That Girl: Performing an Aesthetic
How TikTok commodifies girlhood and renders selfhood as consumerism
WORDS BY RACHEL WINDSOR | ARTS & LETTERS
FEB 28, 2023 | ISSUE 11
Illustration By Alicia Jungwirth
To be a girl on TikTok is to align oneself with a recognizable aesthetic: are you “dark academia,” a “coquette,” or a “downtown girl”? Or perhaps you’re “That Girl,” capitalization and all: she’s easily recognizable by her 5am alarm clock, morning green juice, 12-step skincare routine, and faithful five-minute journal practice. We know this about That Girl because she shows us, capturing and uploading the most aesthetically pleasing moments of her ultra-productive routine. It’s no wonder that the associated hashtag has over 7.7 billion views at the time of writing─her performance of selfhood is compelling, but perhaps it’s troubling too.
Any video uploaded to TikTok is, to some extent, a performance, as social media relies upon representation rather than “real” (i.e. tangible) presence. The concept isn’t restricted to online interactions either: as far back as 1956, Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman suggested that any social interaction “marked by [an individual’s] continuous presence before a particular set of...