I don’t want to be “that girl”

Learning how to stop idealizing unrealistic lifestyles


April Wang

Along with tasty green smoothies, the “that girl” lifestyle prescribes perfection in every sense.

Tvisha Gupta

As heat seeped in through my window during the afternoon hours of a sweltering summer day, I scrolled mindlessly through TikTok, watching video after video as they popped up on my screen. However, one particular video caught my attention and my thumb paused, hovering over the screen as I took in what was flashing before my eyes.

Green smoothies. 5 a.m. wakeups. Early morning workouts. Journaling. Aesthetic breakfasts.

#thatgirl, a trend that documents people’s aesthetic and productive lifestyles, had successfully infiltrated my TikTok feed. As I scrolled through the hashtag, I saw people living what seemed like their best, most productive lives, and I soon found myself drawn to the lifestyle. I’d been recovering from a long bout of academic burnout (a product of an exhausting year of distance learning), and realized that this was exactly what I needed to get back into the flow. 

As a rising junior, I knew that I’d soon have no space for unproductivity. I knew that junior year and the summer before it were two of the most important times of my academic journey, meant to be packed with standardized test prep, summer camps and internships, and I had no time to be burnt out. I knew that gaining motivation and productivity were of the utmost importance if I wanted to maintain my grades and stay on track with my plan to get into a good college. Luckily, #thatgirl seemed like the perfect solution to my issue, and with a little more scrolling, I became more enamored with the lifestyle. I decided to begin my journey during the first week of the summer.

@kaylieestewart morning and night routine ☀️🌙 #thatgirl #motivation #healthylifestyle #fyp ♬ ummmm – esh

The first few 5 a.m. wake ups took immense effort. During finals just the week before, 5 a.m. had been my bedtime and it was quite a struggle to convince my body to fall asleep a full eight hours earlier. But with a gargantuan effort, I was able to drag myself into the cold air for an early morning run. My green smoothie, made by my mom, sat ready on the kitchen counter when I returned, and after drinking it, I went straight to my room to begin my work. 

I carefully constructed every meal to look beautiful, artfully scattering chili flakes on top of stylishly cut avocado on whole-grain toast. My veggies were colorful, cooked to the perfect temperature without a single burn mark on them. I spared no effort to ensure that my freshly made bed, clean desk, purple LED lights and lit vanilla-scented candle were picture-perfect. I went to bed at 9 p.m. every night, and woke up the next morning ready to do it all over again. Cyclical perfection was what the lifestyle prescribed — I didn’t question it. In order to be productive and successful, I needed to care about all of these things, so I did, and I was more than satisfied.

But two weeks later, ACT prep and my marketing internship began and with them came team meetings and classes. As I spent more time working on endless ACT practice tests and sending out countless emails for my internship, maintaining my perfect lifestyle became difficult. But even though I couldn’t always wake up at 5 a.m., I managed to make and eat my aesthetic meals, continue my daily runs and keep my room tidy.

Then began my second internship. And my summer camp. And my other summer camp. And I soon found myself unable to keep up with the demands of being “that girl.” I abandoned my morning runs, my meals turned into hastily consumed grilled veggies and lemon yogurt and my room became messier by the day.

On the surface, I was doing pretty well. My internships were going great, my ACT scores were getting higher with every test I took, my mental health was recovering from the past year and I was closer to my friends and family than ever before. But I didn’t feel that way. My inability to keep up with what I had prescribed as the perfect lifestyle led me to feel like a failure.

It took me skipping the first 10 minutes of my internship meeting in order to arrange my desk to perfection to realize that this desire to maintain a facade of perfection had finally done its job — the wrong one. I had gotten to a point where I was compromising on my academic engagements, losing motivation and lacking energy. Though I’d tasked this lifestyle with making me productive, my endless pursuit of perfection ended up with me hyper focusing on unimportant things. I realized I desperately needed to abandon my pursuit.

The sheer perfection that living a lifestyle dictated by 15 second TikTok clips of perceived perfection required left me more exhausted than I was before. The emphasis on maintaining perfect and collected outer appearances, regardless of my inner realities, pushes unrealistic expectations on teens, especially students. I viewed the lifestyle as the ultimate route to success, the only one. But it forced me to put on a pretense of permanent perfection and productivity, which I couldn’t maintain. I’m a student. I’m allowed to have a messy, chaotic, discombobulated life. After all, I’m figuring life out, and the process can be as disorganized as it needs to be. 

This isn’t saying that the lifestyle is bad. It’s definitely suitable for some. However, as students, we need to learn that we don’t need to conform to an outside recipe to success — we’re allowed to create our own. And the recipe doesn’t have to be perfect on the first try… or ever. We can create it as many times as we need to, and it’s fine for us to mess up in the process.

As the summer neared to a close, I began to happily abandon my pursuit of being “that girl.” I learned to chase success in my own way, one that didn’t equate productivity with success. I stopped attempting to wake up at 5 a.m. to go straight to my computer to work and gave my body the sleep it desperately needed. I refocused my attention on my health, and allowed myself to take it easy sometimes. I spent more time with my family, took well-deserved breaks and worked out because I wanted to, not because I needed to. I had finally escaped the toxic loop of productivity, and learned that my success wasn’t defined by an outside definition of a perfect lifestyle. My success is defined by me, whatever that meaning may be.

I don’t need to be “that girl.” I’m fine with being “a girl” — a confused, disorganized, perfectly imperfect girl. And I’m figuring it out, one messy day at a time.