In May 2023, the phrase “Girl Dinner” began trending on TikTok. Over the summer, the concept of “Girl Dinner” grew in popularity and became part of the vocabulary of many young women. After “Girl Dinner” came an assortment of other “girl” trends, including “Girl Math,” a trend that encompasses women using nonsensical math to explain things in their life such as money habits or large purchases. Although these trends were popularized by young women, it does not serve society well to inaccurately label them as harmless or humorous. Both the use of the word “girl” and the generalization of female habits in a derogatory manner are demeaning to young women. This is not to say that women are the offenders here, rather, the generalization of women is a product of both patriarchal standards and social media.
We must first understand the intentional use of the word “girl” instead of the word “woman.” Many of the people participating in these trends are women, not girls, yet they do not hesitate to use the word girl to describe themselves. Most men would scoff at being called boys, yet they don’t hesitate to call grown women girls. Girls are desirable, innocent and free, whereas women are unattractive, unvirtuous and tied down. For women, girlhood represents the freedom from their childhood that they want to hold on to, and so many women continue to refer to themselves as girls long after the title belongs to them. Society tells young women that they are more desirable to employers, significant others and more if they maintain their teenage bodies, their youthfulness and their innocence.
It’s a marketing strategy to label things as girlish, girly, or classify them using the word “girl.” People want to identify with things that are girly, and so they fall back on these trends. In order for businesses to continue attracting female customers, they must create standards for women that are impossible to meet so that women are more likely to pay more for services. In this setting, social media platforms such as TikTok cause women to feel as though trends such as Girl Dinner and Girl Math are validating their identity. The current state of society encourages women to rely on external validation, making women more likely to participate in these trends.
These trends are not harmless or innocent, as social media would like us to believe. Although these trends may start out as diverse representations of women, they almost never remain so. “Girl Dinner” began as a trend to show the ways in which women eating with each other differed from the way women eat with men, but it turned into a trend that, more often than not, glamourised disordered eating. By only watching a thirty second Tiktok, the audience is unable to develop a truthful, multidimensional understanding of the context. Teenage girls see adult women joking about how all they’re eating for dinner is something akin to a snack and believe that that’s what womanhood is. Trends developed to free women only end up restricting them. Furthermore, by demonstrating that undereating is a “girl” trait, adult women reinforce toxic beauty standards not only for themselves but for young girls. Recognizing and treating disordered eating habits should not be synonymous with normalizing them.
Another recent TikTok and Twitter trend, “Girl Math,” began as a relatable trend that justified spending. It was harmless enough until it turned into a trend implying that women are not capable of math. Regardless of the origin of the joke, social media allows jokes to reach an audience that is too vulnerable to external suggestions for the resulting reaction to be that of a joke. There is nothing that is more validating to a preteen or teenage girl than the attention of young women, as they are told that young women are who they should strive to be like. It is important to nurture this in young girls, but the way to do that is not through social media. It is naive to believe that teenage girls will not take these jokes to heart, as there are many others who tell them these things all too seriously. Joking about trauma is a way that many people deal with their experiences, but society has made it too easy to replace one-on-one connections with platforms such as TikTok. We should not equate the two.
It is understandable to think that social media trends such as “Girl Math” and Girl Dinner” are harmless. Nevertheless, it is impossible to control who sees content on these platforms, so we have to be mindful about our behavior. There are so many ways in which society tells women that they should not change from the time they turn 18. Bodies should stay the same, women shouldn’t go gray, women shouldn’t have wrinkles and they certainly should never be smarter or more confident than men. It does not serve us to limit ourselves. Allow teenage girls to be teenage girls, and allow women to be women.