Fleeting TilTok trend or dictionary worthy vocabulary? What is the longevity of ‘girl dinner’ and how should we address the inherent controversy of the popular TikTok trend?
Dating back to June and July of this year, you might think that the moment of ‘girl dinner’ has come and gone with fewer videos gracing your explore page, replaced by the-next-best-thing. While it may have began as one of many popular social media trends, the idea of ‘girl dinner’ has transcended the expectations and regular lifespane allotted to online fads, securing a place within the collective dialogue of young adults everywhere and a hallmark of contemporary pop culture. However, like most social media trends, ‘girl dinner’ is not without controversies with significant debates over its relationship with disordered eating and the expectations it creates for the young audiences of social media.
The question is this: if ‘girl dinner’ appears to be here to stay, what should we do with it and how are we supposed to address these issues?
For context, the quintessential ‘girl dinner’ is a combination of foods that probably shouldn’t make sense together and typically wouldn’t be considered as a full-fleged ‘meal’. Usually they will resemble some kind of charcuterie board, but will play with more absurd combinations, in a more hodge-podge and thrown together fashion than anything intentional. Equally, ‘girl dinners’ can be a very basic and over simplified meal which requires little to no preparation such as pasta with butter and parmesan. Despite their unconventionality, these are supposed to be meals that have a kind of guilty pleasure – something no one would admit to liking (often because they resemble the taste palate of a two year old) but can’t help but indulge in every now and then. ‘Girl dinner’ is not about elaborate cooking or sharing recipes, but rather the trend hinges upon the idea of a selfish ease which scratches an indulgent itch.
However, the concerns of ‘girl dinner’ are in the way the trend embraces a lack of heartiness and nutritional value, particularly in the way the trend has been abused to glorify disordered eating, sparking widespread concern addressed in this article. This is a very legitimate concern and it isn’t without foundation.While the original videos didn’t seem to focus on portion size, subsequent content has shown women sharing ‘meals’ with minimal food on their plates, or sometimes ironically nothing at all. This distinctly changes the identity and ideology of ‘girl dinner’ from a trend where women share and relate to each other’s comical food combinations to a platform to seek validation for how little one eats in a day. Content that promotes disordered eating or an unhealthy relationship with food should not be taken lightly, but we also need to consider how much responsibility lies within the ‘girl dinner’ trend alone.
I would suggest this problem doesn’t actually originate in the trend itself, but rather from the way it has been subsequently interacted with and projected upon. It becomes an example of what is often identified as ‘context collapse’, a social media phenomenon that occurs when stories or trends spiral out of control as they are applied to countless situations without proper context or nuance. There is a clear distinction between a baked potato with crackers and hummus and a well-rounded, balanced meal. Yet, within the context of a trend that chooses to make light of such laziness, we need to be careful not to confuse it with the far more dangerous world of restrictive eating. It is also important to keep in mind social media’s long relationship with disordered eating, which has often been criticised and is explored in depth in this New York Times article. This context demonstrates the way ‘girl dinner’ should be understood as a symptom of a much wider problem, rather than sitting at the heart of the problem itself.
It is no coincidence that this trend emerged during a summer that revolved around female empowerment, marked by various trends that consciously celebrates women. Think of the Barbie movie and a celebration of ‘girlhood’, this rise of ‘Gorgeous Gorgeous Girls’, the contrasting joke of men and the Roman Empire, and micro trends celebrating stereotypes of certain ‘girls’ from ‘clean girl’ to ‘tomato girl’. Pop culture has been saturated with feminine and female-centric content, and ‘girl dinner’ is firmly rooted within this context. For example, it doesn’t seek to undermine America Ferrera’s monologue in the Barbie movie which critiques body image standards; rather it coexists with and is informed by these messages. Most importantly, ‘girl dinner’ started as a highly self-conscious joke, aware of what it is doing and how it is doing it. It is fundamentally a trend which encourages women to poke fun at themselves and each other – drawing from shared experiences and habits.
So yes, ‘girl dinner’ can carry negative associations and connotations which have been externally imposed upon it, but it also exists within a broader context of empowering women and allowing them to laugh at themselves. Girl dinner is purposely self-deprecating – created by women to make fun of and laugh at the absurdity of their habits. In the ever-evolving landscape of social media trends, ‘girl dinner’ serves as a reminder that trends can either uplift or undermine, and the power to choose lies in our hands.