Wrapping the Phenomenon of Girlhood in a Pink Bow

By Ella Gravitz, Intern

If my TikTok “For You Page” could talk, it would ask me why every other video is a variation of the trend, “girl ___.” There is “girl dinner,” “girl math,” “strawberry girl,” “girl measuring,” “vanilla girl,” “lalala girl,” and even “tomato girl.” At the same time, I notice a comeback of the “girly girl” – emphasizing hyper-feminine style with bows, ballet flats, and the color pink. Everywhere I turn, from targeted online ads to my boomer-generation-born father asking me to explain the term “hot girl walk,” the modern-day phenomenon of girlhood is omnipresent. Regardless of its presentation, my persisting question remains: what is driving the surge in attention to girlhood, and how can we understand its impact on brand communication strategies?


In looking back on the year, NPR’s Juana Summers proclaimed 2023 as “the year of the girl.” Beyonce became the most decorated Grammy artist of all time, the blockbuster Barbie movie was released, and Taylor Swift embarked on her chart-topping Eras tour. Simultaneously, girl-centric trends began to pop up and peaked during the summer months. Yet the idea of “girlhood” as it applies to adult women is not new. For example, the Riot Grrrl movement in the 1990s sought to reclaim the word “girl” through an underground movement that combined politics, punk music, and feminism. While there are varying opinions on the effectiveness of this movement, it highlights that today’s obsession with girlhood and its ability to drive something greater is not the first one of its kind. The difference may be that this time, the concept gained popularity via online channels, particularly on social media, and was therefore able to garner a much broader audience and cross over into the mainstream.

Cultural Impact

The rise of “girl” centric trends and the overall interest in the idea of girlhood have created a unique space for many women to interact and relate to one another, introducing a new dimension of communal understanding and empowerment. This space is easily accessible via widely used online platforms and enables females of all ages to participate and connect with one another easily. For example, in this TikTok about “girl math” with almost 30K likes, the creator asked her followers to submit their best examples of times when they utilized this practice with the caption, “We are all the same.” She reads examples such as, “When I reload my Starbucks card, the Starbucks I get later is free,” and “If I bought it and it’s more expensive somewhere else, I made money.” The comments section has over 400 entries of women sharing their own examples of “girl math.” Under many of the comments, people reply to one another with positive feedback, such as “1000% correct.” Although these users do not know one another, they engage and validate each other’s feelings and experiences. This is the type of relatability and community that these trends have fostered, as women of many ages realize that they have been experiencing the same unspoken thought processes. By putting a name to it, they become part of something bigger that includes other women who have had similar experiences, and they are not alone. As Brooke Steinberg put it, “Being a teenage girl is hard – and social media and societal pressures don’t make it any better. But some are finding solace in an online community dedicated to all the ups and downs of being a girl.”

An important part of the girlhood phenomenon is recognizing the hardships of being a woman, which can lead to a desire for a simpler, more carefree time. Isabel Christo writes, “What is it, exactly, that’s so uninviting about being an adult woman?” She goes on to explain that there are many societal expectations imposed on women: get married, have children, and take care of a family, just to name a few. But girlhood was a time before that – when women were free from what the world expected of them. 

Perhaps desiring that feeling of ultimate freedom is not childlike or naive but, rather, a natural reaction to the complexities and pressures facing women today. Of course, there are many amazing parts of adult womanhood, but it is okay to acknowledge the hardship, too, and reminisce about a time that felt worry-free.  Girlhood and “girl” trends signify this collective feeling of nostalgia among women and create a space to connect with one another through similar perspectives and feelings.


The girlhood concept has generated its fair share of controversy, with questions raised about the merits of applying it to spaces where it would not usually be found and some of the trends that it has produced. Jessica Bennett said, “Of course, the idea of girlhood is – and perhaps has always been – a fantasy.” She continues to cite many recent studies that highlight the numerous struggles that young women face today: an unprecedented amount of sadness and hopelessness, high levels of anxiety prompted by social media, frequent online harassment, and record levels of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Bennett argues that maybe girlhood isn’t all that the internet trends make it out to be, and perpetuating this nostalgic and gleeful idea creates a warped image of being a young woman. 

