In social media culture, especially youtube, there is a subgenre of ‘lifestyle’ content, from which this idea of ‘that girl’ or ‘the clean girl’ comes. ‘That girl’ will record herself talking to a camera as she goes about her day. She will speak directly to her audience with whom she forms an intimate relationship, sharing details about her daily plans, what she eats, how and when she worksout, who she sees, everything. ‘That girl’ is often a young woman in her twenties or thirties who lives in a big city apartment by herself. Her videos allow you to trespass into the mundanity of her everyday life. So, who is ‘that girl?’
‘That girl’ has several tropes that are recognisable in the videos that replicate her lifestyle. The first is voyeurism. ‘That girl’s’ videos are carefully curated with the viewer in mind. Everything that she does or says in her videos is for the spectator’s entertainment. She is able to come across the lens as ‘perfect’ because everything on camera is intentional. Nothing is amiss or thoughtless, even the smallest acts of waking up, making the bed, or deciding what to eat have been deliberately selected.
Secondly: productivity. ‘That girl’ performs productivity that is not disingenuous, but it cannot always be consistent outside the twenty-minute frame that is her youtube video. There is no guarantee that ‘that girl’ actually wakes up early, exercises, and sees her friends, every single day. ‘That girl’ videos represent that one ‘good day.’ That one day where you feel the best you have all week, you eat well, socialise, and manage to find a balance between productivity and burnout.
Although ‘that girl’ videos are centred around productivity, they tend to consist of a type of productivity that is not your average nine to five working day. These lifestyle YouTubers often film productivity that focuses on self-improvement, wellbeing and ‘slow living.’ They will journal and have idyllic morning routines that take up, what seems like, an extortionate amount of their day. This lifestyle is not sustainable outside of the corner of the internet where it solely exists. It cannot be guaranteed that the women in these videos are ‘that girl’ outside of their portrayal of her. She is an attractive, fictitious character.
Thirdly, she has it all. ‘That girl’ is someone who can go out for cocktails until three in the morning and still turn up for her pilates class at six. She religiously drinks green smoothies and journals every day, all whilst maintaining some sort of full time job. But wait, this is her job. ‘That girl’ is a full-time job, aka a YouTuber. Is she a real person? ‘That girl’ is an idea, a representation of someone who is disciplined and has a perfect work-life balance. She has a routine that is familiar and viewers can take comfort in her predictability.
‘That girl’ is learnable. There are YouTube videos titled ‘how to be that girl’, ‘that girl aesthetic’, ‘that girl routine’ etc. Young women aspire to be ‘that girl’ even though the behaviours that define ‘that girl’ exist outside her. Many people are perfectionists who depend on a routine and enjoy bettering themselves. Perhaps, this aspiration to be ‘that girl’ is about a need to identify with a persona, an amalgamation of all these desirable traits. Or, is ‘that girl’ just a pleasing aesthetic of someone who always has their life together?
Although entertaining, ‘that girl’ content can also be viewed as harmful for girls and young women. The tiktok trend perpetuates an idea of self-improvement that is one dimensional and image-oriented. Self-improvement is not an aesthetic or a quick fix. Self-improvement can be difficult and deeply personal. Healthy habits are great to pick up, but they should not determine how you, as an individual, look after yourself. Waking up at six does not work for everyone, and you don’t have to work out every single day, or eat ‘clean’ to comply with someone else's idea of wellness.
‘That girl’ glorifies hyper-productivity for fear of being perceived as someone who is lazy. You do not owe anyone productivity. The issue with forcing yourself to constantly be productive is if you are unable to recognise when it no longer serves you. To consider yourself someone hardworking and ambitious is fine, but ask yourself why you care to identify so strongly with such personality traits. Is your self-worth attached to being someone who you consider productive? Being productive as an adult often means that you are profitable. Other people are profiting from your productivity and work ethic.
In a world that exploits and monetises hard work, it can be difficult to remove your ego and not attach so much value to being busy all of the time. You deserve space to rest and just be. Adaptations of ‘that girl’ do focus on ‘slow living’ and the intentionality of living, aka becoming aware of how you spend your day and to whom you give out your energy and time. Like all variations of ‘that girl’ content, this can be great. Many might consider it a privilege to be able to devote a certain amount of the day to your well being. In response to this, it is worth thinking about why focusing on your well-being is a ‘privilege’ or comes second to profitability masked as productivity? Is this admirable or just self-sabotage?
The cultural shift from the 2000s carefree and crazy ‘it girl’ to ‘that girl’ is huge. The noughties ‘it girl’ was a conventionally attractive socialite who was fashionable and fun. Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan were icons of excess and were well known for being messy and ‘badly behaved.’ It seems as though there has always been a type for women to neatly fit into and identify with, whether she is ‘that girl’ or the ‘it girl.’ We manage to see ourselves in these people who are typecast for us, whether they are real or not.
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