Written By Hannah Burfield
An archetype that demands our admiration, ‘that girl’ is an unattainable and unrealistic ideal which can pose grave danger to our mental wellbeing if we become too fixated upon attaining such ‘perfection’. With YouTube videos offering ‘how-to’ guides to help transform viewers into ‘that girl’, and TikTok’s exploding younger audience, it is understandable why this has rapidly become such an inescapable phenomenon.
The ‘that girl’ trend is inaccurately presented as aspirational ‘self-care’. In reality, however, it perpetuates destructive societal expectations for women, most notably focused on appearance. The trend typically portrays women with thin, athletic physiques which are posited as the ideal we should all strive for.
‘That girl’ phenomenon is intrinsically coupled with the rise of the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic, featuring minimal but flawless makeup, neatly slicked back hair and perfectly coordinated outfits. However, this in itself comes from black culture which, although initially ridiculed by mainstream media and deemed to be ‘ghetto’, has now been widely embraced now that it is being donned by young, white females. Understandably, the black community have been expressing their concerns as white women now appear to believe they invented this new trend.
It is vital that we don’t dismiss the history surrounding this style, not due to fears or accusations of ‘gatekeeping’, but to give credit to those that they rightly deserve it.
But as more attention surrounds the trend, body positive champions are pointing out that such flawless makeup is simply unfeasible, and it is impossible to overlook the lack of women partaking in this trend who have problematic skin. I have found myself scrolling through TikTok and feeling quite ashamed of my textured, imperfect skin which fails to receive enough representation, with my ‘for you page’ being filled with countless videos of young girls with perfect complexions that I can’t help but envy.
Just the title ‘clean girl’ poses problems, with the suggestion that those who don’t adhere to this aesthetic, or whose appearances differ to the standard ‘model’ put forward, are somehow ‘dirty’ and, subsequently, undesirable.
Yet, it’s quite comforting to know that I’m not the only one to feel alienated by this trend. More and more individuals are voicing their opposition, particularly those from minority backgrounds, seen through the rise of hashtags such as #LatinaGirlAesthetic. I’ve also been extremely moved to see women with acne-prone skin participating in this trend as it highlights how the shame we initially felt when this craze emerged seems to be reducing.
When we take time to consider the women who are represented in this trend, we really only see one type of woman depicted. A woman who conforms to the traits society deems to be ‘conventionally attractive’, including a petite frame, a fair complexion, and a small face.
On the surface, this may not seem that alarming. Some may even suggest that it is a harmless trend, but I can’t help but disagree with such a simplistic deduction.
In reality, these trends contribute to outdated societal beauty standards which put Eurocentric features on a pedestal while simultaneously preventing diversity from entering the mainstream. The fact that this trend is predominantly targeted at a young audience only exacerbates the danger as it risks erasing the progress, we have made in recent years to make beauty standards more inclusive and diverse.
Not only is there a threat to our societal comprehension of beauty, but there is a much more personal risk involved with trends such as this. People are much more introspective, with individuals constantly seeking to better themselves, in a way that can frequently lead to a sense of isolation and a lack of fulfilment.
Whilst self-improvement can certainly be a positive thing, there is a danger that individuals, when influenced by trends such as these, may take this to the extreme. If we become hyper-fixated on self-improvement, we can neglect the more valuable aspects of life. This trend fundamentally fails to highlight the reality of everyday life, which is full of more mundane, overlooked achievements. We shouldn’t feel invalidated by a glimpse into the carefully curated life filtered through TikTok or Instagram.
In light of this, what can we do to avoid subconsciously subscribing to such dangerous trends and protect ourselves from influences which, although disguised as ‘positive’ content, are inherently destructive?
When consuming content on platforms such as TikTok, it is vital that we pay attention to what content we are interacting with. These platforms use this data to urge us to consume similar videos and messages, and, if these messages are harmful, we are simply facilitating our mental decline.
I understand how easily this can become a reality, as I remember how self-conscious I felt when I first encountered the ‘clean girl’ videos. When I attempted to recreate them, I looked different to the girls I’d seen online. It’s challenging to resist judging ourselves too harshly, but I realized that my self-worth can’t and shouldn’t be dictated by a style which will inevitably look different on every individual.
Influencers tend to spread their messages in a manner which subtly shames the viewer for their life choices. We must also be cautious of ‘toxic positivity’, particularly content which urges viewers to be more grateful for their life as, compared to others, there life is relatively comfortable. Whilst I completely recognise the value of practising gratitude, this shouldn’t be used in a way which undermines an individual’s emotions. Life is tumultuous and our constantly changing emotions reflect this reality. These emotions should not be invalidated and if an influencer is making you feel this way, they don’t deserve to be on your feed.
Regardless of our concern, the ‘that girl’ trend will continue to gain momentum across social media but coupled with increased awareness about the threat of such a trend, we can hope to both reverse and prevent further damage for future young people on a personal and wider societal level.