...I'm weighing in on the "thigh gap" trend
I have a few random thoughts after reading about the "thigh gap" trend which states "if you can stand straight with your knees together and see a space between your upper thighs, you have what thousands of teen girls are willing to starve themselves for."
Skeletons aren't sexy
I remember when I was in school, we had a skeleton in our science classroom. What I don't remember is any of the boys lusting after said skeleton and saying how hot its body was. Nor do I remember any girls saying, I wish I had a body like that skeleton. Nor do I think we even had a skeleton - I believe I'm recalling the opening credits of Saved By the Bell, not any of my actual classrooms - but that's doesn't blur my point: Standards of beauty are honestly insane.
Basically, looking like you're just random skin stretched over a skeleton with no muscle tone or fat is, in some circles, totally in vogue and this whole "thigh gap" thing reinforces the issue.
Can we ever honestly be thin enough?
There was a line in an episode of the HBO series "Girls" last season that sticks out. Two girls are conversing at a gallery opening. One compliments the other on losing weight, to which the other replies, "I wanna be so skinny that people are like, 'Do you have a disease? Are you going to die?'"
The show tackles various controversial topics with the tactic of shock, so I wasn't surprised to hear the line, but I hated the way it stuck with me.
It's not even necessary to point out how insulting it is to those who are terminally ill - that is obvious - the bigger question is, how did that line even become rational enough in our culture to be included as dialogue in a television show?
What happened to days when beauty was equated with a woman being healthy? It's an obsession - origins of which I'll explain in a few paragraphs - I feel myself being lured into. I constantly have to remind myself that it's more important to be healthy rather than rail thin. On a cognitive level, I totally get it, but the world sometimes gets to me and I get caught up in the idea of being a size zero, or having a space so vast from one thigh to the next that small aircrafts could fly through.
Weight is such a sensitive subject, which brings me to my next point.
Zip it about anyone's weight whether they be big or small
There is a widely unnoticed double standard in which people think only those who are overweight have body-image issues. Telling someone they are too skinny in an insulting or even conversational matter is as inappropriate as calling someone fat.
So, zip it.
Unless you are their physician or someone close enough to them who can have a conversation about their health if there is reason for concern, keep your comments to yourself.
You're essentially telling them that the way they are shaped is no good and that is a big uppercut to the self-esteem.
Some people are naturally thin and some are naturally on the plump side.
It doesn't necessarily mean they are in any way unhealthy.
Don't "fall into the gap"
When I was researching online for this article, I was overwhelmed at the mass amount of results a simple Google search for "thigh gap" produced. How can this even be a "thing?"
There are Tumblr blogs upon Tumblr blogs full of "thigh gap inspiration," advice on how to achieve the thigh gap - most of which involved starving yourself and none of which involved the machine at the gym that is super embarrassing to use that works your inner and outer thighs - thigh gap hashtags on Instagram, thigh gap challenges and so on.
Thighs have always been a place of concern for women, but it seems social media has somehow skyrocketed this "trend" into popularity in such a way that teenage girls believe this is a normal thing to aspire to have.
To any young girls out there: Stop.
This is an unhealthy trend you should avoid falling prey to. The amount of time you will waste if you feed into the idea that you can never be thin enough is unfathomable.
I just had a conversation in which I said I share way too much and get way too personal in this column, so, why stop now?
You see, I was a rather tubby teenage girl at one point in life and images I saw in magazines (because there really wasn't Internet way back then), comments from peers and society, in general, got to me in a big way.
In fact, the first thing I ordered when I got my first checkbook was a bottle of diet pills I found for sale in an ad in the back of whatever teen magazine I was reading at the time. Pages upon pages of my diary were dedicated to how much I hated my body. For every failure I had as a young girl, I blamed my weight.
Everything in my world revolved around being a certain size and wanting to be much smaller - as small as I could possibly get.
Diet pills were just one among many ridiculously unhealthy things I tried to lose weight. You name it; I tried it.
The only reason I'm sharing this, is because I would do anything to go back and stop the teenage me from being influenced in such a way. I'd duct tape magazines and people's mouths shut if it meant I wouldn't still be thinking this way about weight and body image.
I wasted so much time.
Now, I eat really healthy and I hit the gym on the regular and I'm always working on getting rid of those thoughts, but some days it seems as though I'm always going to have that little voice in the back of my head telling me I'm not good enough.
And that's the same voice I fear young girls today are listening to.
I hate that.
All this talk about thigh gap, and these pro-anorexia websites is scary stuff.
Starvation is never the answer.
Forget about thigh gap and depriving yourself of vital nutrients and focus on your health.
As annoying as the Internet is with websites that promote eating disorders, it also hosts a huge arsenal of inspiration for fitness and body acceptance.
