“That Girl” in NYC
Who is “That Girl?” She’s waking up at six to get a workout in while wearing a matching set. She’s handcrafting a gorgeous fruit-filled oat bowl and an aesthetic iced coffee as the sun rises. She is seizing the day to a specific level of perfection, is scheduled to look her best and is casually compelled to share these moments with you over TikTok. But in a cool, chill way.
Aspirational and often unrealistic, “That Girl” first appeared during the earliest stages of the pandemic, assimilating into “day in my life” vlog-type content. Now, she’s found primarily on TikTok and generates a hyper-specific set of standards for primarily female-identifying users. She is often a thin, heteronormative white woman from a specific socio-economic background, taking advantage of every minute of her day.
When I moved to New York in August, my “For You” page was flooded with “That Girl” in NYC. A typical video displays her early morning routine, wellness-centered lifestyle, constant cycle of productivity and aesthetically pleasing healthy meals. Love them or hate them, these videos have remained popular for a while now, so much so that their significance and potential hazards should be addressed. At face value, a focus around self-care, exercise and romanticizing your life sounds like where we should be headed. However, it wasn’t long before some elements—interwoven with wellness tropes—would devolve into toxic health practices, images related to under-eating or over-exercising, displaying low-carb but aesthetic meals and orthorexic behaviors.
Even further is the glamorization of hustle culture. If manic pixie dream girls were written by a man, “That Girl” may be currently being written by aesthetically astute women, at the top of her game in regards to health, wellness and productivity. Not only is she always productive, but she manages to always have her nails well-manicured and her NYC street style or professional outfits perfectly styled. Simultaneously, she documents it by editing her content in serene and aesthetically-pleasing montages.
I’ve seen friends influenced by toxic productivity through this content and burning out as a result. I’ve experienced secondhand anxiety from this impulse to be constantly grinding, hustling and forcing opportunities, chasing that sense of validation or notion that I’m staying afloat or doing well in the city. “That Girl” would suggest that you diligently work on both yourself and on the outcome of your day so that you succeed no matter what. It’s clearly formulaic, but it gives girls new to New York the idea that it’s out there and that it’s on them if they can’t succeed.
I’ll never be one to turn down the option to “fake it ‘til you make it” because, more often than not, it works. But, as an individual, I am inherently relaxed and easygoing. I enjoy my day, experiences and opportunities much more when they’ve presented themselves to me organically. Romanticizing your life seems invaluable in enjoying the everyday and the mundane. However, if the only way to prove you’re “That Girl” is to perfectly curate the experience itself, it can become performative and all-consuming.
Art by Angel Ye