Amy often picks up the latest tween terminology during middle school drop-off for her two daughters, ages 11 and 12.
"They were talking about a fellow student, and how she was so annoying because she's a total 'pick-me girl'," the Florida mother of two said.
Her daughters were referencing the girls who say they're "not like other girls".
"They're more like one of the guys," said Amy, who declined to share her last name for privacy reasons.
Who are the 'pick-me' girls?
The term is used to describe a girl who does everything for external, mostly male validation.
"(She) puts her friends down in the process in a way that doesn't seem like putting down her friends," said clinical psychologist Regine Galanti, founder of the practice Long Island Behavioral Psychology in Long Island, New York, and the author of the young adult nonfiction book Anxiety Relief for Teens.
"It's hard to identify people who identify as a pick-me girl because it's seen as a bit of an insult," Galanti said. "Nobody comes in to see me and says, 'Hey I'm a pick-me girl.' They're like, 'Someone called me one, and this is why it's not true'."
Galanti said the fact that the term has so much traction on social media platforms hardly helps people being targeted by it.
"Someone who's going for the external validation of the guy they're with, it's not an ideal situation," she said. "Most of them will probably outgrow it… but now we've made them a meme, and it's going to make them feel worse for doing it."
A social media term rooted in real feelings
The term has been traced to a 2005 episode of Grey's Anatomy during which Ellen Pompeo's character, Meredith Grey, begged Patrick Dempsey's character, Derek Shepherd, to choose her over his wife with the line, "Pick me. Choose me. Love me."
More recently, the #pickmegirl hashtag has been trending on social media, with more than 3.4 billion views. The #tweetlikeapickme first gained traction on X (the website formerly known as Twitter) in 2016, according to Women's Media Center.
Social media memes mock pick-me girls with lines like "'I'll have pizza, not like my friends who only eat salad,' and 'I like baking cookies. I don't know why other girls don't like it', are an exaggeration of the trope," Galanti said.
"Having people throw it on TikTok as a meme makes the situation that much worse, for girls being accused of being pick-me girls," she said.
And that's because the underlying feelings attached to the meme are real.
"One of the main challenges of adolescence is figuring out who you are. It's an identity crisis, literally," Galanti said. "To find out who you are, you have to try on different identities."
She explained that teens often consider it socially acceptable to change yourself a little bit to impress the people you're trying to fit in with, but if you're too obvious about it, then you're a 'pick-me' girl.
"They're trying to figure out who they are, and people are saying who they are is just someone looking for validation all the time from other people," Galanti said. "And now they have to change that and get your validation instead."
Ultimately, these girls are just trying to fit in. And labeling them as pick-me girls is an insult that should be avoided, Galanti said.
An empathetic approach
"I believe it's important to approach this topic with empathy and understanding," said life coach Bayu Prihandito, founder of online coaching service, Life Architekture.
"People, especially young women as they continue to grow up, have to navigate a society filled with mixed messages about their worth, identity, and the roles they are expected to play," he noted via email.
"And you have social media, the usual suspect, amplifying these messages and creating an environment where external validation is not just sought after but often seems necessary."
Prihandito encourages a more compassionate and understanding conversation around the 'pick-me girl' phenomenon, one that veers away from judgment and toward genuine support and empowerment.
The term can be especially harmful for girls who are genuinely interested in the things they're being ridiculed for, Galanti said.
"If you do like sports or sitting around with the guys and drinking beer, it puts you in this double bind where being yourself makes you a pick-me girl," she said. "So it seems like another way that young girls are putting each other down."
Most pick-me girls, however, are not out to put down other women, Galanti said.
"They're out to fit in with another group," she said. "So, calling them out on that just makes them wonder, 'What do I do now?'"