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‘Productivity porn’: the TikTok trend that makes you feel bad about yourself

Getting up before dawn, drinking multivitamin juice, meditating and doing Pilates. Is the latest trend inspirational or just a guilt trip?

Videos of young women with demanding wellbeing routines starting at 5am are proving a hit on social media.
Videos of young women with demanding wellbeing routines starting at 5am are proving a hit on social media.Agencia Getty

The alarm clock goes off at 5:30am. She gets up, makes the bed, lights some candles and puts on gym clothes. Opening her journal, she notes down everything she is thankful for and her goals for the day. She turns on a screen and follows the movements of her online yoga and Pilates class, then eats a breakfast of papaya, yogurt and muesli. Now it’s 8am, her name is Alexa Esco, and she is “that girl.”

Like her, many other women are fans of a TikTok trend to push their communities to discover the best version of themselves. The hashtag #ThatGirl now has 6.6 million views and promotes healthy living in line with a certain ethic: meditation, exercise, multivitamin juices and super-productivity. And all that before seven in the morning.

Janira Planes, a social media and internet culture expert, calls this type of content “productivity porn,” where optimizing time and self are key. “Personally, I like it, but sometimes it makes me laugh that the girls who can hope to be “that girl” are typically white, students or unemployed, who don’t support themselves and only have to meet their mom for lunch or run errands. So, it’s hardly surprising they can be “that girl,” says Planes.

Júlia Ávila, a publicist and representative of influencers, shares a similar view: “This ideal has become romanticized. It’s something you can aspire to but it’s practically impossible. Some people with a certain work timetable would maybe be able to do it, but for everyone else it can be toxic and overwhelming to see people you admire doing this sort of thing.” Ávila, for example, says her morning routine consists of having a shower, eating two slices of toast and going to work.

Andrea Villamil works in marketing and represents the other side of the coin. She says she is a diurnal person and likes to stick to elaborate routines in the morning, inspired by content on Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok. Villamil rises at 6am, eats oatmeal for breakfast and exercises on a treadmill or a vibrating platform while listening to music or a podcast. She also tries to read for half an hour and would like to incorporate an hour of study into her routine. But there are days when she doesn’t want to be #ThatGirl. More often than not, these types of accounts don’t consider that. They are just selling you on the lifestyle. So, when I have one of those days, I can’t help but feel guilty,” she says.

In the face of the glorification of a lifestyle that is out of reach for most people, a counter-culture has sprung up (but not very early in the morning), showing morning routines as they are for most people: unmade beds, little enthusiasm for going to work, half-finished cups of instant coffee... and this TikTok channel has almost 10 million views.

According to psychologist Valeria Perris, the #ThatGirl trend has a tendency to “spectacularize life” and is another example of how social media is used to display the perfect lives of perfect people. Perris believes that the misguided belief that perfection exists exposes users to huge risks because it leads them to reject the parts of their lives that they think will not provide the desired acceptance. “This way of managing our relationship with the outside world makes us lose sight of our relational world: the opinion of other people is what makes us real, what legitimizes who we are, but, paradoxically, we are alone in our bedroom. No one really sees us,” she says.

TikTok accounts extol the virtue of Pilates early in the morning.
TikTok accounts extol the virtue of Pilates early in the morning.

The healthy side of TikTok

The #ThatGirl hashtag is far from the only one on TikTok promoting this kind of idealized lifestyle. Among others that share a similar theme are the 5am Club and Hot Girl Walk, two trends that extol a similar essence of form and self: to be “healthy” girls, rising early and striding purposefully into a perfect dawn of their own making. It is a potent mix, as the number of views suggests.

Carla Sánchez is a content creator and a member of the 5am club. On her account she shares thoughts, outfits and vlogs and uses the early hours of the day to drink coffee and get herself ready for the gym. For Carla, getting up so early is a way of life, when she feels more productive, less hurried and less pressurized. “The plus point of getting up at 5am is that nobody – or practically nobody – is awake, so you can get a head start, work, exercise or meditate and it’s very unlikely you’ll be interrupted by a WhatsApp or an email. It is during these two or three hours that you can really live life,” she says, adding that this doesn’t necessarily have to be first thing in the morning: “If you can do it at 3pm, before or after dinner, it will still be fantastic.”

The reality though is that finding these moments among the hustle and bustle is as complicated as it is essential. Work, family or the desire to maintain a social life force most women to live in a constant state of activity. Against the frenetic pace of life, who can find time to prepare a wholesome breakfast? Who has the willpower to wake up before dawn to meditate? And who can do all of that in an environment that oozes beauty and order? “That girl,” users of hot girl walk and others who follow countless similar online trends. Those women whose hair is perfect, who go to the gym in designer sneakers and don’t shed a bead of sweat, who travel to idyllic places and take Instagram shots of themselves managing to look cute while eating spaghetti. They have something the majority of other people do not: the time to eat a bowl of acai in the park and the money that affords them that kind of lifestyle, while those that aspire to be like them answer emails and take the kids to school.

What can be done against an idealized version of womanhood on social media, even at ungodly hours of the morning? “Not giving up on the imperfect parts of us is the real challenge. Believing in our potential and expressing ourselves, including our imperfections, means empowering our authenticity,” says Perris. Beyoncé sings about this virtue on her new track, Break My Soul, an anthem for the generation of the great resignation, which could also become something similar for those women who just want to live life their way: as standard-bearers for authenticity and without corseted routines. Those who drink three gin and tonics one night and a few gallons of water the following week, who leave the bed unmade but change the sheets regularly, who exercise but need several afternoons lying on the sofa, who combine Honest Greens with McDonalds and who are torn between a beautiful life esthetic and one that is real.

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