Viral TikTok trend promoting productivity may be doing more harm than good, students and faculty say

By Rachel Patel, Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones

TikTok’s powerful impact on individuals is nothing new, and with many living on their phones since the start of the pandemic, exposure to its trend-cycle has been never-ending.

Among them has been the popular #thatgirl trend, consisting of carefully curated clips of an aesthetically pleasing, almost perfect daily routine. Compiling Pinterest-esque gym outfits and only the greenest avocado for her toast, one would think this is the girl everyone aspires to be, but Columbia students and staff say otherwise.

Grace Choi, assistant professor and program coordinator of the social media and digital strategies program, said trends like these can alter what productivity “looks” like.

Choi believes that past the uniform ice cubes and the cookie-cutter routine, this trend is a cry for help from young people.

“If older audiences are consuming these videos, this is a reminder that we should really encourage and support young people at this time,” Choi said. “Because if they need a video like this to motivate them, they really need help.”

Choi added that this latest trend appeals to the very “privileged” and can be “unrealistic to college students.”

“When you think about especially Columbia students, many have full time jobs, or at least part time jobs, and they do not have time to make avocado toast and light their candles or do any of the activities—or even afford the products that are featured in these videos,” Choi said. “I would love to see a more realistic version of how a full time student or even a part time student manages to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning, and follows this trend.”

Anne Marie Mitchell, an associate professor in the Communication Department, cautioned that while waking up early has its benefits, it is not a mandatory step in having a productive day and that oftentimes, trends like these may cause people to make harmful comparisons to themselves and what they see online.

“I hope that people don’t feel like they’re doing things wrong if they’re not on this trend, because you can still be doing things right for yourself,” Mitchell said. “You could still be living a healthy life and eating right and managing your time.”

A huge part of the #thatgirl image is waking up early and rising before the sun does. This routine encourages girls to wake up at 5 a.m., make their beds and jump into a workout; but as energizing as this all sounds, it may not be healthy.

Zoe Chu, adult and baby sleep expert and founder of Sleep Supernanny, a company that works with families to find the sleep pattern that works for them, emphasized the importance of knowing your circadian rhythm before adopting the #thatgirl sleep routine.

“[Circadian rhythms are] really individual,” Chu said. “If these girls are waking up at 5 or 6 a.m. and that’s their natural circadian rhythm, then I would say it’s OK. But if that’s not, and they are disrespecting that, then that can be quite detrimental to their health.”

Elizabeth Daramola, a first-year photography major, said she is not a fan of this routine, and that oftentimes TikTok promotes trends that are inaccessible to others.

“Because I go through a lot more mental health issues, every time I would try to be #thatgirl, it just wouldn’t mesh with how I was doing mentally,” Daramola said.

Daramola also mentioned the emphasis these trends place on aesthetics, perpetuating the stigma that certain products are necessary for a sense of self-fulfillment.

Daramola herself was a victim of this mindset, saying she made her dad save a jalapeño jar to use as an aesthetic coffee cup.

“Nothing has made me feel worse than when I got so mad when he threw away the second jar I wanted to use,” Daramola said. “I had to think to myself, ‘why do you want to use it?'”

TikTok’s harmful lack of diversity adds to the feeling that people must look a certain way to feel content and happy, an issue the #thatgirl trend perpetuates. In 2020, the top 5 highest earning TikTok stars on the platform were white.

Junior digital marketing major Frida De Santiago said that to her, #thatgirl looks like someone who has long, blonde beach-wavy hair, is super thin and is probably wearing Lululemon leggings.

“Like every other trend on TikTok when it comes to beauty or lifestyle, it’s saying if you don’t look like her or if you don’t have the money like her, then you can’t be her,” De Santiago said.