The internet is home to some of the most ludicrous viral trends, from frozen honey that experts warn can make people sick to their stomach, to the dangerous Blackout challenge, where people choke themselves until they pass out. Now, out of the kooky, crazy, questionable depths of TikTok comes a trend that actually kinda… makes sense?
“That girl” is a viral phenomenon that’s been doing the rounds on the short-video sharing app for a few months, its popularity now spilling over into the YouTube ecosystem. For the uninitiated, "that girl" is essentially a viral wellness trend that encourages those taking it on to embrace the best version of themselves. Or, to put it simply, get their shit together and look good doing it, too.
“That girl” wakes up at 7AM, cooks and eats a plant-based breakfast, journals her thoughts in a neatly sectioned day planner, chants affirmations, works out in cute coordinated outfits, gulps down green juices, is productive, professionally successful, and somehow still finds time for skincare, meditation and taking Pinterest-perfect photos of all of the above. This girlboss-style of perfection has been seen and sold to us in various ways over the years, but "that girl" has still racked up a billion views on TikTok.
That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten its share of criticism. Even as millions hopped onto the trend, there are many who feel it can quickly turn problematic and even dangerous by promoting disordered eating, glamorising hustle culture, prioritising toxic productivity, and falling prey to the social media trope of concealing cracks through aesthetic imagery. It also happens to be a trend predominantly followed by heteronormative white women from a specific socio-economic background. Some also feel the term itself can be alienating for those outside the gender binary spectrum.
There’s a lot that’s been done and said about “that girl.” Thousands have even attempted the self-care coup for a day to test whether it’s all just internet hype or if there’s actually any merit to its claims that following a carefully curated routine can lead to real results. In keeping with this spirit of the internet, I decided to transform into "that girl" for a week.
Rise and shine
Anyone who knows me knows I'm NOT a morning person. The sound of chirping birds or crowing roosters at the crack of dawn does not make me want to sprint towards sunshine and bust out some yoga moves. I need a minimum of two shots of espresso and an hour-long power nap after my multiple alarms go off to kickstart my day.
So you can imagine my surprise when I successfully woke up at 8AM on the first day of my challenge. That’s no 7AM I know, but still not too shabby for someone who forces herself to stay awake during 9AM morning meetings only so she can catch a quick cat nap for 20 minutes after (sorry, editors!).
When I tried to rejig my schedule over the last fortnight, I found that the 8AM morning light hit different. Instead of lying about in bed, agonising about how it was way too early to exist as I doomscrolled through social media, I pushed myself to jump out of bed, open my curtains and stretch my limbs to stimulate them into action. Not bad, I thought, enjoying the eerie quiet of the extra hours I had added to my day as I cradled a "that girl" approved iced coffee. It did leave me kinda irritable and exhausted as I went about my routine that day, but I was determined to keep at it.
The next few days, I gunned for 7AM, and decided to indulge in a quick skincare routine as soon as I was up. I dug into my modest arsenal of skincare products and fished out serums and toners that my skin seemed to love as I dabbed them on, even helping my usual morning grumpiness slowly melt away.
It was oddly energising to be the first one awake in the house in the morning, taking my morning meetings with a cup of coffee instead of the usual accompaniment of dread. Maybe it was just a placebo effect, but being an early riser actually helped me achieve my deadlines in record time, instilling a strange sense of discipline and timeliness into my tasks. That is, until Friday rolled around and I once again found myself hitting the snooze button until 9AM thanks to a girls’ night out I decided not to come home early from.
Turns out, you can only follow the "that girl" sleep schedule if you have no social life.
Another crucial aspect of my life you should probably know about is that my stomach is always in a state of turmoil. I am intolerant to gluten, dairy and sugar, yet will probably eat at least one of these a few times a month (or week if I’m feeling truly brave). Taking on this challenge was also sneakily a way for me to inculcate a clean eating routine in the name of content.
I started off my week with what I considered to be peak "that girl" cuisine with an Indian twist: quinoa tossed with lemon, curry leaves and spiced cashews. The spice didn’t quite make my gut feel less guttural, but at least it was a wholesome meal to kick things off.
