Hardly a week goes by without another bizarre trend waltzing its way onto our TikTok FYPs, and disappearing into the void almost as quickly as it popped up. We rarely stop to give them a second thought—other than to curse the fact that the sound associated with a specific viral trend will be etched into our minds for the next three to five business days. The real question, though, is are these trends as harmless as we think?
Introducing the ‘girl dinner’ trend, yet another concept that is currently unavoidable on the app. From simple concoctions of pasta mixed with butter and cheese to dinosaur nugget cocktails and baguette ends, #girldinner has blessed my FYP with some of the most creative, if not weird, meals TikTok girlies enjoy after a hard day’s work. But what seemed like a seemingly lighthearted trend has since turned into something quite different.
As the trend gained traction online, so did the number of troubling examples of what a ‘girl dinner’ constitutes. Portions grew smaller and smaller until they virtually consisted of no food at all. Gone are the elaborate cheese boards for one, instead TikTokers now share girl dinners that often involve little more than a Red Bull, ice, or shots with a side of Elf bar. One user went as far as to claim sleeping as her ‘girl dinner’ of choice.
Regardless of the initial intention behind the trend, it’s since become clear that nothing good can come from the promotion of undereating as ‘cute’ or ‘quirky’, especially not on a platform that’s known for being gen Z-dominated.
The glamorization of disordered eating seems to submerge social media in waves. With each trend that comes, a wave of toxicity always seems to follow. Take the clean girl aesthetic for example, a trend that originated in self-care and gentle hygiene, which soon became defined by chugging gallons of water and eating strictly à la Gwyneth Paltrow. The same can be said for the ‘Diet Coke girlies’—which, to no one’s surprise, has also found itself worthy of the ‘girl dinner’ title.
The promotion of disordered eating habits and unhealthy beauty standards is not an issue confined to TikTok, but rather one that plagues social media generally (and has done so since the dawn of its existence). Some of my earliest memories of social media include scrolling through Tumblr and being bombarded with grunge mood boards of white skinny women, with troubling poems and quotes about beauty and the desire to be thin, all going viral under the hashtag thinspo. Such posts unfortunately still exist and continue to be created, with one user posting: “the feminine urge to f*ckin starve until I nearly die.”
A 2022 study conducted by the UK charity Beat UK found that 91 per cent of people with lived experience of an eating disorder had encountered online content that they found distressing, with a further 89 per cent expressing that social media was generally harmful to people with eating disorders. These staggering figures confirm the obvious influence social media has on body image and eating habits, so why are we so blissfully ignorant of the passive-aggressive nature of such trends?
Speaking to registered dietitian and eating disorders Michelle Yates, the expert confirmed that “algorithms, editing, and aesthetic-based platforms foster a breeding ground for eating disorders and disordered eating.”
Yates herself considers the ‘girl dinner’ trend to be especially alarming to eating disorder professionals like herself, particularly in regard to how it normalises having small meals, or as we’ve seen, no meal at all.
With 41 per cent of teenage girls already confessing that they use social media as a way for them to feel “cooler,” it feels problematic to label a trend or trending audio as “cool” or “popular” when it could also be promoting seriously damaging habits.
Yates emphasised this statistic when focusing on the ‘girl dinner’ trend, stating that it’s only encouraging young people to internalise these messages about having small meals, and therefore believe that this is ‘normal’ behaviour. This ultimately guides teens away from taking care of their body by nourishing it well and can lead them down a path of disordered eating. We have seen this normalisation happen time and time again with each passing fad and trend, leaving more and more insecurity and miseducation in their wake.
“Restrictive eating trends refuse to die because our society will [most likely] always be curious about how to be skinnier,” Yates added. “Even though there are lots of pushes about body positivity, neutrality, and so forth, it hasn’t been enough to eradicate the underlying societal messages that skinny equals best.”
Psychotherapist Mollie Spiesman echoed this view, adding that “since social media is consumed passively, those watching may also not realise how these ideas are subconsciously being reinforced.”
It’s highly unlikely that users are taking to these trends with the intention of normalising disordered eating, or even hinting towards the promotion of it—but the plethora of videos contributing to the ‘girl dinner’ trend that feature barely any food at all will have an undeniable influence on young viewers.
Eating disorders already have the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders, coming second only to opioid addiction. Yates concluded that, if we do not take action to create awareness around the harms of these trends and the ways in which they can influence disordered eating, eating disorders will only continue to rise and take lives.
As TikTok becomes the new Tumblr, and Red Bulls and Elf bars become the new coffee and ciggie combo, there’s only so much time before trends like the ‘girl dinner’ reveal their nasty side and become problematic.