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BENITEZ: 'Girl dinner' trend is more problematic than you think

Column: Hear Me Out

Even though it started as a light-hearted TikTok trend, "girl dinner" may actually encourage disordered eating and toxic competition among women. – Photo by Thought Catalog / Unsplash

If you are part of the internet world like me, chances are that you have heard the term "girl dinner" over the past few months. Maybe you are even using it yourself when that microwaved bowl of nachos and melted American cheese seems like the perfect meal to finish up your day. 

The trend took over TikTok at the end of May, but what started as a quirky and relatable trend took a turn for the worst, and I am tired of women falling for it.

The girl who started it all was Olivia Maher. The 28-year-old posted a video to her TikTok page showing her meal, which consisted of a plate of cheese, bread and fruit. She called this girl dinner.

Immediately after the video was posted, women started relating to Maher, showing their own versions of girl dinner: small, improvised, creative snack-like meals that are apparently enough to satiate people's hunger. 

There are now more than 1.8 billion views under "#girldinner" on TikTok.

If you are in college, girl dinner is inevitable. The subpar dining hall food, the lack of healthy options, high food prices and the distance from the food itself all make it difficult for college students to eat balanced meals every day. Snacking seems like the obvious way to go. 

Still, this trend goes way beyond college. What started as a fun and relatable trend turned into a somewhat toxic one, like most TikTok trends surrounding women and girlhood.

It was easy to notice the shift in content — girl dinner suddenly turned into a competition of who seemed to be eating less, disguised as a funny trend. This trend may not sound appealing or worthy of engagement, but this is not the first time women have turned things into a competition against each other. We see it and experience it all the time. 

There are many reasons as to why this happens, with the patriarchy being responsible for them all. In an article from Feminism in India, Damini Mehta explains that the patriarchy "creates a narrative where women cannot thrive, but even if they somehow manage to, the way it then restricts them is by creating a narrative of 'only a select few of you can actually access resources and prestige, and that has to be done at the cost of the others.'"

Society pins us against each other to uphold the system's ideals, and as a result, we perpetuate this culture by subconsciously tearing each other down. On top of this, the constant need to prove oneself as worthy through our physical appearance is always present.

Patriarchal societies tend to uphold traditional gender roles and expectations, which can specifically cause women to internalize these pressures and attempt to fulfill them better than other women in order to feel more valued or important. In most cases, it has to do with beauty standards and physical attributes, which is no surprise as women are often perceived as a body first and a person second.

This brings us back to girl dinner. The need to show who eats less and consequently who is thinner, smaller, daintier or "more desirable" was inevitable when the trend started gaining popularity. 

What started as a fun way for girls to relate to each other turned into a toxic competition. Even if you are not participating in the trend, the ideals that it propagates can be detrimental to everyone.

Moreover, girl dinner as a trend normalizes eating way less than a recommended balanced and nutritious plate. You just have to look at the videos under the hashtags to see that the meals some people are proudly showcasing are not even enough to feed a toddler. 

This is problematic since body image issues and eating disorders affect mostly young women (the very group targeted by this trend) above everyone else. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), approximately 30 million people in the U.S. have some form of eating disorder, and approximately 20 million are women. The dangerous trajectory of trends like girl dinner is clear.

The worst part of it all is that the problem goes unrecognized. We are so used to female competition and the enforcement of gender roles that it becomes very hard to notice how detrimental some things can be. Most people will look at trends like this and not understand what is at stake.

It is difficult to deconstruct patriarchal ideas hidden in plain sight, especially within the sphere of social media. I just hope that one day, we can escape the competition that comes with being a woman in a patriarchal society.

Each one of us is unique and worthy in our own way, and we are stronger together than apart. I will never stop reminding women of this.

Marina Benitez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in gender and media. Her column, "Hear me out," runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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