“Girl” Crunching and Munching

The unintentional consequences of trends such as “girl math” and “girl dinner” have led to the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes for women of all ages.

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If you’ve spent a decent amount of time on social media this summer—whether it be TikTok or Instagram—chances are you have stumbled across the terms “girl math” or “girl dinner.” These phrases have been coined by social media users to classify a certain way of thinking. Though they seem harmless and fun, their evolutions have fed into the detrimental stereotyping of women, which has everlasting impacts on how women or “girls” are perceived in the world.

Girl math is a trend that mainly has to do with women’s spending habits and justifying our thought processes when it comes to purchases. Some examples of girl math posted by the trend’s creator, @samjamess, include “If I spend less than $5, then my purchase was free” and “If I return something worth $50, and then spend $100, I only really spent $50.” The trend has blown up, with Buzzfeed posting to their six million X (formerly Twitter) followers, “Girl math is not paying the $15 for shipping, instead spending another $30 to get the free shipping,” and the #girlmath has accumulated over a whopping 1.9 billion views on TikTok since its start in August. Even brands such as Five Below and Ulta began using girl math to advertise their sales, with videos posted on their corporate TikTok accounts reaching millions of consumers.

Despite its quickly growing cult-like following, girl math has raised eyebrows and concerns about promoting financial illiteracy amongst women. Personally, the issue with girl math lies less in the actual math and more in the name “girl math.”

 Until recently, women and girls have been viewed as intellectually inferior compared to men, whether it be financially or even just academically. Prior to the New York 1848 Married Women’s Property Law, women were not allowed to own property or control their earnings as separate entities from their husbands. Even until the 1970s, for a woman to acquire a credit card, she needed a signature from her husband. By labeling this way of thinking as “girl,” we are pushing forward this image of women as unintelligent and irresponsible, even though that was not the intention of the trend.

Different from “girl math,” “girl dinner,” with its own page on the Pop Culture Dictionary.com site, started as a way to celebrate the eclectic meals that girls eat for dinner. Usually, the meals resembled a charcuterie board or a random assortment of items that could be found in a pantry or refrigerator, such as a jar of peanut butter and a singular grape. Over 430,000 videos have been posted on TikTok with a filter titled “My Girl Dinner,” which was created for the trend and assigns the user to three randomly selected foods.

Similar to the case of girl math, brands took advantage of the trend as an advertisement—in this case, Popeyes. Its campaign featured the “girl dinner meal,” consisting of only side dishes.

Throughout the trend’s development over the summer, the “girl dinners” began noticeably shrinking, whether in portion size or the amount of contents in the meal. On my own For You Page, I went from seeing girl dinner videos with elaborate nacho spreads and assortments of meats and cheeses to girl dinner videos with maybe three carrots and an almond on a plate. But it was not just me experiencing this—the trend as a whole quickly became a way for individuals to normalize disordered eating and further opened up the floodgates for diet comparisons. 

In a video posted a few months ago, TikTok creator @whisperingwillowasmr brings up the point that the trend is not only facilitating comparisons but prompting competition over “who can eat the least” as well. Scarily enough, social media apps like TikTok have been reported to push content featuring eating disorders on the feeds of new accounts in less than eight minutes of the account’s creation.

Additionally, by labeling these dinners on the smaller end of the spectrum as “girl dinners,” they give off the impression that girls should be eating smaller portions compared to men. As the trend rapidly gained popularity, it caught the attention of media outlets as well as nutrition, diet, and mental health professionals.

Nutritionist Alissa Rumsey spoke to National Geographic about some of her concerns, stating, “My biggest concern with this is that many of these ‘girl dinners’ that we see on social media are not enough food, which can both promote and normalize disordered eating and under-eating.” A Health article from the summer echoes a similar idea, with multiple dietitians worried that “girl dinner” gives the impression that women need to eat smaller-sized meals.

Media outlets have had mixed views on girl dinners, some focusing on how it is a fun way for users online to share what they eat for dinner and some focusing on the darker side of the trend. 

2023 was a huge year in terms of celebrating teenage girlhood in the media with the release of the Barbie movie, season two of The Summer I Turned Pretty, the Taylor Swift Eras Tour, two new Taylor Swift albums, and so much more. Though both “girl math” and “girl dinner” were created to connect women and make us feel seen, the negative progressions of these trends have overturned their positives. 

During this online era, gendering everyday activities and experiences often serves as a way for girls of all ages, specifically teenage girls, to bond. We’ve seen this in the past with trends like “hot girl walks” and “hot girl summer.” However, these trends can lead to the generalization of the teenage girl experience and bring about a plethora of issues. This begs the question: Where do we find the healthy medium? Rather than completely halting the creation of these “girl” trends, as they do play an important role in building community through identity, there needs to be an increase in transparency and conversation about the wrong paths these trends take. By being more aware of both the content we post and consume, we have the potential to repaint the narrative.