The Problem With TikTok’s “Pick-Me Girl” Trend Is More Complicated Than You Think
Social media's #PickMeGirl trend has led to a vicous cycle of women putting down other women. But who's really to blame?
She likes beer and sports and hanging with the guys. She might flirt with someone’s boyfriend and she definitely wore Converses to her prom. She’s simply not like other girls. She’s what’s known as a Pick-Me, and the internet loves to hate her.
According to Urban Dictionary, the official source for all things internet lingo, a pick-me girl is “a girl who seeks male validation by indirectly or directly insinuating that she is ‘not like the other girls.’ Basically a female version of a simp.” The pick-me often puts down other women in an attempt to garner male attention and, as Urban Dictionary notes, male validation, playing into patriarchal and misogynistic stereotypes.
While pick-me-ism encompasses many behaviors, examples include slut-shaming other women for promiscuous behavior or attire, complaining that women are “too much drama” (one reason she prefers to hang out with the boys) and promoting herself as the cool, laidback chick who’s “not like other girls” — a line so well-trafficked that it’s considered a TV trope. Typically, a male character will use that exact or similar phrasing to compliment a female character after she chugs a pint of beer or expresses disdain for something “feminine.” While at face value it seems like a compliment, the subtext ends up validating outdated ideas that deem traditional markers of femininity as frivolous, vapid or otherwise disreputable.
As with many recent linguistic phenomena (simping, being “down bad”), the moniker “pick me” has roots in Black internet culture. In both 2016 and 2018, the hashtag #TweetLikeAPickMe spread on Black Twitter, with users relying on the hashtag to mock a particular type of pick-me who will boast about being a wife and/or “wifey material” while shaming other women for behaviors that might indicate why they’re single (e.g., casual hookups, wearing revealing clothing, not cooking for your man, etc.).
Now, in 2021, TikTok has become the new home of the pick-me girl, with a canon of content dedicated to lampooning and riffing on the trope. One popular trend that popped up in early February relied on rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s song “Heavy Metal,” which includes the lyrics: “’ Pick me,’ like, ‘Pick me,’ like, ‘Pick me,’ like, ‘Pick me.’ TikTokers used the song to identify what they believe to be pick-me behavior, like preferring beer over fruity drinks or wearing minimal makeup.
A variant of the pick-me girl has also become the subject of a popular POV TikTok, in which comedians or actors portray relatable characters — like WASP moms or a random teacher coming into your classroom during a test — reacting to various scenarios. One of Kelsey Jensen’s most popular POV characters is “Chill Girl,” a close friend of your boyfriend Jason who either doesn’t understand boundaries or is intentionally looking to cross them.
In the TikToks, Jensen’s Chill Girl patronizes Amber (the woman you, the viewer, assume the role of) with subtle barbs and faux sincerity. She’ll apologize for not having any “sweet drinks” at her party for you to drink because, in case you haven’t heard, she only drinks beer. She’ll boast about how she’s “not even tired” on a strenuous hike while pointing out to the entire group that you are short of breath and might need a break. She’ll beg your boyfriend to take a photo with her and reminisce to you about all the fun times the two of them have shared.
Jensen, who’s an actor in Los Angeles, tells InsideHook she drew inspiration for the character from multiple people she’s dealt with while in relationships. For many viewers (particularly women), her Chill Girl is a frighteningly relatable character.
“It’s relatable because it’s someone every single one of us has encountered,” she says. “I feel like it’s such a common conversation between my friends and me. Like, oh, there is this one person who acts this way, but I have no words for it. Like, am I going crazy? Am I just being rude or jealous? What is going on?”
So what is going on with the pick-me? Why do some women behave like this? And should that behavior be viewed as objectionable?
“Pick-me-ism definitely is rooted in internalized misogyny and a desire to distance oneself from traditional female archetypes and stereotypes, which we’ve been told all our lives are bad and negative,” says Amy Rosenbluth, a recent Political Science and International Development graduate from McGill University who penned an in-depth analysis on TikTok’s #PickMeGirl trend.
“I’d also argue that most of us have probably exhibited pick-me behavior at least once in our lives,” she adds. “It’s kind of in the same way that we all want to be unique and be apart from everyone else, so a lot of women believe that if they lean into these archetypes and diminish other women, that they will be able to set themselves apart and be picked. They do that by casting themselves as superior to lesser traditional or regular women and girls.”
