Trigger Warning: This article deals with discussions around Eating Disorders. Do not hesitate to reach out to a support system if this topic upsets you.

‘Girl Dinner’: Should we be concerned?

As students, we could all at some point have been accused of scrabbling together a meal that perhaps isn’t the most complementary or healthy. Sometimes an eclectic mix of half a baguette, a pack of chorizo, carrot sticks and hummus is all we have the energy or time for. But as with so many random phenomena, it’s become a trend on TikTok. Enter #girldinner. The trend hit the online sphere at the start of summer and has continued to rack up hits ever since. Over 438 thousand girl dinners have been shared with the world in this time, with #girldinner receiving over 2.7 billion views on TikTok alone. It’s no wonder influencers are snapping up the trend for their fan base. But what does it really mean to have a ‘girl dinner’?

‘Girl dinner’ is what Gen-Y once termed a ‘picky tea’, served on one plate. We’re talking cheese quesadillas with a side of cucumber sticks and onion dip; salami, pesto, crackers and strawberries. In general, a low effort meal, usually involving no cooking. Initial TikToks and reviews saw the positive side of the trend: working women don’t always have the time and energy to cook a full dinner each night. It helped to normalise the ‘guilty’ meals of some women. But in recent months, ‘girl dinners’ have taken a darker turn. What started as a trend propagating an empowerment for lower expectations on working women has developed into a breeding ground for miniature meals, with calorie counts barely surpassing two digits. Many campaigners fear this could normalise the poor diets associated with disordered eating, including anorexia, with the fear of these negative effects centring around teenage TikTok users.

Data from TikTok last month shows that 60% of users are between the ages of 16 and 24, with accounts allowed on the social media app from the age of 13. This is an already vulnerable age group with the pressures of transferring from child to adulthood, and these individuals are more susceptible to the influence of social media trends. Whilst the original #girldinners are a relief to some of these young people — showing that there is no expectation to eat a complementary meal once they move away from home — there is fear the newer ‘girl dinners’ could have an adverse effect on the mental health of young people. Statistics from NHS England show that as of 2023, 12.5% of 17-19 year olds have an eating disorder and 2.6% of those aged between 11 and 16. Further studies have found there is a correlation between social media use and mental health conditions so influencers and social media platforms need to be doing more to safeguard young people. I have seen TikToks showing a single chicken nugget and half a cookie being termed a ‘girl dinner’; others, an orange, a small box of raisins and three chicken dinosaurs. These are not ‘girl dinners’. These are the buds of disordered eating tendencies.

There is a certain irony in the fact I’m writing this knowing full well I ate a pack of Jaffa cakes and half a tube of Pringles yesterday and called it lunch. We all have off days. But I wouldn’t refer to this as a ‘girl dinner’ or be plastering it over social media. TikTok users and influencers need to be mindful of what they’re normalising through their platforms — a selection of fruit, a packet of crisps and a sardine sandwich is a lot less damaging than four dates for dinner.

Algorithms play a large role in the danger of this trend. You linger for too long on a video with the #girldinner and all of a sudden there are more and more littering your ‘For You’ page. When every other video you watch is someone showing you what they’re eating for dinner, it’s impossible not to start thinking about your own eating patterns. And if these algorithms pick up on the more malnourished ‘girl dinners’, you’re suddenly stuck in a hole of normalised disordered eating.

It is important, however, to look at this trend holistically. Most of the ‘girl dinner’ TikToks I’ve seen are a mish-mash of sweet and savoury, hot and cold, healthy food and not. It’s no Michelin star meal but it has substance and some nutritional value to it. It’s the anomalies we need to be aware of, and the effects of these algorithmic cesspits. ‘Girl dinner’ in its original form does more good than harm. It’s amusing seeing what concoctions people are calling dinner and relating it to your own questionable meals. But it’s evident the mounting concerns over these miniature meals are valid. Have official links between #girldinner and eating disorders been found? No. But it’s been six months since this trend was coined. Perhaps it’s time to cut the cord before we get to that stage.

It’s dinner time now and the fridge is looking empty. Time for some tomato soup, pasta, and peas?

Edited by: Anna Shipman

Designed by: Anna Shipman


Rachael Alvey is a Contributor to LABEL and the Union President-Elect for the 2024-2025 term

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