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What is a ‘girl dinner’ and why has it sparked controversy?

The phenomenon is based around celebrating the low-effort meals a woman might cobble together and enjoy alone, but with eating disorder content still rife on TikTok – where the latest food trend has taken off – many have raised concerns over its ties to diet culture.

If you’ve spent any time on TikTok as of late, then you’ll know that new food trends are as commonplace as GRWM’s, the beige flag discourse, and morning routines.

Of the most recent to take the app by storm, Olivia Maher’s ‘girl dinner’ phenomenon is at the forefront.

Since the creator posted her original viral video explaining the meaning behind it – which is, in short, to celebrate the low-effort meals (often comprising a selection of picky bits) a woman might cobble together and enjoy alone – the hashtag has racked up almost 300 million views.

On the back of this exposure, a debate has been sparked surrounding the potentially controversial repercussions of yet another online obsession that subtly endorses diet culture.

‘Girl dinner does not mean under-fed dinner. Girl dinner does not mean disordered eating dinner,’ says user @mei.fae. ‘A bag of popcorn is not dinner. A piece of toast is not dinner. A shot of vodka is certainly not dinner.’

@liviemaher #girldinner #medievaltiktok ♬ original sound – Olivia Maher

Now, although TikTok has gone to great lengths to tackle the issue of eating disorder content on its platform, many claim that it hasn’t done nearly enough to address the less obvious forms of harmful body image promotion that still flood the For You Page.

This is due to our unceasing fascination with what other people consume on a daily basis, which is exemplified best by this particularly popular fad.

Because we can’t seem to satisfy our appetite for counting others’ calories and following along with their weight-loss (or gain) journeys, regardless of whether or not doing so could encourage our own foray into adopting restrictive behaviours, content of this nature will continue to gain traction.

For this reason, critics of the ‘girl dinner’ trend are urging participants to err on the side of caution and ask if the message it’s sending is truly as well-meaning as it appears to be.

‘Unfortunately, these types of trends normalise and add to the already misinformed diet culture,’ says nutritionist Nicole Frost, who also points out that the name itself is problematic. ‘The word ‘girl’ implies a smaller portion,’ she adds.

For Frost, concern lies in the fact that there’s a social comparison factor at play when we’re watching viral videos of what others are eating, especially for impressionable young people who may then begin questioning their own levels of consumption.

‘It’s almost the humble brag in a way, to show off you’re not eating that much,’ echoes Chelsea Kronengold, who has a master’s in clinical psychology with expertise in body image, eating disorders, and the impact of social media.

With this in mind, both experts stress the importance of steering clear of content that leaves us vulnerable to this kind of negative thinking and to cater to our individual needs alone.

Writing for Bustle and in defence of the phenomenon’s light-hearted intentions, Jillian Giandurco argues against this notion.

‘It seems as though one of the biggest appeals of girl dinner is how it takes away the pressure of having a perfectly curated meal, which is something you don’t often see on social media these days,’ she says.

@siennabeluga Pls put a little more food on that plate babe dont be using girl dinner as camo for your…you know… #girldinner #ededdneddy #fyp ♬ original sound – hanana

‘Plus, in a busy world of on-the-go dinners over the sink, the trend also serves as a reminder that it’s important to nourish your body to the best of your abilities, no matter what that looks like.’

Evidently, therefore, while the ‘girl dinner’ trend may just be a bit of fun, without the necessary attentiveness it puts Gen Zers (considering they are what they eat) at risk of being diet culture personified.

So, as usual, all that’s required is a balanced outlook.

If you’re entertained by these videos, great, but if not, it’s helpful to put these images into context and remember the source of your consumption explains Kronengold.

‘The videos you’re seeing often come from everyday people or influencers who do not have a background in nutrition, so you’re getting your ‘inspiration’ or advice from someone not qualified to give that,’ she says. ‘It’s important to consider the source.’