Skinny Love, Skinny Legs – The Thigh Gap
Rebecca* sits on her bed with her computer on her lap. She listens to ‘Skinny Love’ by Bon Iver and scrolls through endless pictures of model-thin girls showing off the visible one- to two-inch gap between their upper thighs. She looks at pictures of herself and thinks, “Ew, that’s gross.” She cannot compare to the women in the pictures because, like the vast majority of teenage girls, her body is not built like the models that walked the runway in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
Like many other young girls in America, Rebecca struggled with an eating disorder for much of her teenage years. Propelling her self-esteem and body image issues was a trend that is on the rise: The thigh gap.
Society cycles through different parts of women’s bodies that are beautiful. Right now, it is the thigh gap. If a woman’s upper thighs touch, she is fat. If her legs don’t touch, her body is perfect. It is as simple as that. But what the photographs on Tumblr do not show is the unhealthy way in which these so -called “perfect bodies” are achieved.
“Eighty percent of American women do not feel good about their bodies,” said Dr. Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and co-author of ‘Teenage as A Second Language—A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual.’
Through social media, girls are seeing images of unhealthy legs more often. With repetition comes memorization, and if girls are memorizing images of what is supposedly the ideal body, they begin to believe that the thigh gap is something necessary to any woman’s figure.
“The way that the thigh gap is promoted is really unfortunate because it is presented to people who never would have thought about not eating,” said Kristina Saffran, co-founder of Project HEAL. “It is one of the real dangers of websites like Tumblr and we have to work to remove the images and direct girls to healthy places.”
Lisa Fleck, middle school guidance counselor at Garrison Forest School, has noticed an upward trend in the negative way girls talk about their bodies. Body image issues are occurring younger than ever, Fleck said.
“Social media education was more popular in the eighth-grade. Now we start the conversation in the sixth-grade,” Fleck said. “It doesn’t help that the sixth-graders are looking at phones and media and computers quite frequently. So, whether it is at the dinner table or texting, there is constant communication happening. They are able to view it a lot more than they used to and at a much younger age.”
Social media, specifically Tumblr, is one main reason Rebecca’s eating disorder progressed to dangerous levels, she said. Rebecca would spend hours on the site, constantly scanning her account for pictures of the two inch gap that, in her mind, defined beauty.
“The thigh gap is a way that you are supposed to look, the way your legs are supposed to be and how it is supposed to represent an ideal body,” Rebecca said.
Patricia Barros, PCI Certified Parent coach and retired pediatrician, has taken time to analyze the tone of the Tumblr quotes and photographs that young women see.
“On Tumblr there is a very repetitive thread of ideas of a certain kind of emotion,” Barros said. “Everybody is talking about how they do not feel adequate. There is that tone of ‘the world is a tough place to live’ and about beauty and about acceptance in a negative way.”
The desire for beauty and acceptance began for Rebecca in her pre-teen years.
“Middle school was the first time that I messed with my eating habits,” Rebecca said. “I would skip lunch and then play lacrosse after school. I remember getting light-headed but it never really fazed me.”
Through her years of experience, Dr. Greenberg has noticed peers, family, and media have the biggest impact on the way that girls perceive their bodies.
“My friend did the same thing and so it didn’t really seem like a big deal,” Rebecca said.
As Rebecca’s eating disorder progressed and as she forged her way through high school, she began taking drastic measures to achieve the thigh gap.
“When I was consumed with how I looked I would self-check my figure.” Rebecca said. “I used to measure myself [with a measuring tape].”
Rebecca’s family and peers began to notice how emaciated her figure was becoming. However, Rebecca believed that those close to her wanted her to be thin so she continued her self-starvation.
“Growing up, I was always conscious of my body because people in my family are overweight,” Rebecca said. “I would always tell myself ‘I’m never going to be like that,’ even when I was really young. Probably five years old.”
As a parent, it is important to portray positive body images to children.
“It is very hard for a girl to feel good about her body if her mother does not feel good about hers,” Dr. Greenberg said.
In extreme cases, older women have begun consulting plastic surgeons for cosmetic procedures to obtain the ideal legs. Women in their forties and fifties are competing with younger, brighter coworkers in their twenties and thirties, according to Dr. Robert X. Murphy, President Elect for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The women generally want to look youthful, so they will look for cosmetic procedures expanding from eye lifts to liposuction.
“Trends in plastic surgery tend to reflect social focus and financial stability,” Murphy said. “Those will wax and wane as our focus shifts from breasts to thighs.”
However, Murphy has not seen an extreme upward trend in thigh surgeries. “The Victoria’s Secret thigh gap issue has not had quite as much of an upward trend because that is for a very specific population,” he said.
The fact that older women have not shown a great interest in the thigh gap will help daughters receive the message of a positive body image.
“Mothers should promote less of what the body looks like and more of what the body can do,” Greenberg said.
In the same manner, parents should focus on promoting their children’s interests to increase positive body image and mentality.
“Passions can partially prevent an eating disorder because we always have a place to return to that makes us happy,” Greenberg added.
Fleck suggests that parents talk to their children about unhealthy body trends, like the thigh gap. “Having discussions at home about healthy body images and how parents talk about weight, either their child’s weight or their own, is huge,” she said. “I don’t think that the image of a woman’s body and the fact that girls are obsessed with body image is going to change in the near future until society looks at it differently.”
Now that society is primarily portrayed through social media sites, the trends are stronger and more publicized than ever. However, there are movements on social media websites and in school curricula to say that fuller figures are beautiful as well.
“People throughout history have gone through phases with what is considered beautiful,” Rebecca said. “The phases last for a good amount of time. I don’t even know what is considered beautiful right now because there are also so many movements to say that healthy is beautiful, too.”