Stand in front of the mirror and place your feet together and stand up straight. When you lift your head, look at your upper thighs. Measure with your eyes the space or lack of space between them and feel reassured or self-loathing. Then open Tumblr and scroll through endless rib cages but don’t look at their faces or their clothing, just at the white horizon separating their legs.
Read this and think it’s something from Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson’s teen novel detailing the degeneration of an emotionally damaged anorexic. Instead, it’s a common line of thought between young girls (and some boys) who are obsessed with the thigh gap, a trend popularized by Tumblr and other forms of social media. Whether or not someone has one has countlessly been attributed to anatomy. Associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Angela Guarda was quoted in a Washington Post article saying that even very thin women don’t necessarily have thigh gaps. Why not? It’s a matter of bone structure, the wideness of the hips, the shape of the pelvic girdle, which explains why even some models don’t have one. Even when you look up “how to get a thigh gap,” the first and fifth step warn readers it’s a matter of genetics and frame. Even Tumblr-famous names like Smells Like: Girl Riot! expressed their disbelief at the irrational desire.
Even so, the point is largely ignored by girls, who often post about thigh gaps as part of a larger “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) or “thinspiration” movement that has been growing on social media. They abandon their knowledge of healthy eating habits and scientific fact for the desire to have the gap, convinced that a couple more days of restrictive eating and butterfly kicks will begin to show results. Forget the scarring consequences of eating disorders or the study published by Nature that links healthy thigh size with longevity. When girls decide to forgo food for a gap most people rarely think about, they also give up a part of their sanity.
But not just those who are anorexic or psychologically damaged want the thigh gap; I’m surrounded by relatively healthy girls who constantly comment, “Wow, look at her thigh gap” or “This food will go straight to my thighs.” Society has come to expect models to have thigh gaps and attack those that don’t, like Robyn Lawley, a “plus-size” supermodel labeled as a “pig” for not having one large enough. There are moments of clarity, like when customers attacked Target for poorly photoshopped models with fake thigh gaps–but isn’t it fair to say Target only attempted to do so to appeal to young girls?
The situation is a Catch-22; when someone claims to not care about the thigh gap, it comes off as unconvincingly indifferent or unforgivingly envious. In this respect, not caring is a losing battle, but caring, the flip side, means fostering an unhealthy obsession.
People expect that logical explanations and incredulousness are strong enough to combat the thigh gap preoccupation, yet they forget that the fixation is inherently nonsensical. It’s unsettling that the gap can’t be filled with a one-size-fits-all remedy. This lack of understanding explains why efforts thus far have failed. The root (and solution) of the problem lies in environment, education and media. In this world of airbrushed waifs, thinspiration hashtags and warped mirror reflections, the widening gap between self-confidence and sensibility threatens to break them apart.
“Having a Big Bum, Hips and Thighs ‘is Healthy'” BBC News. BBC, 01 Dec. 2010. Web. 16 July 2014.
Lawley, Robyn. “Robyn Lawley: Why The Dangerous “Thigh Gap” Trend Makes Me Mad.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 July 2014.
Manolopoulos, K. N., F. Karpe, and K. N. Frayn. “Gluteofemoral Body Fat as a Determinant of Metabolic Health.” International Journal of Obesity34.6 (2010): 949-59. Web. 16 July 2014.
Mascarelli, Amanda. “Fueled by Social Media, ‘thigh Gap’ Focus Can Lure Young Women to Eating Disorders.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 30 June 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.
Murray, Rheana. “Photoshop Fail! Target’s Edited Messages Give Models Thigh Gaps, Missing Parts.” Daily News. NY Daily News, 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.
Swash, Rosie. “How the ‘thigh Gap’ Became the Latest Pressure Point on a Woman’s Self-image.” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 03 Nov. 2013. Web. 16 July 2014.