What is girl therapy? The TikTok trend disguising middle-class consumerism as self-care to Gen Z

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Mar 3, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Picture this: you’re strolling through the flower market in your cutest outfit with a homemade cold brew in hand, before meeting friends for brunch at an upscale restaurant. As the day winds down, you slip into your fluffiest robe, sink into a bath filled with expensive bath bombs, pink glitter, and rose petals, and indulge in some chocolate-covered strawberries. Finally, you go through your Hailey Bieber-esque skincare routine and cosy up in bed with a new book. This is the essence of the #girltherapy trend that is currently dominating TikTok.

That’s right, the era of the girlies continues with yet another hashtag. Girl therapy, the first craze that managed to repackage commercial wellness culture for Gen Zers, is almost 70,000 posts strong with roughly 648 million views on the video-sharing platform. Girl therapy even has its own sound now, made by TikTok creator Yaz: “Sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m a little bit busy with girl therapy but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can… maybe.”

@amandaedins

♬ original sound - yaz
@kiaranelsons

vibes are always high in the girls bathroom 💅🏽 #girlthings #girlsbeinggirls

♬ original sound - Kiara Nelson
@trinitytondeleir

ugh, i love being a girl 🧸 🩰 🎀🕊️🤎

♬ tumblr girls - stqr.audi0s
@olafflee

✨ girl therapy ✨

♬ original sound - yaz

What is girl therapy?

Girl therapy is a hyper-feminised form of self-care and wellness. Conventional therapy pertains to the treatment of a mental or physical condition. Girl therapy, however, provides a feminine alternative that presents self-care hacks such as taking a long bath, having wine in bed, filling your house with fresh-cut flowers, or spreading out on a freshly washed duvet sheet as equally effective in lifting one’s mood.

Alternative therapies aren’t a new concept, especially for Gen Z, whose restricted income might prevent them from accessing real therapy with a qualified professional. There is dick therapy, which proposes that being penetrated by genitalia can remedy chronic stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety and loneliness. And then there is Carrie Bradshaw’s retail therapy of course, which purports the idea that shopping for clothing can lead to euphoria and an emotional high that will alleviate stress for as long as there is room in your closet—or on your credit card.

While there can be empowerment in the perfect outfit and sexual freedom, we’ve come to learn that both dick and retail therapy just further a hedonistic lifestyle that depletes our emotional or planetary resources and can’t replace actual self-development and emotional growth.

Nevertheless, something about the pastel-coloured, cotton-candied world of girl therapy has the TikTok girlies thinking that this time, quick fixes might actually work. However, here is why girl therapy might become more detrimental than supportive to our health:

Why is girl therapy problematic?

Of course, there is nothing problematic about putting on an expensive dress and getting ready with your best friends for a night of cocktails, girl chat, giggles and dancing.

@sundayshwc

girl getting ready = therapy 🩰✨☁️ #girlgettingready #girltherapy #girlygirl #menwillneverunderstand #sundayshwc

♬ pocketful of sunshine - ༻✦༺
@nathaliabouwhuis

#girltherapy

♬ My Love Mine All Mine - Mitski

In fact, social interactions and spending time with loved ones are highly recommended ways to alleviate anxiety and depression.

The problems arise when we try to rebrand pampering and glow-ups as therapy. It is an unfair fact that society preaches to women that improving their appearance will solve all their problems. It ties their self-worth to presentation, reaffirms the outdated notion that prettier is always better, and supports an external rather than internal locus of identity and well-being.

@elizabethgauci_

💗

♬ original sound - yaz

Going through the girl therapy hashtag on TikTok or Instagram feels like escaping into a cloudy and pink girl world, filled with brownies, expensive skincare, and green juices outside of stylish coffee shops. What I find incredibly remarkable is the complete absence of men, suggesting a feminist utopia in which women revel in their own spaces and foster communities of empowerment and solidarity with simple self-care advice. It’s delicious and alluring, reflecting the desire to live a delicate, carefree, and glamorous life, free of insidious patriarchal influences.

It’s undeniable that it’s fun to indulge in this life of simple luxury and cosiness, in which all the problems of the outside world disappear under thin layers of Dior foundation, new acrylics, and a dazzling blowout. But if we pull back the layers, the underlying message is conspicuous consumption. Girl therapy videos are essentially just product introductions, encouraging us to buy not out of necessity but out of the illusion that acquiring material goods equates to self-improvement.

 

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A post shared by k a i t (@vlogswkaitt)

So, just like the idea of the girl boss, girl therapy advocates for cooperation with capitalism. This, of course, goes against more feminist values than it actually supports.

On one side, it is inherently exclusive because this trend makes self-care solely accessible to women with enough disposable income to afford regular brunches, countless cosmetic products, or an Instagramable bathtub. On the other hand, it also continues the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic’s problem of whitewashing beauty and wellness. The women at the forefront of girl therapy are usually pilates-fit, well-groomed upper-middle-class white women, who market their lifestyle as attainable to the masses with the purchase of only a few simple products. Yet what they are actually doing is reinforcing economic disparities and traditional beauty standards.

If this sounds like a familiar playbook, it’s because it very much is. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop has frequently been accused of whitewashing wellness, through its appropriation of traditional Eastern wellness, such as herbal medicine, jade eggs, reiki, and aromatherapy. Goop rebrands them as expensive alternative medicines to Western treatments for upper-middle-class women who are looking for something different to ease their lives. However, the lower classes, who might benefit the most from genuine wellness practices, are systematically excluded from this brand and narrative.

Although girl therapy has dabbled less in racism and appropriation, it seems to fall into the same pit of transforming wellness into yet another tool for perpetuating societal inequities and beauty ideals.

Not all of girl therapy advocates for conspicuous consumption, of course. Many users recommend journaling, reading a good book, or taking a long walk with your pet or partner, as a more low-cost and accessible way to improve one’s wellbeing on a daily basis.

 

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A post shared by Suzie (@suzies.bookshelf)

@brunchingblondie

this is your reminder that girl therapy doesn’t have to be focused around consumption💭 #girltherapy #consumption #mentalhealth #selfcare

♬ alone time - emma🌅

However, the overriding message of the whole trend is one that we know too well. It marginalises women of colour and those with lower incomes to preach that the answer to all emotional problems lies in acquiring a more glamorous life. But it just doesn’t work, so please, let’s pass on it this time.

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