By Geneve Harmitt-Williams, Social Anthropology and History
Okay, let’s discuss it! A cute little trend called “Girl Dinner” began when women started posting their mismatched meals on TikTok, to show off the random foods they would throw together for lunch or dinner. It was the definition of a lazy meal, and there were some… unusual food pairings. However, as the trend gained popularity, it swiftly veered in a direction that began to praise and normalise eating disorders. Some of the worst videos related to this trend show some women consuming just one can of Coke Zero, a glass of wine, or simply nothing at all.
Imagine going onto social media to see videos of people praising women who aren’t taking care of their bodies. That content must be extremely distressing and possibly even perplexing to witness since these women are gaining social capital on TikTok for engaging in the same behaviours that others – like those with eating disorders – are criticised and ridiculed for. So now I ask, why are we allowing this to happen? On the very same app, there are so many videos discussing internalised misogyny and helping people recognise signs of it. Despite this, when the same issue is repackaged as a sparkly hashtag, it somehow makes it acceptable.
At the root of it all, I believe that these lifestyles unfortunately give women a glimpse of what to expect in the future; a potential future in which they will be so busy taking care of everyone but themselves that they won’t have the time or energy to eat. Current research shows that while 63% of women are still doing the majority of the domestic work in shared households, 52% of women are working 31- 45 hour weeks. “Girl Dinner” highlights how the triple shift – a sociological term referring to the unpaid housework, paid labour, and childcare that women are expected to do – affects women’s eating habits. This is setting the precedent for younger women – who are most definitely online – that the toll reproductive labour takes on our daily habits is acceptable and aesthetic.
It reflects tropes like the “Wine Mum”, the ideal housewife who takes care of the kids, cleans the house, and may even have paid work; all while having a “slight” alcohol problem. Claire from ‘Modern Family’ is a typical example of this on television. One of the key ways she demonstrates this is by taking on the brunt of the emotional labour of childcare. Meanwhile, her husband gets to be the bumbling “fun” dad who comes in once the actual parenting is complete – always leaving Claire distressed and subsequently never to be seen without a glass of wine. These mothers are mocked on sitcoms and their alcoholism is made fun of. However, the fact that these mothers are so unhappy in their lives – and exhausted from bearing the load of childcare and housework that they can’t even manage a moment of sobriety – is not daytime TV. The “Girl Dinner” trend, like the “Wine Mum” trope, normalises women who cope with these patriarchal norms in destructive ways.
We are used to displays of femininity being overlooked and dismissed, most recently the word ‘girl’ is being used to patronise women who do sums “their own way”… otherwise known as “Girl Maths”. This particular trend is women and their partners mocking their wasteful spending habits, and the justifications that they give themselves to feel better. Let me give you an example: if I buy something and then return it, I’ve made money (which in my opinion, is a fact). Therefore, while this content seems to be relatable, it seems as though the word ‘girl’ is being used as a synonym for ‘irresponsible’. Women make up a significant portion of the retail market, and the beauty and fashion industries profit directly from our insecurities. So, although women are being framed as reckless, it’s important to remember that there is always a calculated and deeper meaning to these habits.
As someone who sings “girl dinner” every other evening while preparing a meal (sorry, it’s catchy), it’s time to stop associating the word ‘girl’ with harmful and foolish practices. In the end, all of the underlying meanings fuelling these trends lead to the perpetuation of an unfair standard of living. Which in turn destroys our quality of life through the romanticisation of poor eating habits and alcoholism. We need to set a standard for how women should be treated, and it’s our responsibility to teach each other not to disregard women’s bodies and minds.