Thigh gaps: a dangerous obsession

Paige Thompson

A young girl sits at her computer, browsing the Internet when she comes across a photo of a model with a thigh gap. Later, she stands in the mirror begins criticizing her body, viewing herself as imperfect because she does not have the gap that the model has. This has become a reality for many of today’s young women.

A thigh gap is a trend for young women to have thighs so thin they do not touch. Many models have this quality, and it has become a frequent topic of discussion.

“It’s all over the media,” Hannah Seals, English junior, said. “The Victoria’s Secret fashion show on TV is definitely a big motivator.”

Lucinda Woodward, assistant professor of psychology and instructor of a human sexuality class at IU Southeast, said that this trend is fairly recent.

“There is a clear social pressure, which is linked to Western civilization,” Woodward said. “Partially you can blame the fashion industry, which focuses so much on size.”

Dr. Sara Hare, sociology professor, said she is fully aware of the trend.

“I’ve heard of the thigh gap measurement and the pressure on girls and women to conform to this beauty standard,” Hare said. “It’s another ‘test’ for females to evaluate their bodies and feel self-conscious and unworthy.”

Some women take drastic measures because they have a desire to be what is deemed “perfect,” or “beautiful” by society.

“I think it’s overrated and it’s just a fad,” Seals said. “Women like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez don’t have them and they’re considered beautiful.”

Recently, Target has been under fire because of poor photo editing on a model in a bikini. The image, which has since been taken down, was so distorted that it was clear that something was off.

Hare said Photoshop and other digital tools are often used for such alterations.

“This sets an impossible standard for people to emulate.” she said. “Faith Hill’s cover on Redbook is famous for that.”

Katie Keller, psychology graduate, said she believes there are many repercussions to attempting to achieve this trend, both psychological and physical. “If there is the idea in society that women must be ‘sex kittens’ and ‘disciplined’ or however you want to phrase it, then it isn’t surprising that so many women either currently suffer from, have suffered from, or will suffer from an eating disorder, depression, or a combination of the two, and perhaps others such as compulsive disorders,” Keller said.

Keller said the Internet and social media will frequently feature photos of the same type of person over and over.

“When you are constantly bombarded with messages that you aren’t good enough, then you begin to believe that you aren’t good enough,” Keller said.

Hare said this especially holds true when the messages in question place unrealistic pressures on women.

“A visible gap between the thighs is a next-to-impossible standard of beauty for most adult women,” Hare said.

Woodward said that the sizes of women’s clothing has dramatically changed as well.

“Look at the size double zero, in women’s [fashion], and the emergence of skinny jeans. The 00 wasn’t even released until about 10 or 15 years ago.” Woodward said.

“While there are many institutions that play into how we perceive our bodies and how we perform our gender, ultimately we are forgetting that we have the power to fall prey to ‘thigh gap’ or body anxiety or not,” Keller said.

Keller said our society feels the pressure from these images to make themselves fit that idea of beauty.

“To borrow a phrase from Michel Foucault, you feel as though you are constantly under the ‘faceless gaze’ that is watching your every move,” Keller said.

Fetishizing the unhealthy trend is dangerous. Over-exercising, or taking drastic dietary measures can result in health problems.

“As a result, you end up being both jailer and prisoner to yourself, and you no longer need anyone to tell you that you aren’t good enough – you do it on your own and stress about your ‘icky, flabby thighs that touch,’ spend hours at the gym, and download calorie-counting or fitness apps to track your every move,” Keller said.

Though good can come from going to the gym and leading a healthy lifestyle, it can be overdone when someone is trying to achieve something that is a trend.

“In a way, this is productive because of all the technologies it gives birth to – the problem is that people, namely women, are sick, depressed, and anxious about their bodies,” Keller said.

Woodward adds that even actresses, athletes and other famous women could meet the criteria for anorexia.

“[When they have] below 85 percent of ideal body weight, young girls get the message that this is normal. In fact it is not normal,” she said.

Keller said the messages girls and women are receiving are disturbing.

“As someone who has personally suffered from an eating disorder, there is the idea of being ‘too much’…too needy, too emotional, or too indulgent. Thus, the presence of thighs that touch is a sign that you are unable to control yourself, that you are literally too much of a person, you’re probably high maintenance and require a lot of attention and comfort,” Keller said.

In contrast, Keller said some may think that by having the thigh gap they will be more accepted, so they will strive to get it.

“The presence of a ‘thigh gap’ is a way of showing the world that you are able to keep your indulgences at bay – you can be both a sultry, sexy, and visually appealing woman but at the same time you know how to control your passions and keep yourself in check. The problem with this ideal is that it is more debilitating that it is freeing,” Keller said.

“Your thighs should touch, and if they do that does not make you unattractive. We are all different,” Woodward said.

Keller said that no two bodies are the same, and society can help change the face of body image by making it more positive.

“Get away from the ‘ideal’ body all together. Every body is different. There are some women who naturally have a thigh gap who despise themselves and will find about fifty other things they hate about their bodies,” Keller said. “I am of the opinion that healthy is beautiful, whatever that means for you – thigh gap or not, if you take care of and are kind to yourself, that is what matters. You want a bikini body? Put on a bikini. It’s that simple.”

Though the thigh gap is not a new trend, Keller said it is seen more often nowadays because of the Internet, where websites such as Tumblr and Pinterest exist for young women to see and post photos of other women with thigh gaps.

Woodward said a recent survey that was conducted on the matter which interviewed both heterosexual men and homosexual women.

“The straight men and lesbian women say a curvaceous body is more sexually attractive,” Woodward said.

Keller discusses her research influenced by women such as feminist writer Susan Bordo.

“In the 1980’s, for example, diagnoses of anorexia were alarming,” she said.

“Bordo argues women were entering into the workforce as executives, a traditionally male role now taken up by a woman. Bordo explains that here we see a dualistic mentality emerge in American society, one that is being both ‘feminine,’ but ‘controlled and disciplined,’ at the same time,” said Keller. Woodward said that women who would fall prey to a trend such as this which, as she says, an unrealistic ideal, they are set up for failure. “Guilt, shame, and depression evolves from such a fixation.”

“Women who have, I would say, inaccurate body perceptions develop that as a consequence of body dissatisfaction and the inaccurate perception, and it plays a very large role in how they see themselves. Not everyone has an eating or body disorder so it’s clearly not just social…social messages are not 100% to blame. There is an interaction [with] social messages,” said Woodward.

Although the ‘thigh gap,’ and other dangerous trends are prominent on the web, so are supporters of body positivity on sites such as Tumblr. These supporters are advocates and voices for those who do not have one. They raise awareness on being body positive and fighting against trends such as the thigh gap.

“I think it’s important to repeat a mantra of self-acceptance and love in the maelstrom of the ‘ideal,’ female or male body and criticism that we are bombarded with daily. We need to remember that character, living a full and happy life, and being kind to ourselves and others is a more fruitful endeavor than wasting time, money, and energy on an ideal body image,” Keller said.