Jensen echoes this when explaining why her Chill Girl character acts dismissive toward Amber while flirting with her boyfriend right in front of her. “I think it’s a lot of internalized misogyny on her part, growing up around men or wanting the approval of men,” she says. “There is a weird power dynamic here happening that [the chill girl] feels like they need to have the upper hand. And to be honest, I feel like that comes from insecurity.”
Jensen goes on to explain that she’s actually learned how to go about handling the pick-me girl IRL thanks to her videos.
“I think Chill Girl has taught me that we can’t just hate these people. We have to have compassion, because there’s a reason for it. Maybe they are simply malicious. But I think there’s something a lot deeper than that.”
Rosenbluth adds that through constructive criticism with peers and educating men about this problematic archetype and its misogynistic roots, we can help squash it. But that’s not something she believes can be achieved on a platform as blunt-edged as TikTok.
While TikTok’s #PickMeGirl trend may have started as an attempt to call out harmful behavior, the trend has devolved into female TikTok users labeling other women as pick-mes for any behavior that might attract male attention. As Rosenbluth mentions in her piece, accusations of pick-me-ism now include “being short, enjoying sports, not wearing makeup, or sporting a leg-brace in public.” Ironically, the ones calling out pick-me behavior have perhaps transformed into the pick-mes themselves.
“In scrutinizing the personalities and behaviors of her peers, the woman decrying the pick-Me is positing herself as the ‘real’ and ‘unfiltered’ girl, pitted against supposedly fake and vapid Pick-Mes. She therefore defines herself as superior to the Pick-Me Girl,” writes Rosenbluth.
“It is incredible that publicly shaming other women under the pretext of them being pick-mes, the irony of that somehow just goes completely over their heads, but perhaps it’s because they think they have the moral high ground,” Rosenbluth tells InsideHook. “They are putting supposedly pick-me behavior under this pseudo-feminist lens and they’re casting themselves as like, ‘I am the righteous woman calling out harmful behavior that is bringing all of us down,’ and yeah, they think that gives them the right to tear the rest of us down and police other women’s behavior.”
Pick-me-ism has, in other words, become a never-ending cycle of toxic behavior that, whichever way you spin it, ultimately leads to women putting other women down. Instead of criticizing women for liking or not liking beer, perhaps we should shift our focus to the ways in which men, consciously or not, encourage and validate pick-me behavior.
After watching enough of Jensen’s Chill Girl TikToks, you start to wonder, why isn’t Jason, Amber’s boyfriend, stepping in?
“It’s awful for Amber to go through, and honestly, it makes Jason also the villain. Like, why are you not seeing this? This girl who’s hanging on you, and asking for pictures and attention,” says Jensen. “But I think it’s just because men are conditioned to accept the attention from women, whatever attention that may be. I think that’s also a masculinity thing. Whatever man gets the most attention from a woman, and women in general, they’re seen as the alpha males. So why would they want to squash that?”
When having to deal with “chill girls” in the past, Jensen tells InsideHook her partners haven’t always been receptive to her concerns. “I’ve had bad partners who think that I’m the crazy one or I’m the jealous one. And then it does make me feel crazy and it makes me feel insane. And I’m like, oh, well, maybe I have the internalized misogyny here because I’m just hating girls for no reason,” she says. “But I think that there is a reason, and I just feel like men love it when women are nice to them. That’s all that they see.”
“The fact that [women] are exhibiting this [pick-me] behavior clearly means that oftentimes it actually does work,” adds Rosenbluth.
Men’s inability, or plain refusal, to recognize problematic pick-me behavior only adds fuel to the fire. After all, at the center of pick-me-ism is male attention and validation; accordingly, it would behoove men to take a little more agency in dissuading it. For example, maybe don’t immediately call your girlfriend crazy and jealous when she raises a concern about a friend of yours. Consider her point of view, and practice empathy when your “chill” friend from high school makes her feel uncomfortable.
Ultimately, though, the best way to eradicate pick-me behavior is for both those exhibiting it as well as those accusing others of it to come to the same conclusion: seeking male validation is terribly dumb and incredibly pointless, so let’s just stop doing it.
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