The next day, I tried to make a fried egg on gluten-free toast. Except, my second-day-only, sleep-deprived ass messed up the egg, leaving it more runny than the tears it prompted. My less than egg-cellent skills left me feeling incompetent and incapable of any kind of achievement just because it wasn’t aesthetic enough, even if it tasted just as good. That’s when I first felt the pressure to perform for social media, or, in this case, you.
On the third day, I decided to settle for a simple salad and a green juice, making my inner "that girl" proud in every way. Of course, it did leave me ravenous at 3PM, leading me straight back to the munchies. Now, I also had guilt swimming in my gut alongside the usual discomfort.
I tried to make up for it with an avocado toast the next day, the fundamental food group of all basic bitches and, now, “that girl.” I would have almost gotten through the week without any stomach complaints if I hadn’t spent the weekend ingesting copious amounts of cheat meals and basically undoing all the good gut health I had generated.
Keeping it clean
While I can comfortably co-exist with *that* chair of clothes piled high, I do like to keep my surroundings mostly clean. Still, it’s especially easy to be neat and tidy when you’ve had the privilege of growing up with a house help like I have. In order to truly embrace this challenge, I decided I had to literally take matters into my own hands.
There was something gratifying about waking up and making my own bed everyday, an activity I didn’t usually partake in because I knew I would be back to lying on it within an hour anyway (actually, working from bed is now good for you).
I have to admit that channeling this Marie Kondo energy as I folded clothes, dusted my desk and tucked away miscellaneous items into designated drawers did spark an invigorating joy, as if those few minutes I spent sprucing up made all the many hours of procrastination redundant.
When I took on the "that girl" challenge, I knew this part would be my potential pitfall. I could get into the whole cute athleisure outfit thing, but actually pushing myself to do pushups seemed like a far cry. So, I did what any rational pro-procrastinating person would do and scrolled through hours of "that girl" compilations to confirm that my daily movement could also just be a breezy walk. So that’s what I did on the first three days, even though it mostly involved stopping every few minutes to pet the cute dogs walking alongside me.
But I won’t deny that the idea that I wasn’t doing enough to tick all the requisite boxes snuck up on me like a pesky fly I couldn’t swat away. I felt a bubbling culpability for not being able to balance out my hectic work schedule with a daily workout, and a consequent guilt that made it impossible to enjoy my down time. Finally, it reached a point where a quiet movie night at a friend’s house turned into an impromptu upper body workout session. So what if my form sucked? At least I did the damn thing.
It was only towards the end of the week that my editor suggested I swap my lack of motivation to work out for a calming dose of meditation and yoga. This worked to chip away at my anxiety, too. I guess I just needed to find what worked out for me.
Penning my feelings
Since my job title basically includes the first eight letters of journaling, I expected this one to be the easiest. Except, I realised, years of typing away furiously at a laptop had left me unable to write by hand, and the new nails I got done (to aid my transformation, of course) didn’t exactly make using my hands any easier.
I did jot down some positive thoughts I wanted to manifest, but considering the most brushes I’ve had with the concept of affirmations is through the viral meme that uses irony to channel positivity, I couldn’t bring myself to take it too seriously.
I guess this article would just have to count as my contribution to journaling.
Seven days later and I felt… not better, but not worse either.
The thing no one tells you about the "that girl" challenge is that it truly manifests in the moments you don’t remember to document, like cleaning a coffee stain off your table or crashing mid-conversation during dinner because you woke up way earlier than you’re used to.
As I tried to carry out the tasks theoretically assigned to me, I also felt the mounting pressure that came with carrying them out perfectly. There was no room for screw-ups or runny eggs or moments that didn’t look straight out of a Pinterest moodboard, which inherently felt superficial and unrealistic. The trend tells you what to do but how to do it all has no presence in those videos, which, because of the short format they’re delivered in, are devoid of all nuance. We all know that appearance and reality are not necessarily the same, but the more I tried to achieve the perfection this trend asks for, the more I felt like it just... wasn’t enough.
The whole idea of how this might be a shortcut to achieving everything you want, and looking good doing it all, is kinda unattainable. Unless you’re okay with being “that girl with a burnout,” that is.