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Bitte bestimmen Sie mein Essen nicht nach Geschlecht


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I won’t pretend that I’m the first person to have a take on “girl dinner.” This video meme that's taken over TikTok and Instagram usually features clips of charcuterie board-ish snack dinners, although some more tongue-in-cheek spins might spotlight a lone rotisserie chicken in a car or plate of tortilla chips that have been microwaved with shredded cheddar cheese on top. The overarching theme is the same: "girl dinner" is an assemblage of ingredients so low effort, it might not be considered a proper or well-rounded meal. And with the glut of girl dinner content comes just as many critiques, including its possible romanticization of disordered eating by suggesting that it’s cool or normal to eat a few tiny bites for dinner, pointing out that having a snack plate for dinner is not a new concept, or that the trend appropriates a style of eating that’s been present in some cultures for centuries.

While I might generally be inclined to let sleeping dogs lie and refrain from throwing another opinion into the void of the internet, I can’t stop thinking about the implications that the gendered language brings with it — especially since as a social media editor at a food publication, it's my job to observe how these things intersect. If we home in on the “girl” part of girl dinner, what does the phenomenon reveal about the unrealistic expectations that social media can create for how and what women should be eating?

Merlyn Miller

VIDEO: They / Them #shorts #standup #jokes #rafibastos #standupcomedy
Rafi Comedy

The more people save, share, and swipe, the more the audience for girl dinner grows, and the more accepted the concept becomes. 

— Merlyn Miller

By not-so-subtly hinting that young women default to eating dainty, snacky meals, girl dinner is just the most recent reflection of gender stereotypes that have existed for centuries. You might think that as a culture, we’re past the days of assuming that women should be cooking for their husbands (and that it always is a husband they’re cooking for), but this fad is really just another way of reinforcing the trope that when a woman is cooking for a man, she makes a robust meal, but when she’s alone, she has a plate of cheese and crackers. The assumption of this trope is that women only cook for others out of a sense of duty, because they themselves don’t eat much. And although plenty of stories about girl dinner have done an excellent job at pointing this out, what I find concerning is that in spite of this rather obvious criticism, young people on social media continue to buy into the trend, as evidenced by the hundreds of millions of views that #girldinner has on multiple social media platforms. If you follow food content creators or frequently watch cooking videos on social media, this is everywhere. When you engage with girl dinner content, the algorithm becomes more likely to show you similar videos, and it’s more likely to show that content to someone else. The more people save, share, and swipe, the more the audience for girl dinner grows, and the more accepted the concept becomes. 

Especially in my profession, I am well aware that social media harbors people with deeply harmful, oppressive views, but luckily those views don’t often become a mimicable viral trend that affects what people are putting on their plates and in their mouths in real life. Girl dinner is not on par with the mass embrace of something intentionally problematic, but I worry that it signals a lack of critical thinking. A single person participating in this silly meme is such a small blip on the landscape of social media, but when it reaches the scale of 470 million views on TikTok, it becomes a little less clear if girl dinner is something that’s funny and cute, or if we really are buying into the idea that a woman would eat 12 raisins and a piece of salami for dinner.

Like many other social media trends, girl dinner creates a spectacle out of women eating. People love to watch women consume food, as evidenced by the clear skew towards one gender amongst mukbang creators who record videos of themselves eating, typically with magnified audio, as well as a popular theme of women devouring takeout in their cars. Perhaps this is because seeing women eat so publicly contrasts with the expectation that they perform “femininity” and maintain a specific — namely smaller — body type by eating less than men. (I’m thinking of the age-old trope that a woman will order a salad when out on a dinner date with a man, because how dare I tackle something so masculine as a hamburger.)

Merlyn Miller

VIDEO: Girl Dinner
Ncs Artist

If I share this clip of a woman eating just a plate of watermelon for dinner, what message does that send to anyone else who sees it?

— Merlyn Miller

Videos of women eating on Instagram and TikTok often fall into two categories: content showing them eating more "health"-focused meals, like the latest cottage cheese and mustard fad, or consuming exorbitant amounts of fast food in one sitting. As a woman in the demographic at the center of this, both of these formats make me feel like there’s an ideal I need to live up to. Either I should be watching what I eat to make sure my body stays desirable, or I should be able to eat whatever I want without my body changing. I think the meme of "girl dinner" might be popular because it’s an easy opportunity to create content that perpetuates either one of these ideals, which is what a lot of other social media videos with women and food are already doing. 

To be clear, I’m not saying that women shouldn’t post videos of their meals or them eating on the internet, and I don’t think girl dinner is the pinnacle of patriarchal content online. But I do think this trend is a little window into the ways gender, stereotypes, food, and social media converge on the internet, and it's worth calling into question. Patterns on platforms like TikTok and Instagram reflect and create patterns in our minds, and while I thoroughly enjoy eating a large plate of cheese and crackers for dinner in bed, I don’t want to one day sample some charcuterie as an appetizer and then be told it was my main dish. So the next time you’re swiping through silly little videos, make sure to take a critical eye to what you consume. And if you’re thinking about hopping on the girl dinner bandwagon, maybe ask yourself, “If I share this clip of a woman eating just a plate of watermelon for dinner, what message does that send to anyone else who sees it?”

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