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TikTok’s “That girl” Trend of Toxic Productivity

So, who is ‘That girl’ and why is everyone talking about her? If you are not a regular user of TikTok or Instagram, it’s possible that you haven’t encountered the viral ‘That girl’ trend that has been overtaking social media spaces recently. The hashtag #thatgirl on TikTok currently has 1.6 billion views.

In simple terms, the trend surrounds ideas of an idealistic, hyper-productive “girl boss” narrative. It promotes 5 or 6 am mornings, drinking green smoothies for breakfast, eating clean, regularly attending the gym, journaling, and not letting a minute of the day be “wasted”. On top of this, it seems to be entirely aimed at a female audience.

On the surface, this can be seen as a non-harmful, fun trend, which encourages healthy habits and productivity among young women, and could even be seen as motivating – but I’m not so convinced.

When I started to see this trend, constantly being faced with 30-second compilations of extremely early starts, consistent exercise and hyper-productivity, I did feel motivated at first and even saved some of them to encourage myself to do the same. Waking up before 7 am, going to the gym before sunrise, eating completely clean all day, and spending every hour of my day being productive.

This worked for a little while – until I found myself exhausted, unhappy and feeling no better mentally than I had done beforehand. I started to wonder whether a lifestyle this stringent was sustainable for everyone.

There were days where I was more lazy than others, had a bad mental health day, or just didn’t want to go to the gym – and I was overwhelmed with guilt. I wondered why I couldn’t be this perfect, motivated, uber-healthy image that these tiktoks and instagram posts portrayed.

I began to see other girls commenting on these tik toks and conversations on podcasts and in articles, explaining that this trend actually began to do the opposite of motivating them – and just make them feel bad about themselves when their lifestyles too, couldn’t keep up with this particular stringent routine. On a particular TikTok under this trend, with 193k likes, some of the top comments read, “Is this really possible or did you just do this for the video?”, “How are people this productive I can’t even comprehend” and on another popular TikTok – “I want to be them so bad”.

So what is it about this trend that makes us feel so negative?

It occurred to me quite quickly that nothing in this trend accounted for or recognised factors such as mental health, spending time with friends or family or much-needed relaxation and “off-days”. It pushed a picture-perfect productive lifestyle with no flaws. It seemed as if no one I could see partaking in it was willing to show any realism or failure.

The problem is this trend wasn’t realistic – and didn’t show the whole picture. Generally, as a society, we wrongly define productivity as having to be academic, working or physical and this can make us feel guilty for developing other sides of ourselves.

Productivity can be doing university work or exercise, as highlighted in these TikTok videos, but it can also be pursuing creative hobbies, caring for your mental well being, keeping in touch and maintaining important relationships. It’s also okay to sometimes not be productive at all, and just binge a new show on Netflix. It is easy to centre all your ideas of productivity around academics, especially when it is portrayed to us this way very often.

One of the most toxic things I encountered about this trend, was its competitive nature. It somehow seemed to imply that if you weren’t able to achieve the “That girl” lifestyle, that meant that the women that could were somehow better than you. If you weren’t constantly trying to be the fittest, the healthiest, the smartest, the most productive – you were somehow failing.

Pushing these feelings of inadequacy was actually doing the opposite of motivating young women, who already have immense pressure on them, and actually just encouraged negative thoughts. The trend made life seem much simpler and easier to navigate than it is in reality, and although good eating habits and healthy life decisions should be encouraged, it is more important than ever to balance this with the realism of life. Otherwise, you create the image that there is no unexpected nature to life, no struggle, no ups and downs and this kind of facade can only breed negativity.

The trend identified itself as self-care, but really it seemed to be a facade constantly coming back to diets and workouts and profiting off making women feel not enough. Overall, this trend just seemed to turn into another way to create unrealistic standards for women – and have them compete to see who can break their back the hardest trying to achieve it.

So what’s the alternative?

This trend had the potential to encourage ways to build on your health and well being, mental and physical, in a way that also accounts for the way that life really is for most young women. It is okay to have days that start at 11 am, it is okay to have a productive morning and then enjoy yourself in the afternoon, it’s okay if your whole life does not revolve around being the best at every aspect.

In fact, it would be unhealthy to hold yourself to that standard constantly. No one can constantly achieve being “That girl”, not even the girls in the videos and posts on our pages. The intentions of this trend were unlikely to be sinister, but it has grown to be toxic and competitive in its nature.

A better trend to take its place, could encourage healthy lifestyle choices in a way that is realistic and not only focuses purely on productivity in terms of academics and physical health, but also builds female confidence and allows a space for the days where you cannot be “that girl” because she doesn’t exist – you can only be the best version of who you already are.

Words by: Rebekah Thomas

Edited by: Holly Phillips

Hey! I'm a second year Politics and Philosophy student.
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