Mental Health is Not an Aesthetic
By Mary Grlic
Image via KHN
I am not the type of person to wake up at 5:00 AM every morning to get a yoga session in. I like to sleep in, enjoy my coffee, and scroll through my phone for a little bit. I don’t journal every day or listen to podcasts. I often work out in old t-shirts rather than cute gym sets. My meals are not picture-perfect for an Instagram post: they’re often something I quickly grab from the fridge on my way to school. Sure, I love to feel good, wear cute outfits, and drink fancy coffees, but the reality is that my life does not have to be aesthetically pleasing online for me to appreciate myself.
Social media has made good mental health seem like an ‘aesthetic’. Daily routines that seem to be focused on productivity and well-being are merely snippets of the creator’s life. The perfect lighting, color theme, and angles are just for the aesthetic. However, I often see videos or photos on social media and think: why is my life not this way? Why doesn’t the sun shine when I wake up? Why don’t I have a journal filled with cute doodles and perfect handwriting? Why am I not “that girl” who is striving to be the best version of myself by journaling, doing yoga, and eating a balanced diet?
The “That girl” image has gained popularity on TikTok for aesthetically pleasing lifestyle and routine videos. The goal of posts that push the “that girl” mentality is not often meant to be harmful. In fact, they aim to be helpful and inspirational, helping others to work to be their best selves and focus on their health. These creators try to romanticize their lives and find joy in the little things while creating healthy habits for the mind and body. Wanting to appreciate the small moments in life is inherently a great concept that can help with overall well-being. It feels good to wear some mascara just to go shopping or work out in a cute set.
The downside to “that girl” posts is that they often create an idealistic lifestyle that seems unattainable. Even when they admit that they have bad days, sleep in, or do not work out every morning, it is hard to believe because the viewers constantly see the aesthetic, perfect lifestyle that the creators push forward. We never see what is behind the scenes, and frankly, most of us never think about it. When we see a picture-perfect lifestyle on social media, we assume it is always like that, which is not always the case. We beat down on ourselves for not living like that without recognizing that our life does not have to be aesthetically pleasing every second of our lives. These habits “might help temporarily,” but thinking that they are the solution to depression or anxiety is simply unrealistic.
Beyond the obsession with how life appears on social media, the “that girl” trend also attributes attractiveness to hard work. It provides the notion that if you walk daily or eat clean meals, you will look like “that girl,” who often has a flat stomach, and seems to have their whole appearance put together. This reinforces the beauty standard as well as the idea that “clean” dieting and only eating whole foods is the way to achieve a perfect body. Wellness experts have pointed out that these videos show behaviors of eating disorders like orthorexia, as they are ridden with an obsession with eating “pure” and “whole” foods. Rarely do we ever see “that girl” eat fast food or desserts, and oftentimes, their diet seems to lack an adequate caloric intake. Their diet provides the notion that you must eat like them in order to have a put-together and healthy life, when in reality, not everyone has time to prepare or access to foods like avocado toast or fresh berries from the farmer’s market. For some, eating a quick meal is much more conducive for mental and physical health than making time-consuming and expensive meals that look aesthetically pleasing.
Truthfully, I don’t have time to make a smoothie bowl or baked oats every morning before rushing to school. It can be hard to wake up before the sun rises to do yoga after a long night of studying and homework. I would love to sit outside and journal or read as I enjoy an iced latte, but I don’t always have the motivation or attention span to do so. And that is okay. Just because I do not go for scenic walks or do my makeup every day does not make my journey towards productivity, health, and self-love any less meaningful. Mental health does not have to be an aesthetic. Being the best version of yourself does not always include iced lattes from a mason jar or daily meditation sessions. I can work out in old tees and eat chips out of the package rather than creating an aesthetic for every moment of my life. I can be my own version of “that girl” who strives to better myself without worrying about whether my meal is Instagram worthy or feeling guilty for sleeping in on the weekends. Your life does not need to be a movie or a social media post. You can achieve your goals and prioritize mental health without plating perfect meals or dressing up for every occasion. As that girl would say, this is your sign to appreciate your life as it is and work towards your own goals, but this time, without the pressure of a perfect aesthetic.
Written by Writer Mary Grlic