Graphic by Giovana Gelhoren / North by Northwestern

It’s 7:30 am and I’m running. I’ve chugged a full glass of water, my bed is already made, there are positive affirmations messily scribbled in my Moleskine journal. I tell myself I’m “that girl.”

Wake up early. Journal. Work out. Read. I think everyone’s met “that girl” at least once. She does more in her morning routine than you’ll do in your entire day. Maybe it’s her daily gratitude journal or maybe it’s the green juice she drinks every morning. Whatever it is, she consistently appears happier and less anxious than you. Her Instagram stories always seem to be taken straight from Pinterest, and she somehow embodies productivity.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing the “that girl” routine everywhere. From my TikTok For You Page to my Youtube recommendations, it’s become inescapable.

@.becomethat.girl become that girl with me. we start tomorrow. follow to join our journey. #thatgirl #fyp #4u #foryoupage #follow #like #aesthetic #monday ♬ Seaside_demo by SEB - SEB

It’s unclear where the internet’s sudden obsession with “that girl” came from, but these videos have amassed millions of views, likes and shares. Why? Because, simply put, it’s easy to support a trend like this. Take one step back, and it seems to promote the ideals of self-improvement and working actively towards goals. But a few steps further back, and some critics argue there can be serious mental implications of this hyper-productive routine. Does it create unrealistic standards? Is it encouraging girls to continuously better themselves or is it inextricably tying people’s worth to their productivity?

All good questions, so I decided to try it out for myself. Seeing it everywhere, it almost felt like a sign from the world: Get your life together, Grace.

So I did – for three days at least.

I planned those three mornings to a tee: wake up at 7 am, take a quick jog by the lake, come back to my dorm, wash my face, get ready, journal, do some laundry, squeeze in a meditation, eat a nutritious meal – all before 9 am.

When I told people what time I was waking up for this story, they shot me immediate looks of disgust and pity. I would’ve done the same, to be fair. But those few days were actually… really nice. Embodying “that girl” was a nice shift away from the “sleep-deprived and overworked girl” that college promotes.

For a few hours, I could take my mind off the colorful array of quizzes, interviews and problem sets that decorated my Google Calendar. Instead, I focused on finding five things I felt grateful for. Suddenly, writing down my intentions and goals for the week became the most urgent task I had.

It was healing, but three days was my max. Living like that is unsustainable. Believing anything else is exactly where “that girl” routine can become toxic.

In a college culture that glorifies productivity, it’s important to remind ourselves that levels of output, focus or efficiency are not indicative of one’s success, social standing or significance. Productivity can be defined in various ways. Is it waking up early or is it having a movie night with friends until 3 am? Is it finishing a paper or is it polishing off that last slice of pizza? I think it’s all of the above. A productive use of time can consist of both things you have to do and things you enjoy. Ideally, there’s some overlap between the two.

In college, or at least at Northwestern, “that girl” takes on an alter ego. Rather than waking up at 6 am, students pride themselves on staying at Mudd until 6 am. Rather than drinking green smoothies, students puff their chests and chug coffee at 2 am. Students are seemingly trying to be “that on-the-grind McCormick student” or “that sleep-deprived and failing pre-med student” in this case. Whatever “that ___” may be, there’s a shared aesthetic that all of these personas subtly proclaim: “I am working harder than you.”

There’s a certain badass persona associated with this ideal. “That girl” is on the grind. She is prioritizing herself over anything else. She is working harder than any man. She is a girlboss. “That girl” routine in many ways is a modern revitalization of girlboss culture. Both cater to a certain subset of cis women, who are increasingly independent, confident and capable. But with “that girl” routine, women are working for themselves by working on themselves. And these wellness practices are not specific to white, wealthy women, which was heavily seen in girlboss culture. The rise of “that girl” routine could point to signs of a slightly more inclusive feminist movement. But this is only the beginning.

Why has this routine specifically been defined as “that girl” routine? Perhaps one reason for this stems from the long-held stereotype that girls typically spend more time and effort on their outward appearance than people of other genders. Throughout history, there has been a constant expectation for women to look a certain way when out in public. They should be “presentable” and “pretty.” The historical demand for a certain social appearance from women may explain why this routine has been characterized with the word “girl,” even though this aesthetic is not exclusive to any gender. The pressure to be “that girl” materializes within all gender identities. Despite the TikToks under the “that girl” hashtag showcasing something else, simple health and wellness practices – eating healthy, waking up early – can be and are practiced by people of all gender identities.

Even after the trend stops trending on TikTok, the pressures of being “that girl” will still be ubiquitous. How we respond to those pressures is entirely up to us. It’s so easy to allow these obscure standards of productivity and wellness dictate our significance and importance as individuals. But even if it’s hard to face who we actually are, completely stripped of any accomplishments, we must. To respond well to trends like this and take care of our mental health, we need to find more security within ourselves.

A lot of the steps to becoming “that girl” are harmless or even beneficial. Drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, incorporate some kind of movement into your day if you can. These are some basic guidelines to living a healthier lifestyle.

So after getting a taste of being one, I see there’s nothing inherently wrong with striving to be “that girl.” It’s an innocent attempt at bettering ourselves. During this process, it’s crucial that we remain kind to ourselves and cognizant of how being “that girl” never guarantees true happiness and fulfillment.

I’m not sure I’ll ever wake up at 7 am again for a run. But whether I’m conscious of it or not, I’m still trying to be a better version of myself – a smarter version of myself, a funnier version of myself. It’s in my blood, our blood even, to want and be more than we are. And in that universal act of developing ourselves, I think we all already begin to resemble “that girl.”