Why the “Thigh Gap” Makes Me Sad

thigh gap push pushIt’s not the newest news, but the whole “thigh gap” thing, especially among young women, has been a simmering pot that came into media focus a couple of weeks ago when I was off the grid on a sailboat vacation.  It was on the news and in the paper and on the web. It’s a popular hashtag on Twitter.

Sam alluded to it in her post about bathing suit anxiety.  The “thigh gap” aspiration is the newest thing driving young women to obsessive dieting and disordered eating.

I am a woman in her late forties with no teenagers, so I’m a bit out of the loop sometimes. When I discovered the world of tumblrs (such as “fuckyeahthighgap” and “thigh gap” ) devoted to the thigh gap, I confess to being not just shocked, but profoundly saddened.

I don’t even want to link to the sites because they are so terribly disturbing (to some) yet so many teenaged girls seek them out as thinspiration (that is, as inspiration to keep dieting and being thin). If you’re curious, they’re just one google search away.

The sites invariably include photo after photo of incredibly thin young women who look like they could use a few good meals. In some of the pics there is visible evidence that they engage in the further self-harm of cutting.

The thigh gap is just another example of the false idea that achieving a certain (often unattainable by most) aesthetic will bring happiness. Seeking inspiration from representations of unattainable ideals is a set-up — at a minimum it leads to disappointment and demoralization, at worst it can lead people to under-eat, overexercise, and develop eating disorders.

The messages and themes on these thigh gap websites is all about hating the body you’ve got and pushing yourself until you’ve got the body you want.  But as Sam noted the other day, love is much more motivating than hate.

I’m also quite convinced from my own experience with hating the body I had and “achieving” the thinness I thought I sought, that getting there doesn’t make you love yourself more. As an adult, I have weighed 106 pounds to 146 pounds and I’ve felt equally horrible about myself at both ends of the scale and lots of places in between. Thankfully, I now feel good about who I am and what I am about. Thigh gap or not (not), I like the way I look today too.

I can’t imagine that many, if any, of these young women are feeling good about themselves even if and when they attain that ever elusive thigh gap.

And in any case, it should come as no surprise that genetics dictate a large part of who can and cannot attain a thigh gap. At times in my life, especially as a young woman, even though it wasn’t a “thing,” I hated that the top of my legs rubbed together. My guess is that I’d have to be pretty darn skinny, like about ready to die skinny, to have a thigh gap.  But being in the company of Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce on that score is perfectly fine with me.

In one interview, a therapist said that girls aspire to the thigh gap as an objective marker of beauty.  Some thigh-gap aspirants use  the (not surprisingly) twisted logic that since J-Lo and Beyonce have other things going for them in the beauty department, they don’t need a thigh gap. But for an ordinary girl who is not a captivating beauty, having a thigh gap makes her more attractive.

As a feminist, I don’t just lament the skeletally thin aesthetic associated with the thigh gap. I also question what it represents with respect to sexual access. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I can’t help but think of this in the context of sexual access to women’s most intimate parts. Why is the thigh gap the thing to aspire to instead of, say, losing that loose flesh on the back of the arm (not to give any thinspos a new idea of what to go for next)?

Given our blog emphasis on performance and athleticism and our de-emphasis on weight loss, weight loss programsdiets, and strictly aesthetic goals, it should come as no surprise that we aren’t big proponents of “thigh gap” type fitness goals.  I also agree with Samantha about the underpants rule. It’s not up to me to tell people what to do and how to live their lives.

That doesn’t stop me from feeling that this thigh gap phenomenon is sad.  Many of the girls chasing after thinness as a goal in and of itself are setting themselves up for self-hatred and disappointment, if not illness, or in some cases death.

Of course, there are those who rail against the thigh gap. And you can also find protest tumblrs like this one that celebrate touching thighs.  I really like what I see here on this anti-thinspo pinterest page, including this:

I do worry for girls and young women.  And I really like this reminder (from that same pinterest page) about what kinds of compliments can help to nudge them in a healthy direction that might make them feel good about themselves. The caption reads, “Compliment girls on their characters, not their bodies.”

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