TikTok’s ‘girl dinner’ is the reincarnation of Tumblr’s eating disorder culture

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Disordered eating has been trending on social media since the early 2010s, but now it wears a new deceptive mask

cw: eating disorders

Approximately one million Canadians have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Teens and young adults are the most at risk groups. Women are particularly vulnerable as they make up approximately 80 per cent of patients. The risk of developing an eating disorder is further heightened by social media trends that glorify unhealthy eating.  

The ‘girl dinner’ trend went viral on TikTok this past summer and remains popular on the for you page. ‘Girl dinner’ started as a joke where young women and girls were showing weird combinations of food they put together as meals. However, the trend quickly slipped into the dangerous territory of disordered eating. People now use it to show off their tiny portions of food. Dinner implies a full meal, but many ‘girl dinners’ are barely a snack.  

When ‘girl dinner’ first started promoting unsafe behaviours, I was reminded of the eating disorder culture that ran rampant on Tumblr in the early 2010s. Both ‘girl dinner’ and the pro-anorexia rhetoric from Tumblr encourage people to obsess over lowering calorie intake to obtain the ‘ideal body.’ 

Although awareness has increased, the culture has not changed. If anything, it is more pervasive and even deceptive. In the 2010s it was easy to discern what posts promoted eating disorders and unattainable bodies. For example, the quote “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ was popularized in 2009 by Kate Moss.  

Today, it is much trickier to identify certain trends as problematic. ‘Girl dinner’ falls into this category of deception for two reasons.  

First, it started as a joke. These meals were not intended to be taken seriously. However, calling a cheese string, five strawberries, and two hardboiled eggs a dinner sends out a harmful message. Some even started calling crying, vaping, and sleeping a ‘girl dinner.’ There are even ‘girl dinner’ filters on TikTok. Several of the options include things like medication, cocktails, and condiments. These are not meals.  

Second, ‘girl dinner’ is linked to a broader trend of using the word ‘girl’ as an adjective in phrases like girl dinner, hot girl summer, and girl math. Typically, ‘girl’ has been used to devalue womens’ abilities. Now, the term is being used to reclaim feminine energy and activities. However, in doing so the dangerous implications of ‘girl dinner’ have been harder to discern.  

‘Girl dinner’ wears a deceptive mask so it is critical to take a step back and analyze the issues with this trend and others like it.  

Several eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder have been listed with symptomatic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental illness. Collectively, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses. Disordered eating should never be promoted.  

Tumblr was a breeding ground for eating disorders, hating one’s body, and abusing food intake to change one’s appearance. Social media is likely the reason why every single woman in my life has suffered from an eating disorder or has shown signs of disordered eating. Every single woman.   

I was young teen when eating disorder culture spread like wildfire on Tumblr. Being bombarded with unhealthy images, quotes, and blogs contributed to my personal struggles with food. It is my hope that McMaster students and Generation Z alike can be the ones to end this cycle of toxicity, and this starts with calling out ‘girl dinner’ for what it is - a trend glorifying mental illness. 

If you are struggling with an eating disorder McMaster University’s Student Wellness Centre offers resources to help you find trusted support for you or a friend in need. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre offers a helpline, information, and referrals. The NEDIC also offers resources specifically for racialized community members.  

If you need urgent care, St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton has an Eating Disorder Program to help treat and guide anyone 16 or older. The program does require a referral from your doctor, but St Joseph’s has a self-assessment to guide you towards the treatment necessary for you. Please remember that you are never alone.  

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