Paula Acedo calculates prices in Zara garments, and if she gives a gift to her boyfriend, it’s free. Those are just two examples of a new concept taking over Gen Z via TikTok: “girl math.” Thousands of women on TikTok have shared their personal money rules. The hashtag has more than 500 million views on TikTok, and it includes thousands of videos with financial advice, featuring girls whose ways of making sense of money share an aesthetic.
The concept of girl math is one of many “girl”-tagged concepts flooding the internet these days. They have to do with the experience of being a woman, defined by things as peculiar as mentally calculating personal savings in terms of potential purchases from Zara.
The possibilities of the “girl” label are infinite on TikTok. She may be chaotic and disorganized (“Rat Girl”); she may prioritize self-care, be extremely organized, work out, and approach productivity porn (“That Girl”); she may have no aspirations and feel like she’s far behind her friends (“Rot Girl”). She may take a “hot girl walk,” thinking about the things she’s thankful for, things she wants to achieve and how beautiful she is; she may enjoy nature (“girlmossing”) and she may eat an unpretentious “girl dinner” of hummus with veggies and half a boiled egg. All these variants of the “girl” have associated images, aesthetics and behavior, turning them into something like subcultures mediated by consumption, as Youtuber Mina Le, who specializes in internet culture, explains.
“Girl” turns individual idiosyncrasies into part of the collective imaginary. For journalist Rebecca Jennings, who writes about social media culture, they’re really just marketing campaigns, because “the internet has turned us all into editors and content creators.” Madison Wild, one of those content creators, with more than half a million TikTok followers, recalls the term “girlboss,” popularized in 2014 and represented by figures like Elizabeth Holmes and Sophia Amoruso. That archetype was a woman who acted with the ruthlessness of a male executive in corporate environments. Today, “girl” has no age limit. “If the absence of a spouse or child is the condition of being a ‘girl,’” Jennings writes, “then it’s hardly surprising that so many modern women are referring to themselves as such.”
For Jennings, “girl dinner” is a joke that contrasts with “woman dinner”: The latter “evokes the image of a married woman who has already fed her husband and children, eating the last bits of what’s left over before putting the plates in the dishwasher.” Mina Le, the video-essayist, talks on her channel about the rise of the “girl” aesthetic and the fragmented subcultures as a possible response to the turbulent political and social atmosphere of recent decades, along with growing up online and the desire to be part of a community, even if it’s built around absurd qualities. She quotes the TikToker Becky O’Connor, who affirms, “we increasingly see ourselves pushed to buy things and make those purchases into our identities.”
From there was born the label “lazy girl job.” It defines a girl without ambitions who wants to work just enough to pay her expenses, thus having more time to build her identity outside of her job.
The latest viral phenomena: ‘Tube Girl’
Sabrina Bahsoon is a girl from London who has gone viral on TikTok with her videos dancing on the metro. The fury began with one titled “Being delulu and acting like I’m in a music video every time I’m on the tube.” Bahsoon has received more than 50 million views. “Tube girl” is already something that is being replicated on TikTok, and it represents someone who has confidence in herself, romanticizes her life and does whatever she wants.
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