Look for positive role models and don't put others down.
I know it's hard, but just tune it out.
Your thighs can be friends and be close to each other and the world is still going to be OK.
(Jenna Wasakoski, a News-Item editor, is a graduate of Von Lee School of Aesthetics and is certified as a professional makeup artist.)
(I promise next week I'll
write something silly and irreverent we can all laugh at.)
(The following article inspired this column and goes into jurther detail on the issue)
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - If you can stand straight with your knees together and see a space between your upper thighs, you have what thousands of teen girls are willing to starve themselves for.
The thigh gap, as it is known, is a small, hollow cavity with a huge following on social media. You can follow supermodel Cara Delevingne's thigh gap on Twitter or peruse thousands of thigh gaps on Tumblr with images of ultrathin women in bikinis, hiked up skirts, and lingerie, all baring thighs so thin they don't touch. The photos, shared by young women, come with captions like, "Three more inches to go" and "All I want in life is a thigh gap."
Women have long been bombarded with unrealistic images of beauty and digitally altered bodies. A decade ago, teens flocked to pro-anorexia websites which shared similar photos and tips for disordered eating. But the thigh gap is the first "thinspiration" voice in social media, where sharing with friends spreads and fuels the obsession.
The thigh gap's social media presence is, in fact, a "perfect storm," says Berkeley, Calif., licensed clinical social worker Debra Milinsky of the Feminist Therapy Connection.
"Girls are at a developmental stage where their bodies are changing, and when it comes to what they're supposed to look like, they're most likely to listen to their peers," Milinsky says. "That's what the Internet is all about. Seeking community."
Of course, not all girls want to join that particular one. Maya Sweedler of Los Gatos, Calif., calls the thigh gap trend "awful."
"I can't believe what some girls are encouraging each other to do, to be so unhealthy and all look the same," says Sweedler, 16. She also points out that nature plays a role.
"I think some people have the bone structure for a thigh gap just like some people have high cheekbones," she says. "In general, I don't think the human body is supposed to look like that."
In fact any number of factors play into whether a woman has a significant thigh gap, including genetics, ethnicity, pelvic size and width, says Laura Tosi, a pediatric orthopedist and director of the bone health program at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Weight loss is proportional, so most girls who don't have a natural gap - one bigger than a peephole - would have to lose a lot of weight to achieve the kind of thighs coveted on social media, she says. And that can be particularly dangerous during puberty.
"Weight gain is actually a natural and very important signal that a young woman is entering womanhood and starting her periods," Tosi explains. "It is absolutely essential to helping girls build the best possible skeleton so they will have strong bones as they age. Delaying the onset of menses by severe weight loss can impair a young's woman's skeletal development and lead to fractures even as a young adult."
Try telling that to an impressionable girl who has consumed unattainable images of beauty since age 5, says Lucie Hemmen, a Santa Cruz, Calif., psychologist and author of "Parenting a Teen Girl: A Crash Course on Conflict, Communication, and Connection with Your Teen Daughter" (New Harbinger, $20).
"That's how early girls fall prey to this issue," says Hemmen, who is the mother of two teenage girls. "I feel like thigh gap is just the newest incarnation of a ridiculous standard that's depicted in the media. It used to be a concave stomach. Next, it'll be a dimple here or there."
To combat the spread of thigh gap worship, Hemmen says parents must teach their daughters media literacy and hang around when their teenager is trawling Tumblr or watching a YouTube video so they can say, "Honey, that's been digitally enhanced. No one looks like that."
"We need to encourage irreverence in girls about a media that doesn't give an (expletive) about their health and wellness," she says.
That has been a central goal at the Girl Scout Research Institute in New York. In 2010, researchers released a study on body image among girls 8 to 17. The findings are contradictory. Sixty-five percent of the 1,000 girls surveyed think that the body image represented by the fashion industry is too skinny and unrealistic (63 percent) but nearly half wish they were as skinny as those models and even strive to be.
"The girls have a cognitive dissonance," explains Kimberlee Salmond, a senior research strategist at the Girl Scout Research Institute. "They know it's wrong for them and yet they continue to aspire to it."
Meanwhile, a small, anti-thigh-gap movement is developing online. Tumblrs like Touching Thighs and No Thigh Gap give Hemmen hope, she says. They also remind her how much teenagers love to push back against the status quo. "We need more people to post anti-thigh gap pages," she says. "And more celebrities, like Beyonce and Adele, representing diverse and realistic body images."
Sweedler thinks there needs to be a collective movement to adjust the current beauty ideal. "Some group needs to stand up and say, 'Yeah, we wear mom jeans and we're going to fill them,'" the 16-year-old says. "'And study on a Friday night.'"