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Is the “Girlification” of Social Media More Than Just Harmless Fun?

 The term ‘girl’ has become an all-too-common prefix in social media trends, which showcase ‘girl math’, ‘girl dinner’, or ‘girl history’. On the surface, it seems to unite and empower women to share collective experiences and relate to one another. However, these trends have a dark side that ties into negative gender stereotypes and glamourises unhealthy behaviours.


Beginning as harmless fun, the ‘girl math’ trend was a collective bonding experience where women showcased the creative ways they justify frivolous expenses. To return clothes means you have ‘free money,’ and spending cash means you are not spending money, were a few examples that circulated social media. Many of the justifications were light-hearted ways for women to bond.


However, the trend quickly slipped into implying that ‘girl’ is synonymous with financial irresponsibility, which eerily echoes the claims that were historically levied against us by men. These assertions become even more concerning when one cosiders that just 50 years ago, women were unable to open their own bank accounts. Financial irresponsibility is not gendered, and to suggest that it is a ‘girly’ trait is a step backwards, considering the centuries of financial oppression that women were subjected to.


Furthermore, if ‘girl math’ entails making poor financial decisions, then what is ‘boy math’? Is it the inverse? Men are more likely to have problems with gambling, so to suggest that women are more likely to be financially irresponsible is largely incorrect. Winters et al found that while 91% of men and 84% of women reported gambling in college, only 3% of women gambled at a problematic level compared to 14% of men.


The BBC interviewed Isabel Barrow, director of financial planning at an investment company, who said: "As a financial planner, I don't think that this is a male or female thing. Calling it 'girl math' is trying to say that women are more susceptible to making bad financial decisions than men, which I don't find to be the case."


The ‘girl math’ trend is also heavily linked to the overconsumption and consumerism that is rampant in influencer culture. Women are constantly being told they ‘need’ a new product to become ‘that girl’ or the ‘clean girl’, a rebranding of the ‘it girl’. Being the right kind of girl online has become fundamentally linked with consumption, and this often leads to women feeling pressured to spend beyond their means. They may feel that to participate in the trends, they need to buy all the products that influencers claim they ‘cannot live without’, not realising that often influencers have received these for free as PR. ‘Girl math’ seems to both suggest that women are irresponsible with money, and encourage them to overconsume in the name of becoming idealised versions of ‘that girl’.


The ‘Girl dinner’ trend, that took the internet by storm, referred to the randomised concoctions of food women put together. ‘Girl dinner’ is low effort, a combination of ingredients or snacks, but is rarely a balanced meal. One Tiktok user characterised girl dinner as “I wanted a charcuterie board, but this is all I had in the fridge.” There is an undeniable element of freedom in ‘girl dinner,’ where women can move away from the labour and mental load often required to provide balanced meals for the household and merely satisfy their cravings.


Some Tiktok users have co-opted the trend to display the way they undereat, trivialising disordered eating behaviours. Many have seen this as a rebranding of the eating disorder content that has circulated social media in the past, under the disguise of the trending ‘girl dinner.’ It is not uncommon to see ‘meals’ that are compiled of a few pieces of cheese and a carrot stick, barely enough to satisfy a child.


Psychologists have long been concerned about the impact of social media on body image and eating habits, and this trend, at its worst, has glamourised and trivialised disordered eating, and further entrenched diet culture. The cutesey term ‘girl dinner’ has been co-opted to encourage eating a small arrangement of low-calorie snacks, as opposed to a proper meal, which is a slippery slope into content that actively encourages eating disorders.


Many of the girl dinners are juvenile in a wholesome way, displaying low effort meals such as pasta and butter, or dino nuggets that harken back to a simpler time. Some have argued that the pressure of adulthood and the mental load taken on by many women in running a household has led to the desire to self-infantilise for comfort. The use of ‘girl’ as a prefix infantilises the women who use it, which is undeniably patronising. For many women _ however, this may represent a deliberate desire to cling onto a sense of girlhood.


Adulthood feels precarious in a cost-of-living crisis and period of uncertainty, and trends like ‘girl math’ can allow women to justify treating themselves. Similarly, ‘girl dinner’ can be a fun way to combat the mental load of preparing full meals.


Despite this, it is clear that the ‘girl’ trends have a dark side, perpetuating derogatory gender stereotypes and unhealthy habits.


"Girl in green top on the phone walking along the beach" by San Diego Shooter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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