Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Throughout our lives, we are told from various sources how to live a good life. We are groomed to adopt healthy habits that will carry us into adulthood. But living a good life is a lot more complicated than what we may have thought when we were younger. “I’ll have a big house and I’ll be happy”, I once thought. “I’ll study hard at school and have a lot of money and have a good life”, I promised myself. Somewhere along the way, I realized it takes more than just money to be happy or to lead a good life. You have to build a lifestyle for yourself, an all-encompassing way of living that satisfies your needs and supports your goals.
When we were young and impressionable, we looked to TV shows and movies to tell us how to be and how to act. If our favorite childhood shows have taught us anything, it’s that there’s always a pretty, popular “It Girl” patrolling the high school hallways with her clique. She’s usually blond, wears expensive clothes, never has a backpack, has rich parents and a really nice car. For fun she shops at the mall with her friends, likes to make fun of others, or brags about her equally popular boyfriend. I’m sure at this point, a few TV show or movie characters are coming to mind. Before we even got to High School, we were told the types of people we should expect to encounter: the popular girl, the band geek, and the jock. As we watch these stereotyped characters share their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and desires, we often see that what one person has, the other one lacks. One person has a need only another can help fulfill. Hmmm… can we still lead a good life if we, ourselves are not perfect? Marked with character flaws and faced with challenges, the good life starts to seem a lot harder to achieve. While the “It Girl” had all the money in the world, does she truly have it all? No, unfortunately not.
So we need more than money to be happy and lead a good life. Okay, no problem. Happiness is a state of mind after all. But again, we may have underestimated how easy the path to the good life would be. If you had any form of social media in the last five or so years then you’ve probably seen conversations about outfitting your life to fit an ~aesthetic~. If you have an Instagram account specifically, you may have noticed that some accounts follow a very strict theme, whether that be sticking to the same color palette or posting pictures similar in style and content. That’s their aesthetic -- showing a life that is perfectly in sync, well balanced, and worthy of praise. These online personalities handpick moments of their lives for us to view, and although we may only see 10% of their actual lives, from their feed it appears to be the true depiction of the good life.
Wrong. We’re a little bit older now and we’ve figured out that these influencers we idolize online are not perfect. Their lives are not always perfectly saturated with bright white smiles, yummy food from expensive restaurants, and tons of friends. At this juncture, where all roads to the good life seem to lead to a dead-end, a new online trend appears-- “That Girl” has arrived.
“That Girl” seems to be some spin-off version of the “It Girl”, only this new and improved model practices healthy mental and physical habits. Look on youtube, Instagram, TikTok and you’ll find videos of girls and young adult women showing you what it takes to play the part. That Girl wakes up early, makes her bed, works out, meditates, then writes in her planner and gratitude journal. She lives a peaceful yet fulfilled life. On the surface, viewing these short-form media clips could be motivating. For a moment, you are encouraged to improve your own routines. But by what means? While you could experience a momentary burst of energy to get your life together, those positives may accompany feelings of shame or unhappiness once you realize how far off your current lifestyle is from the one on the screen.
Sigh, how pervasive these feelings of comparison have become. Comparison is one of the most universal features of the human experience and as you can guess, social media is only making it worse. I’m sure at some point in human history, comparison did us more good than bad, right? To give a simple example, it could help us improve by signaling when we’re doing something wrong. Perhaps a hunter-gatherer who starts comparing their hunting skills and scavenging techniques to another ultimately becomes a more efficient hunter-gatherer. Who knows? That’s a source I can’t contact for a quote. One thing we do know is that although comparison could be helpful for a moment, it can have lasting mental health impacts: “Research has found that Social Networking Sites (SNSs) can decrease psychological well-being due to unfavorable social comparison or envy. SNS use is a strong predictor of social comparison, which is positively related to the fear of missing out and depressive symptoms through rumination and negatively related to global self-worth, self-perceived physical appearance, and self-perceived social acceptance.”
I found myself troubled by the “That Girl” videos when I realized what they were communicating. Live this way for a better life! Wake up at 6 am and work out for a better life! Write in your journal all morning, don’t show up for your 9 am! Believe me, I wish I could but that is not practical and this cannot and will not be my reality every day. Routines provide great structure but by nature, can be restricting. What happens if you can’t do your routine one morning? Are you no longer “That Girl”? Of course not, because not even the “That Girl” is That Girl 24/7. Our habits of comparison must be accompanied by compassion for ourselves, otherwise, the healthy habits we think we’re nourishing could become toxic.
But truthfully, the “That Girl” trend isn’t all bad. As I digested more and more of these “That Girl” tutorials, I came to the realization that this trend is actually rooted in something positive. “That Girl” is the identity you take on when you are being your best self. If waking up at 6 am isn’t your thing, no problem. Be your best, well-rested self at 8 am. Do what makes sense for you, what makes you feel good. Like I said earlier, “That Girl” is the new and improved, healthy version of the “It Girl”. While many of the videos we see depict a similar routine (wake up early, workout, journal), there is space for you to write your own to-do list, to identify the things that bring you joy in whatever way you see fit. I’m a bit of a night owl so I stay up later and sleep in. That’s the schedule that feels right to me. Have I felt the pressure to wake up earlier because that’s what seems “correct”? Yeah, all the time. But then I remember something-- the more I follow someone else’s path, the more unhappy I become. Hint: unhappiness ⇏ the good life. So folks, the path to the life we always dreamed of is not a smooth paved road. There are some potholes, stop signs, and roundabouts. My hope is, however, as we discover more about ourselves, appreciate the qualities that make us unique, and support ourselves with gentle compassion, we can all be “That Girl”.