“Girl Dinner” on TikTok is huge. But should we keep promoting it?
There was the cottage cheese trend. Then there was this grimace-shaking behavior. This summer has been filled with viral TikTok food trends, with users of the social media app trying all sorts of new flavors.
While content creators are championing videos featuring recipes everyone should have, the latest food on the social media app isn’t a meal at all. Enter The Girl Dinner, an easy-to-prepare portion that is essentially a cluster of pretty morsels. Think some cheese, a hefty pickle, an eclectic selection of vegetables, and some neatly folded salami. And of course a fresh shot of rosé.
These posts (which garner millions of views) are visually arresting and subtly liberating as the snacks are free from the confines of a recipe and require essentially no cooking. There is also an opinion that with increasing experiences of loneliness and other mental deficits, slowly munching some creatively arranged burrata peaches on the porch may well be soul healing.
Posting an aesthetic meal on social media is nothing new, but the emphasis on women who excel at small bites (good lighting at girls’ meals is important!) raises a few questions. Why do we refer to a snack as “dinner”? And does the idea that a grazing plate can replace dinner for women or girls confirm the idea that some people shouldn’t eat anything at mealtimes – or should eat less?
“Some of these ‘girl dinners’ look a little suspiciously cheap to me…” exclaimed @siennabeluga on TikTok.
“It’s not a crime to enjoy food, but what makes food ‘girl food’? Why is there no hamburger in the picture? I worry about the perfectly tall, perfectly presented girl.” [eating this food] “That’s how it’s supposed to be,” says Chase Bannister, senior vice president of community engagement at Veritas Collaborative and the Emily Program, specialty health systems focused on treating eating disorders. “Underneath there are roots of misogyny that are really worrying.” me as a clinician.
Those small servings are a concern for advocates concerned about the link between social media and eating disorders.
“In a way, it’s almost a humble boast to show that you don’t eat that much,” says Chelsea Kronengold, who has a master’s in clinical psychology with expertise in body image, eating disorders and the impact of social media. “There’s a social comparison factor when you see viral videos of what other girls are eating, and when someone’s watching that, especially young, vulnerable girls, they’re like, ‘I should only be eating this much.’ “
The whole trend begs the question of what would be a “girl’s meal” in this context. The Cleveland Clinic recommends 2,400 calories per day for women under the age of 30. How many baby plates of brie would that be?
“The concept of women and girls eating smaller portions has been presented to us over time, and social media perpetuates this unhealthy notion,” says Kronengold, who previously consulted TikTok, Meta, and Pinterest on their trust and safety guidelines around body image and Eating Disorders Counseled. “It’s not new, but it’s still problematic.”
Designating a pasture meal as a meal for girls, a demographic already disproportionately suffering from eating disorders, is reminiscent of previous trends such as body control that have entered our cultural lexicon.
“The algorithms are set up so that as you watch videos, they throw more of those videos at you,” she explains. The problem? “When you come across an innocuous ‘girl dinner’ video, the algorithm gives you more and more content that could facilitate eating disorders and trigger nutrition and body image issues. We’ve seen this at other trends on TikTok, such as “What I eat in a day.”
According to a 2022 report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the app hosts content that promotes eating disorders and has billions of views. For 13-year-olds who create a new account and like body image and mental health material, TikTok will promote posts on that content every 39 seconds, the report said.
And for some users, there is the added complication that this trend may seem inaccessible.
“There are a lot of privileges that come with ‘girl food,’ especially when the meals are more expensive.” [like burrata]”, she said. “It also upholds the slim ideal for women and girls.” If there were a trend called “boy dinner,” it would probably be a steak and potato barbecue.”
If you’re entertained by these aesthetically pleasing videos, that’s great, but if you’re not, it helps to put those images into context and remember the source of the media you’re consuming, Kronengold explains.
“The videos you see are often from everyday people or influencers who have no experience with nutrition. So you get your ‘inspiration’ or advice from someone who isn’t qualified to do it,” she says. “It’s important to consider the source.”
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