Is TikTok's "Clean Girl" Trend Aspirational or Exhausting?

Like many 20-something-year-olds with a phone, highly aesthetic clips of green juices, five minute gratitude journals and six step skincare routines fill my feed on a regular basis.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the "that girl" trend and its more recent successor, the "clean girl," have taken over social media -- a viral sensation that initially sprang from the boredom and hypochondriac tendencies that came along with isolation. Perfectly curated morning routines have become TikTok and Instagram’s latest obsession. What first started off as a noble attempt to romanticize everyday habits and mundane tasks has since morphed into a competition of who can appear to be the most put together.

While I’m guilty of posting those crisp and clean five second reels, admittedly finding solace and purpose in idealizing my daily life, the "clean girl" trend has proven to be both exhausting and problematic. Although the videos are meant to be aspirational, the rigorous morning routines are not accessible for those with limited time, energy and resources. There is a reason why most of its protagonists are young, single, white women. Creating an aesthetically pleasing life takes money and energy as it’s infinitely easier to make a coffee pour Instagram-worthy in a beautiful city loft versus a windowless room in an apartment that you share with three other people. Social media’s unconscious bias aside, to have the luxury of dedicating an hour each morning to cleaning, working out, journaling, meditating and make three home-cooked meals a day is just that – a luxury.

The laundry list of tasks that "clean girl" videos present can often make us feel like crap for not doing more. When near professional quality montages of someone’s daily life performs well on social media, granting them attention, and sometimes money, it’s hard not to feel as though you’re not doing something wrong. While our culture has moved towards a slower pace of life, I fear that the "that girl" trend has become another way of demanding that we hustle and grind to become the best versions of ourselves at all times rather than honoring the ebb and flow of life. The crushing weight of late-stage capitalism coupled with navigating the horrors of adulting, the idea of perfecting your life and documenting it on top of it all is enough to send me crawling back to bed.

Despite our modern fixation with productivity, we're not meant to be operating at 100% all of the time. For those living with chronic illnesses, whether they be mental or physical, celebrating and glorifying doing the bare minimum can be key to survival. The "clean girl" trend can be inhospitable to neurodivergent ways of being as the proliferation of regimented and carefully considered routines on Instagram can easily make someone feel like just getting through the day isn't enough, especially when doing so is already a difficult task. There are some days where Red Bull and gummy worms replace my perfectly swirled yogurt bowls and I start my mornings watching TV instead of journaling and doing yoga because it’s all I have the energy to do.


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A post shared by Justeen (@justeen.irl)

Arizona-based micro influencer @justeenirl shares her frustrations with the overwhelming amount of "5 am -- 9 am" videos showing up in her FYP. She recently posted a reel of her realistic morning routine, where she writes, "The buzz term ‘clean girl’ promotes this lifestyle that is unrealistic for a lot of folks. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bitter and jealous of the neurotypical, conventionally attractive, acne-free and wealthy people who manage to keep their sky rise apartments clean, slick back their buns and make themselves three healthy meals a day, let alone have the time and energy to document that everyday. Not being able to go on social media without seeing 20 of those types of videos often fuels my insecurities of feeling gross and lazy, reaffirming the idea that I have to curate my life to appeal to the most amount of people possible."

While I appreciate the wholesome intent of our current penchant for self-improvement and growth, I hope that we can also begin to romanticize our messier moments, as well.