Additionally, some critics cite problems with specific trends, such as “girl dinner,” which entails eating a strange variety of snacks as a meal. Some have questioned if this trend promotes eating unbalanced meals that do not contain enough nutrients. Another example is the phrase, “I’m just a girl,” which women on TikTok respond to a challenge or difficult task by reciting. This may convey an image of girls as lazy or unable to tackle difficult tasks independently and, therefore, needing male assistance.

However, regarding these differing opinions, I would suggest that we should not take girlhood and “girl” trends so seriously. After all, many internet trends are silly and meant to make lighthearted fun out of even the most serious of topics. If we continuously poke holes and suggest that these trends are harmful to women, we may be denying them a valuable space to connect with one another through shared experiences. There is an important balance to strike between acknowledging the potential harm of certain trends and allowing people, especially young women, the freedom to explore and express themselves within these trends. This freedom can be empowering and can help create a sense of community and solidarity among individuals who may otherwise feel isolated or misunderstood.

Putting It All Together – What This Means For Brand Communication Strategies

When thinking about this from a brand communications standpoint, the phenomenon of girlhood and its associated trends present both opportunities and challenges for businesses. On the one hand, engaging with these trends can offer a platform to connect with a broad audience, particularly considering how trends uniquely resonate with an intergenerational audience. Therefore, leveraging girlhood can be a powerful tool for brands to build community and impact female consumers of many ages. On the other hand, businesses should tread carefully when navigating these trends, as they may appear opportunistic if not handled with genuine understanding and respect for the experiences of girls and women. Additionally, with trends changing all the time, it is often difficult to produce content that feels current and not dated. Brands that are too slow to adapt may miss the window of relevance, while those who jump on trends too hastily could appear inauthentic or as if they are trying to monetize something that should not be exploited. 

For example, Loewe posted this TikTok at the height of the girl trend popularity in which one woman yells from her balcony to a group of women on the street, asking if it is cold out, to which they reassure her that her outfit is perfect for the weather. This video received 1.1 million likes. It is a strong example of a brand leveraging girl-related trends in a way that feels authentic – not just trying to sell a particular product, but rather, truly understanding the impact of girlhood. 

Other brands, however, have missed the mark. Their experiences serve as warning signs of the dangers for brands participating in multi-faceted engagement in internet trends. Popeyes attempted to hop on the girl dinner bandwagon by adding a tab to its online menu labeled “Girl Dinner” that only included its sides, such as mashed potatoes and coleslaw, which had to be purchased separately. Numerous critics pointed out that this new section was the exact same as the “Side Dishes” tab and did not actually feature anything novel. It is reminiscent of the concept of the “girl dinner” being composed largely of snacks. More importantly, the idea that women were being encouraged to use side dishes as a full meal reinforced the concept that women should eat smaller portions of food than their male counterparts. This is the kind of thinking that may contribute to disordered eating and issues related to body image. In addition, many argued that this campaign came across as a failed attempt to monetize girl dinner. It blatantly misunderstood that part of the trend was that it was supposed to be something to be enjoyed when you are too tired to put together anything else and throw together things already in your fridge. Given the backlash related to the Popeyes controversy, it seemed clear that the company misunderstood the trend with which it was engaging, sparking online debates. 

The Loewe and Popeyes examples illustrate the importance of communications professionals thinking critically about whether or not they should engage in girlhood-related and, more broadly, other internet trends. Brands should look to create a communications strategy that involves thorough research and thoughtful consideration about whether they are able to tap into trends in an authentic way before doing so. This is especially true for ones that are nuanced and multi-faceted, such as girlhood. It is not enough for brands to simply replicate a trend’s surface-level elements; they must create strategy and content that takes into account the cultural and social dynamics behind them. In doing so, companies can create content that enhances a brand’s reputation for being truly in tune with its consumers and its values. But I’m no expert on this – I’m just a girl.