The perils of chasing perfection

You know her, you envy her, you try to be her — that girl. The one who wakes up every day at 6 AM for spin class and a green juice before heading out for a full day of work, wellness, and a seemingly endless supply of girlboss energy. ‘That girl’ radiates a level of perfection women aspire to while every aspect of her life is optimized. Recently, TikTok has erupted with a slew of ‘that girl’ videos showing every morning routine and meal prep perfectly aestheticized with nothing below perfection. 

@kaylieestewart

this is your sign to become THAT GIRL this summer 🥦🏃🏽‍♀️🧡 #thatgirl #morningroutine #summer2021 #healthylifestyle #fyp

♬ deja vu – Olivia Rodrigo

That girl does everything you wish you had the time to do. She meditates, journals, and does her skincare routine all before 8 am. This trend is the amalgamation of classic wellness tropes, Pinterest-based perfection, and hustle culture all rolled into one, undoubtedly placing too much pressure on anyone trying to keep up.

Body Standards

Anyone can make avocado toast or take curated workout pictures. Yet, those that embody ‘that girl’ all look like carbon copies. To any onlooker, it seems as if being white and thin is fundamental to achieving ‘that girl’ status, and to a certain degree — it is. The essence of ‘that girl’ is built on attaining perfection. This perfection also applies within society’s standards which favor the white, thin, and already privileged.

The truth is someone could eat the same meals and do the same workouts as ‘that girl’ and still not look like her. This is partly why the correlation between perfection, thinness, and health is so detrimental, especially to young girls. Healthy looks different for everyone, and without the aesthetics, “that girl” is like anyone else. The appeal to the videos lies in her perfectly toned stomach, beautifully meal-prepped lunches, and the idea of her perfect life.

 

Twitter users have tried to take on this lifestyle and consistently come up empty leaving them with nothing but bad relationships with food and burnout. One girl even tweeted, “all that the ‘that girl’ trend did to me is give me an eating disorder and made me hate my life 🙁 “. 

Realistically, ‘that girl’ is repackaged Tumblr propaganda with green juice and almonds instead of thigh gaps and openly crying on the internet. ‘That girl’ eats an egg white omelet with fruit on the side and tells herself she is full. She does her skincare while counting calories and fixating on the carb count in a banana. This aspirational “self-care” and commitment to working out every day is just a slightly different version of the toxic thinspo content of the past.

In 2016, esteemed food writer Ruby Tandoh wrote about influencers’ obsession with clean eating, even calling it a “purity fetish”. “That sort of language always carries with it a kind of moral assumption about what’s better,” says Tandoh, and food should be about nutrition, not ego or aesthetics. I promise, switching out your lunch for a smoothie will not fix your problems and rather than fixing your relationship with food this type of content only furthers disordered eating. 

Hustle Culture

“That girl” is the love child of a macro-obsessed gym bro and Pinterest mom. Thus, she lives her life to an impeccable standard and inspires viewers to do the same. She always has lots to do with never any trouble doing it.

Author Jia Tolentino once wrote that “The ideal woman, in other words, is always optimizing. She takes advantage of technology, both in the way she broadcasts her image and in the meticulous improvement of that image itself.” This shows how this TikTok trend furthers the idea that women could always be doing better, eating cleaner, and exercising more. This value placed on productivity in the name of feminism is egregiously misrepresented as there is more to anyone than their productivity output or the number on the scale.  

Working, whether it is for a company or on yourself, is not inherently empowering. This is especially true when a majority of work is performative or done to please beauty standards, and internalized male gaze, and the forced optimization of women. 

Unattainable Perfection

Perfection and achievement are something we all aspire to which is why the TikTok videos do so well. Who wouldn’t want to be a more productive, put-together, perfect version of themselves?

With that said, these videos that resemble moving Pinterest boards are not what life actually looks like. While it is fun to curate photoshoots for your breakfast and go to the gym in cute outfits, real-life has bread with the crust on it and eggs dipped in ketchup — even if the internet doesn’t like it. Your goal should not be to become ‘that girl’ because her perfect life and routine isn’t real. After the photo is snapped, she drinks milk out of the gallon when no one is looking and slinks away from the fridge like the rest of us.

TikTok user @the_peoples_princess highlights this facade by showing the underside to “that girl” that the public doesn’t see.

@the_peoples_princess

Everything is a lie ! 🤡 #depressionroom #fyp #lockdown #artoktiktok

♬ original sound – crack baby

Though it has taken some time, I have come to realize that I am never going to be ‘that girl’ because she is a parody of excellence that is only attainable for a moment.

Frankly, she doesn’t exist.

Sustainable Versions of ‘That Girl’

Her existence, though mythological, does contain aspects of life that are attainable over time. Working out, eating healthy, and being hydrated should be realistic goals that don’t automatically come with insane amounts of pressure and unbridled anxiety when a misstep occurs. While “that girl” remains an idolized figurehead, I implore you to take pride in yourself no matter what stage of life you’re at, and in turn, you will have a healthier relationship with food, work, and yourself.

To sustainably work on yourself does not mean you need to wake up at 5 am and hate your life and your body. For some, you can wake up at 9 am and still get the same amount of things done while rejecting society’s fetishized morality accompanied with rising early.

You don’t need to work yourself to death to live up to the standards of “that girl”, you just need to do your best — and that is enough. Goals can be so qualitative they are daunting rather than invigorating and end up being counter-productive altogether. So, here are some attainable goals made for real people doing the best they can.

– Drink more water (hydration is key)

– Move your body (whatever that means to you whether it is working out, talking a walk, stretching etc)

– Protect your skin (using sunscreen does not need to come with a 60 minute skincare routine)

– Eat what makes you happy (whether that is a burger, a green juice, or both)

– Unlearn intolerance, racism, and internalized misogyny (growing does not always include tangible or aesthetic goals)

– Focus on doing things that make you feel good

Rather than trying to be ‘that girl’ strive toward a healthier, more balanced version of yourself. Don’t punish yourself for sleeping in or a missed workout and instead, practice gratitude for the little things, motivation towards your goals, and kindness towards others and yourself. ‘That girl’ is the embodiment of the fixation over self-optimization, and if we all stopped focusing so hard on the ways to become better, we would realize the parts of ourselves that already are and attainably work upwards from there.