The invasion of the ‘pick me girls’: Ellen Pompeo invented the term, and it has taken over social media, but what does it mean?

We analyze the implications of an expression that is becoming increasingly popular in internet culture, particularly on TikTok

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey on 'Grey's Anatomy'
Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey on 'Grey's Anatomy.'

“Pick me?!?!? I came up with that!” Ellen Pompeo told Katherine Heigl on Variety’s Actors on Actors special. On the show, actors discuss the craft of acting with each other; in this case, Heigl and Pompeo talked about their time on Grey’s Anatomy. Pompeo’s claim to pick me stems from a comment her daughter made to her while watching the series.

The actress who plays Meredith Grey also says that during the filming of the series she was very much against her character having to beg a man to love her, which she found embarrassing. A scene in which she did just that has become one of the show’s most famous moments. In season two, episode five, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) asks Derek — on the show, he’s also known by the nickname McDreamy — to get a divorce and choose her. The episode aired on TV on May 14, 2006, yet right now it represents one of the most notorious clichés within internet culture.

There are several reasons for that: one of generation Z’s main characteristics is the ability to recontextualize statements and make them their own, and this is probably one of the most representative cases of that tendency (another is a frog becoming an LGTBQ+ icon after some statements Alex Jones made, but that’s another story). At the same time, streaming platforms have helped Grey’s Anatomy continue to be a successful series (much as it has for The Office and Sex and the City). That means that Grey’s Anatomy is one of the most popular series among Generation Z; as a result, TikTok is full of short clips of the show.

The edited clip of “pick me, choose me, love me” has no fewer than 84,500 aggregated posts (and several sub-official audios) and the hashtag #pickme has racked up 7 billion views. Before TikTok existed, the term was trending on Black Twitter, from which many of the most relevant memes emerged.

So, what does it mean to be a pick me girl?

Urban Dictionary, the glossary of internet slang, defines a pick me girl as a person who begs for the attention and approval of a specific group in everything they say and do. In most cases, they seek “to gain the attention and acceptance of the opposite gender.”

The term’s exact meaning depends on the context in which it is used, but a common element is always the male gaze. In an environment of conservative men, a pick me woman fits the type of person who openly says that “women are meaner than men,” or one who prefers to adopt the “traditional” woman’s role of staying at home and not working. A teenage pick me girl will most likely be one who acts indifferent to girly things and performatively dresses like a tomboy. For example, it has always been said that, within the Kardashian clan, Kendall Jenner has been a pick me by wanting to differentiate herself from her sisters so badly.

In most cases, the term “pick me” is a derogatory way to refer to women who meet the characteristics described by Tara Mooknee in her video essay, The rise of a pick me girl meme: “A pick me not only does things to please one group but must discredit another group of women in the process.” She also employs an anti-feminist discourse, essentially championing the claim “I’m one of the women who think feminism has gone too far.”

Pick me implies that “I’m not like other girls.” Mooknee asserts that this statement’s internalized misogyny is problematic. She adds that Taylor Swift’s song You Belong with Me represents a good example. The song lyric “‘Cause she doesn’t get your humor like I do” situates her somewhere between a good girl and a textbook pick me. Meredith Grey would be proud; Pompeo and her daughters, not so much.

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