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What Happens When A TikTok Trend Takes Over Your Life

TikTok is the new social media trend / ScienceTechniz. Dynasti deGouville is exhausted and Samantha Blau has never felt better. They’re both...

TikTok is the new social media trend / ScienceTechniz.
Dynasti deGouville is exhausted and Samantha Blau has never felt better. They’re both doing the same thing. The two women have been trying to live their best lives by following approaches learned from the #ThatGirl and #CleanGirl trends on TikTok. The lifestyle prescribes waking up at 5 a.m., working out every day, journaling, meditating, eating certain foods (green smoothies, avocado toast) and wearing brand-name athleisure.

The #ThatGirl hashtag, which has garnered about six billion views on TikTok, is an example of online content that purports to inspire people to change their offline lives. We’ve all spotted social-media trends on Facebook, Twitter and other sites that we believe will push us to better ourselves. The beautiful imagery and depictions of happiness can inspire us to adopt a healthier lifestyle or learn a new skill.

But they can also leave us feeling overwhelmed and drained. At times, popular online trends can perpetuate unattainable beauty and wealth standards. (We share tips below for keeping your wits while pursuing these trends, whatever they may be.)

#ThatGirl has been criticized for lacking body, racial and income diversity, with many posts featuring thin, white, seemingly wealthy women. On the broader question of improving life, #ThatGirl has led to both outcomes. Inside the successes and pitfalls for Ms. deGouville and Ms. Blau are clues on the best ways for each of us to approach current hashtag trends and the ones to come. 


Earlier this year, Ms. deGouville, 22 years old, found her TikTok feed filled with #ThatGirl videos from people she follows, talking about how they improved their lives. After graduating from Emory University in May, Ms. deGouville started comparing her life to theirs. Without the structure of classes and extracurriculars, she had to find new ways to fill her time outside her day job. “That’s when I started to build myself after these women,” she said. 

Instagram has its fair share of aspirational lifestyle content, too. But Meta Platforms-owned Instagram frequently features curated posts that many know show only snippets of real life. TikTok users often view that app’s short-form videos as more genuine, said Jayne Charneski, founder of the consumer-research firm Front Row Insights & Strategy. “There’s this association with authenticity and casualness, and I think it makes that content feel more believable,” she said. 

At the same time, the nature of TikTok’s algorithm means viewers can fall down rabbit holes of content. That can make viewers think everyone must live like the people they see online, and question why they don’t, said Christian Montag, a professor at Ulm University in Germany who researches the connection between social-media habits and personality.

In December, TikTok said it was working to diversify recommendations and prevent users from seeing too much of the same content. TikTok, when contacted for comment for this piece, referred to a blog post from July. In it, Cormac Keenan, head of trust and safety, said the company has reduced the frequency of content recommendations related to well-being topics such as dieting and fitness, and is continuing to test it.

A spokeswoman added that in the coming weeks, the company will roll out a feature to filter out specific hashtags. The steps recommended by #ThatGirl creators—and followed by Ms. deGouville—included waking up an hour and a half before work to journal, drink a smoothie and go through a seven-step skin care routine. After closing her laptop at the end of the workday, Ms. deGouville would head to the gym and exercise vigorously. Following her cool-down stretch, she’d make a healthy meal, read and meditate before going to sleep.

“I’ve definitely had days where I’ve achieved all of that, but it’s exhausting,” Ms. deGouville said. The pressure of pursuing the #ThatGirl lifestyle eventually gave her a nagging feeling similar to having an upcoming—but nonexistent—deadline, she said. “There’s no way people can sustain that,” Ms. deGouville said. She took a break from #ThatGirl earlier this month, giving up the to-do list of daily tasks. Life has felt easier since then, she said. 


Like Ms. deGouville, Ms. Blau, 19, gets served mostly lifestyle and wellness content on her TikTok feed. Instead of a how-to guide, the student at Western New England University in Massachusetts sees it as inspiration for small, daily changes. Her approach has involved examining how her life already fitted with the #ThatGirl ethos. For example, she already owned a journal; she just had to start writing in it.

Since working #ThatGirl habits into her life, Ms. Blau has noticed a feeling of accomplishment and improvement in her daily mood. It has spurred her to socialize more and spend more time outside. It has also helped her prioritize doing what makes her happy, she said.

Ms. Blau tried one idealized routine of waking up early, going to the gym and journaling, but she’s not a morning person. So she started exercising at night. If a habit, such as meditation, isn’t working, she says she stops doing it. “I look to those videos to see how I can replicate those habits while still staying true to what I enjoy doing daily,” Ms. Blau said. 

What you can do

Here are some ways to ensure your relationship with TikTok and other social-media lifestyle content stays healthy:

Ask how it makes you feel. Before and after viewing, Jacqueline Sperling, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, recommends rating on a scale how you feel. If you notice declines, cut back or try tailoring what you see. Use the “not interested” feature to prevent the algorithm from serving those kinds of videos again. You can also scroll through your Following feed to only see posts from accounts you choose.

Make your phone boring. Setting Screen Time limits for TikTok and other social media can help reduce your consumption. If you find yourself hitting “ignore” on those break prompts, Dr. Montag recommends turning your phone to grayscale mode, ditching the vivid colors that can make smartphones appealing

Consult a professional. The daily #ThatGirl life consists of specific diet and fitness guidance. It’s important to remember that healthy living looks different for everyone. Consider asking a nutritionist or other professional for a personalized plan, Dr. Sperling said.

Remember it’s a highlight reel. A photo you see on Instagram might be the best out of dozens of shots. TikTok could be similar. Imagine what goes on behind the scenes of a TikTok video. Picture the actual filming process.