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Decoding the "Girl" Trend: From Spice Girls to Girl Dinners

Updated: Oct 14, 2023


Image by @picklegrl on Instagram.


These days, everything and anything can be girl-ified — which is why now we have things such as “girl dinner”, “hot girl walks”, “girl math”, et cetera. The word "girl" dons various linguistic hats, transforming effortlessly into a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an exclamation, its meaning shaped by the speaker's tone and context. It can start a sentence, punctuate one, or be a sentence on its own. It’s versatile.


A screenshot of a tweet suggesting even more things one can apply the word “girl” to. Notice how “girl” is used as both an adjective ("girl math") and a verb ("[...] we can girl.").


 

A (BRIEF) HISTORY OF THE "GIRL" TREND

Despite its current popularity, the "girl" trend got its start from the phrase “girl power”. “Girl power” is a slogan that encourages and celebrates women's empowerment, independence, confidence and strength. It is credited to the US punk band Bikini Kill, who published a zine called Bikini Kill #2: Girl Power in 1991. This slogan gained widespread popularity in the mid-1990s, thanks to the British girl group Spice Girls. It then became a significant cultural reference that influenced the millennial generation by helping to reinvigorate mainstream feminism in the 1990s.


The Spice Girls performing their song “Girl Power”. Image from here.


Following that, the next wave of the "girl" trend came from the word "girlboss", popularised by Sophia Amoruso in her 2014 book Girlboss. “Girlboss” started out as a term which denotes a woman "who is ambitious and successful in her career”. However, as the term slowly began to evolve and shifted culturally from a noun to a verb, its concept began to become ironic and viewed as a meme, so people started shifting away from it.


This current generation of "girl" trends started with "hot girl summer", which was coined by rapper Megan Thee Stallion back in 2019 with her single “Hot Girl Summer”, becoming a major phrase within Gen Z lingo. And of course, this leads to this summer’s trendy lingo of “girl dinner”, “girl math” and “hot girl walks”... you get the idea.


Collage depicting the concept of "hot girl summer". Image from here.


 

"GIRL" TREND & CONSUMERISM

The foundations of the "girl" trend can be traced to the 1950s, in the wake of World War II, when advertisers began capitalising on the baby boom. They did so by marketing to girls as a distinct group with its own unique needs and interests. "Girl power", while not an actual phrase that was coined back then in the 1950s, was a concept that was seized upon. Barbie, the doll, was created in the climate of needing a toy to appeal to girls who are independent (in other words, powerful, for the "girl power" concept).


Following the waves of “girl power” and “girlboss”, the trend to girl-ify things became a template for marketing and writing about powerful women in virtually every industry. Since then, the "girl" trend has become closely associated with consumerism, self-renewal, and self-identity in a neoliberal capitalist society. This has made marketing products to women easier than ever.


Examples of using different "girl" trends to market to women. All picture credits to the original owners.


After the unprecedented success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train becoming surprise mega-hits, the word “girl” was slapped onto everything: books, movies, TV shows, subcultures (think VSCO girls)-turned-fashion-trends. As Terry Nguyen writes for Vox, “Trends, or the illusion of a trend, benefit the fast-fashion companies and direct-to-consumer brands making products that aesthetically align with such fleeting fancies.” The “girl” trend was the easiest way for corporations to sell things to women under the guise of “girlhood”, playing into young people’s, especially girls’, desire for a community.


Consumerism that rose alongside the trend then became a topic of contention. So I guess it won’t be too ludicrous to say that the biggest ‘problem’ with the "girl" trend was how easy it was for big corporations to seize the trend for capitalistic gain while diluting its original spirit and authenticity. This commodification can overshadow the genuine expression of girlhood, reducing the trend to a shallow, profit-driven endeavour that deviates from its intended purpose: a community.


 

"GIRL" TREND & LIBERATION

Of course, I have to give credit where credit is due; the “girl” trend, despite its controversies and commodifications, has given women a space to celebrate and just be themselves without shame or stereotypes. This is an extremely important aspect of the “girl” trend, especially given the society we now live in.


Partaking in the "girl" trend has also become a means of defying societal expectations and norms. Take the example of “girl dinner”: it completely subverts the societal expectation that women are supposed to cook and prepare food for the family. Instead of cooking, you literally just take bits and pieces and put them together for only one person; yourself. As Camille Sojit Pejcha writes in her piece on girl dinners, “Implicit in girl dinner is the rejection of the picturesque, put together version of femininity”. Girl dinner exemplifies how the “girl” trend serves as a vehicle for individuals to defy societal stereotypes, offering a liberating and empowering alternative to traditional gender norms.


An example of “girl dinner”, an aspect of the “girl trend”. Girl dinner is popularly used on social media to refer to meals made of snacks, sides, or small amounts of random foods. Image from here.


The "girl" trend of now is also largely different from that of the "girl" trends before. Now women are taking back the word “girl”. Previously, the word “girl” was used in a demeaning way, especially in hierarchical settings like the corporate world. “Girl” is used to insinuate to women that they’re not “woman” enough, that they’re too childish or immature. Now, they’ve reinvented it into something new, embracing this lens which society views them under.


The revival of women calling themselves girls is theorised to be closely tied together with the pandemic skip, which states that the concept of girlhood is becoming more mainstream again due to the women who came of age during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to experience something akin to a “second youth”. Women have accepted that it’s okay to be seen as childish or immature, and put their own fun spin onto it. They’ve reclaimed the sexist undertones of the word "girl" and made it their own, free from the judgement of men.


Girlhood is depicted by two girls enjoying each other's company; laughing and sharing food together. Image from here.


The “girl" trend, in essence, allows women to regain their authority. They’ve broken free from the societal expectations (e.g.: with girl dinner), but they’ve also accepted societal expectations by reframing it into their own brand of empowerment (e.g. calling themselves “girls”). The concept of the "girl" trend is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that dances between societal expectations; the shallowness of it empowers the liberation. By taking back the word “girl”, they’ve reduced the amount of power men wield against them when using it as a way to demean women. Girlhood is now truly for the girls.


 

TO END IT OFF…

At the end of the day, the "girl" trend is a social phenomenon that both challenges and embraces societal expectations. Its shallowness and depth coexist, creating a space where women can reclaim their authority, redefine their identities, and celebrate their unique expressions of girlhood.


As Anna Marks writes for The New York Times, “Girlhood was the first time and perhaps the only time when we could exist outside of what the patriarchy expects from us.” In a world that continues to evolve, the “girl” trend reminds us that self-expression and empowerment transcend stereotypes, and girlhood, in all its forms, is a force to be celebrated and cherished. Just beware, try not to fall for the marketing tactics of corporations in your journey to celebrate girlhood!



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