It’s 2am and you’re doom-scrolling through TikTok with one eye open, painfully aware that your iPhone’s piercing alarm will bring you to a rude awakening in circa five hours. But nothing matters right now and the algorithm has exhausted all options. Suddenly, you find yourself on #thatgirl TikTok, a corner of the platform dedicated to the relentless pursuit of self-improvement and actualisation over, well, everything.
You might not know it, but you need goblin mode, urgently, in your life. But before we wade into that brand new ideal for living, let’s pause and pamper.
At the time of writing, the “that girl” hashtag has over three billion views, encapsulating an aesthetic defined by overpriced athleisure, Dyson Airwrap tutorials and mindfulness videos. 10-step skincare routines to achieve the “glazed doughnut look” are rife, as are beauty hauls, needlessly complicated Starbucks orders, impeccably arranged bento boxes and daily journaling – all of which are supposedly necessary extensions of the good ol’ nine to five.
Of course, none of these things are inherently bad. But when packaged together under the guise of aspirational content, they become an extension of the girlboss-type hustle culture which has been pervasive online over the last couple of years. The only thing is, said content is rebranded with “health is wealth” as its MO, basically implying that the best version of yourself relies upon purity and clean-living, equating these qualities with virtue.
While this might seem fairly innocuous on the surface, choosing whether or not to embrace “that girl” aesthetic feels inextricably linked to one of the internet’s favourite hot topics: capitalism and the ways in which it has infiltrated the way we behave, interact and consume, again, anything.
TikToker @horrible.glitter describes “that girl” aesthetic as “the archetype of ideal femininity”, which eventually led her down a rabbit hole of guilt for not living up to digitally-set standards of what living one’s best life should look like. Plus, how “pure” can your content really be if you’re making cold hard cash from it, perpetuating a cycle of materialism and waste in the process?
“Is it possible to have mindfulness without thousands of dollars in sephora and amazon hauls? hard to tell!!!!” [sic] @horrible.glitter points out in the comment section of her video.
Simply put, most of the things required to become “that girl” just aren’t achievable within the confines of most people’s social or working lives. And as “that girl” has started to make people feel bad for not putting time aside for adequate amounts of self-care, an increasingly mighty rebellion has emerged.
Enter: goblin mode, the ultimate anti-aesthetic and most effective form of resistance against cookie-cutter purveyors of squeaky-clean living.
What was that, Kim Kardashian? “Get my fucking ass up and work?” No thanks, I’d rather spontaneously lose my mind and start crawling around on all fours to forage for snacks around my flat. In a recent Guardian piece, goblin mode is described as embracing “the comforts of depravity and a departure from the ‘cottagecore’ influence of early pandemic days”, AKA slobbing it out to binge-watch lowbrow reality TV and eat without cutlery.
If that’s your version of goblin mode, fine. But there’s more than one way to go goblin. It might stir up some slightly more feral, guttural feelings instead, and that’s OK, too.
The great thing about goblin mode, you see, is that everyone has their own version of what it means and looks like. It’s open to interpretation, a totally democratic state of mind that anyone can tap in and out of at will. It has no borders and no gender. Goblin mode embraces hot mess of all kinds, never discriminates – and, crucially, completely rejects any and all notions of self-improvement. Freeing, to say the least.
Although the term “goblin mode” has been traced all the way back to 2009, it went viral last month, when a fake headline suggested that international muse-in-chief and Uncut Jahm Julia Fox broke up with Kanye West because he “didn’t like it when [she] went goblin mode”. The internet erupted, latching onto it as the newest aesthetic, vibe, way of life – whatever you want to call it – du jour. Fox later discredited this wild and frankly too-good-to-be-true claim on her Instagram story: “Just for the record. I have never used the term goblin mode.”
But the damage was already done; the girlboss to goblin mode pipeline was in full swing.
About to spontaneously combust with rage? Goblin mode activated.
Feel like ripping your hair out from stress? Goblin mode, check.
Fancy creeping around your home while carrying a sack and picking up various trinkets (yep, really)? It’s your inner goblin’s time to shine, baby.
There’s no reason why, in 2022, we should aspire to slicked-back buns and matcha lattes as trade-ins for having our shit together. Leaning into attainable chaos over social media perfection has never felt so good.
Now, with appropriate frenzy, goblin mode has barged in, becoming just as ingrained into our online vernacular as “that girl” was a mere few months ago. How the tables have turned.
Incidentally, @horrible.glitter is one of TikTok’s main advocates for “going feral”, as she puts it.
“The ‘that girl’ lifestyle is the most garbage consumerist propaganda […] And the aspiration is to do what exactly?? […] Spend your youth focused on a moralised vague goal of self-improvement?” she writes in one video, before inviting her followers to “get kicked out of a chilis express” instead.
That’s right: #feralgirl summer will be upon us this year. And at the end of the day, the girls that get it, get it. Those who don’t, don’t. And that’s what goblin mode is all about.