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Unpacking ‘That Girl’

by Susan Moore

She wakes up early, eats a smoothie bowl, indulges in some morning yoga, dresses in a fashionable blazer, goes to work, and gets stuff done. She is ritualistic, composed, and organized. She makes the most out of every day and goes to bed early so she can do it all again. Chances are you have heard of her. She is That Girl.

As a new school year begins, it is appealing to want to seek out this level of pose and put togetherness. Indeed, from the Instagram posts and TikTok videos that capture the lifestyle, it seems like a wonderful way to strive for productivity. While there are countless resources on the pros and cons of this lifestyle (it sets unrealistic expectations, etc), there is still a lot to be said in the way of where this appeal even comes from. In other words, yes we know That Girl is popular, but why?

The first clue as to why That Girl is so popular can be found in the name. She is not just anyone, she is That Girl. A big part of the aesthetic is productivity and professionalism, specifically living as a working woman. While women have long since been a part of the workplace, they are still relatively underrepresented in media. That Girl is not only an aesthetic that portrays the lifestyles of working women but in a way that is seen through the female gaze.

In most cases, women are expected to adapt to a man’s world. However, the That Girl aesthetic champions femininity and beauty in the day-to-day. For this reason, it is more accessible than the “rise and grind” and the “girl boss” mentalities. It is not demanding constant devotion to work, rather it promotes time for oneself and relaxation when possible. It encourages things like having a skin routine, reading, and spending time on oneself.

The That Girl Aesthetic has found popularity because women are not generally encouraged to do things for themselves unless it serves a greater purpose. However, the activities that fit into the mindset also happen to be simultaneously productive and businesslike. Yoga done in fancy workout clothes is good for the body, a nice-smelling facemask is good for the skin, and fancy planners help give life a sense of organization. Even the dress code; the gold earrings, neutral colors, and neatly slicked back bun are practical, work appropriate, and unassuming. Furthermore, it is the romanticization of the most palatable lifestyle.

However, while there is nothing inherently wrong with productivity and making the most out of the hours in a day, especially pursuing such things in a way that resonates with one’s aesthetic sensibilities, it is worth asking whether it is improving a system that needs to be abolished. Capitalism and the culture surrounding it are, admittedly, overwhelmingly present. The workforce has been dominated by men for many years, but is diversifying the solution?

At the end of the day, the That Girl aesthetic is contingent on work culture. While it presents a more healthy work-life balance, it still promotes the idea that a day is only as good as it is productive. It reinforces the mindset of finding self-worth in what is brought to the table and minimizing things done purely for pleasure. This unfortunately is also part of the reason people find it so easy to buy into. Because it is simply adding to a mindset that dominates western culture, the mindset of being a cog in the machine. 

Additionally, it demands no radical self-advocacy, no allowing oneself to take up space. It simply takes old ideals and dresses them up in a way that sits better with the modern woman.

While there is nothing backward or evil about wanting to be efficient with one’s time, sometimes this way of thinking can be a trap. We are, after all, so much more than what we produce. We are allowed to eat things just because they make us happy, to wear things that do not fit into the narrow scope of “professional”. We are allowed to do things unconventionally, to find self-worth in things besides how much we can do in a day. In short, there is nothing wrong with being That Girl, but she’s not the only person you are allowed to be.


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