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'Girl dinner' was just added to Dictionary.com. What is it?

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The "girl dinner" controversy explained. (Illustration by Jacob Nunes for Yahoo; Photo: Getty images)

"Girl dinner" is here to stay, according to Dictionary.com. The term popularized by a TikTok trend made the list of new entries announced on Tuesday.

It's one of hundreds of words and terms added, many of which inspired by internet culture. Dictionary.com now defines "girl dinner" as a noun referring to an "attractively presented collection of snacks that involve little preparation, such as small quantities of cold cuts, cheese, fruit, cherry tomatoes, etc., deemed sufficient to constitute a meal for one." But where did the term actually come from? Here's what to know.

What is 'girl dinner'?

The food reference originated on TikTok in a video by Olivia Maher posted in May 2023; the creator used the term to describe her spread of cheeses, bread, grapes and cornichons. That video has since inspired countless recreations under the hashtag #GirlDinner and even a musical jingle by another creator that's been used in over 428,000 TikTok videos.

While her original video characterizing her snack-style meal was all in good fun, Maher has seen how the trend has gotten carried away. Some critics have said the "girl dinner" concept acts as a bridge to dangerous eating habits.

"I totally hear where people are coming from," Maher tells Yahoo Life. But she stands by her creation as one that comes from a love of food, not a way to glamorize restriction.

Instead, she says, "girl dinner" is about "a celebration of food and appreciation and excitement because you’re eating exactly what you want and you’re satisfying all the flavors you're craving," she says.

The origins of the trend

Maher found herself "nibbling on bits from my fridge" when she decided to post a video on TikTok about it. "It's something that we've all done without knowing that we do it," she says of the assembled meal. "We've just been doing it privately in our homes alone."

Being alone is part of the experience, Maher explains, noting that the snack plate variation is what she'll eat when her boyfriend is out of the house in an effort to save time on preparing dinner. "I don't need to make meat and vegetables and starch or whatever, I'm not gonna go get something big," she says. "I'm just gonna, like, eat whatever I can find, like hunt and gather from my own kitchen."

Why it went viral

While a "girl dinner" might be convenient for a solo diner, Maher says it's also something that people can be "excited" about eating — particularly because it rids the person of any expectations to put together something more elaborate and instead just eat what they need and want to.

Brenna O'Malley, a registered dietitian and founder of The Wellful, agrees that that's part of meal's appeal. "It's almost like a pseudo pushing against the idea that you need to have your meal look a certain way," she tells Yahoo Life. "It can be a way to have different tastes and textures on a plate, which can be really nice. You have something crunchy, something sweet, something savory, whatever it is."

The main concern when putting a girl dinner together would be considering whether the serving size is enough food, which O’Malley says is a criticism she’s seen on TikTok. "Some people are feeling like this is actually looking like not enough food," she says, "or that you're trying to glorify that you're not having very much food."

Why the controversy?

"It can be a bit worrying in that, are we saying this is a girl dinner because all of these messages that we have about women needing to watch what they eat and be super, super particular, and maybe really controlled and portioned around what they're eating? Is this a way to be more permissive around certain foods? Or is it another way to be super hypervigilant of what you're eating and have really small amounts of things?" O'Malley points out.

The small portions displayed in some of the girl dinners circulating the internet are the ones facing the most scrutiny, as one creator says the trend has led people to "glorifying eating disorders." And while there are a handful of examples of satire, it's important to recognize how different individuals are being affected by the content because of diet culture.

"So many of these things can easily go one way or the other. Relationships with food are so individual and so personal, while media and social media is so not personal," O'Malley explains. "When you get these glimpses into people's eating, it can easily be inspiring and exciting to find more creative ways to explore different foods or try a new meal or try new recipe or try new way of cooking something. It's just as easy for it to have this feeling of like, oh, what this person's doing is 'better,' or I'm comparing myself to them, or I'm comparing my body to them. And I think that comes from both someone's own experience and relationship with their body and food. And it also comes from diet culture, and all these other influences. We don't know how it lands with each person."

It's a pattern that we've seen with other food trends, like the obsession with cottage cheese and most recently, the mustard plate. "There's something that maybe is innocently put on the internet, it's exciting. And then for some people, it's much more damaging," O'Malley says.

Maher says that she was surprised to see "people saying that girl dinner is like diet culture repackaged or eating disorders presented in a new way."

Maher says she didn't mean harm

Instead of encouraging food restriction, Maher says that the girl dinner is all about eating "what you need." She emphasizes that it's an individual experience that's meant to make people feel "giddy" over their meals, rather than unsatisfied or bound by the perceived rules of diet culture.

Ultimately, she encourages viewers to remember that the one meal someone might share on TikTok isn't indicative of their overall eating habits.

"You don't know what the rest of their day has looked like and what else they've been eating. Maybe, they had a huge lunch and they don't need something, but they want to eat something before bed. So they're just going to pick a bit and eat a little something, a little grazing meal, charcuterie without the board or whatever. Or maybe they don't need as much food that day. We just don't know what's going on in other people's lives," she says. "I think that food is such a beautiful thing and should be celebrated. And the fact that women and people all over the place are coming together around girl dinner and finding excitement in the joy of eating is so special."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the National Eating Disorders (NEDA) website at nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.

This article was originally published on July 13, 2023 and has been updated.