began to fall apart.
Days one and two of trying to become #ThatGirl felt great. Three and four felt even better. However, during the last several days, my mood—and my perspective of the trend—began to shift.
I became angry at myself for thinking that a TikTok trend could change my life. My 10-minute daily workouts weren’t changing my body. Waking up early still made me grumpy. I sure as hell didn’t have time to take a bubble bath every night. As I flipped through #ThatGirl videos, I realized that I would never look like them—that my hair would never be that shiny or my apartment that clean. This realization made me feel worse than when I started.
According to Gingrich, #ThatGirl videos show "that having these routines the way they are curated in their videos [...] can be a way to fit in with other girls. What they aren't showing is the black eyes from the mascara running from the soap and water when they are washing their face, or just how sweaty they get when they are working out." She stresses that these videos are art, not real life, but are made to look real. Like anyone can follow them. Like anyone can be #ThatGirl, but only if you’re thin, white, able-bodied, affluent, and conventionally attractive.
This emphasis on youth, whiteness, and wealth reveals the trend’s shadowy underbelly: an almost complete exclusion of people of color. Murdock pointed out that by promoting the same green juices and acai bowls over and over, #ThatGirl videos exclude nutritious foods from other cultures, providing a very limited view of what "healthy" can mean. Gingrich agrees, saying that #ThatGirl videos show that you need to be "in that specific community in order to reap any benefits of taking care of yourself." In fact, the most humbling experience I had during this experiment was reaching out to a BIPOC therapist who admitted she didn’t feel comfortable responding because #ThatGirl isn’t her "space"—not one that she felt included her or the BIPOC community.
I’m not #ThatGirl. A week of waking up a little earlier, eating a little healthier, and moving a little more didn’t transform me into a teenaged influencer. I don’t see the point of making my bed every day. I still don’t know how to do my hair, and if I order burgers and onion rings for dinner one night, I’ll probably be shunned by the #ThatGirl community.
Some of these habits felt good and brought me out of the funk of losing my job. I will keep working out, even if only for 10 minutes a day; I’ll keep planning my day in my journal and maybe even putting on a little extra makeup when I want to feel confident.
However, I don’t feel comfortable subscribing to a trend that isn’t inclusive, realistic, or helpful for everyone who attempts it. If #ThatGirl can’t be any of us, she should be none of us. Instead, we should continue finding what feels good for each of us, nurturing individualized helpful routines, and seeking advice from our doctors, therapists, and loved ones. Instead of trying to be #ThatGirl, someone I’m not, I’ll keep being #ThisGirl. I hope you’ll do the same.