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The “thigh gap:” A skinny rule reigning social media sites frequented by teenage girls

August 01, 2014

The thigh gap. Have you heard of it? No? Perhaps your teenage daughter has. This “rule” for skinny is permeating social media sites: tumblr, facebook, instagram, to name a few. Even though this seems like a relatively new trend, women have been using their thighs as a way to measure their body image for years. I know, because a particular Oprah show is forever engrained into my mind. A few years back, as I was watching this show, I recall a vivid image of Oprah, standing with her feet touching, looking at the space between her legs and proclaiming that “skinny” women strive to have at least two gaps showing (a gap between the ankles and a gap just below the knees), and if they are lucky, three – the gap between the thighs. I’m even embarrassed to say that I catch myself every now and then looking at my thighs to see if I have “the gap.”

What exactly is the thigh gap?

The thigh gap is a one to two inch gap between the thighs when the feet are touching together. However, this “gap” is almost impossible to attain, and the process of obtaining a thigh gap is risky, oftentimes sparking unhealthy fitness and eating behaviors. This trend has also raised concerns among eating disorder experts, as they recognize that in order to obtain a thigh gap, one would most likely take on some form of disordered eating.

Yet, despite how difficult it can be to achieve a thigh gap, it continues to gain popularity. Why? Because it is measureable. Seeing (or not seeing) a gap between the thighs is a goal that can be worked towards, and is something that many take pride in when accomplished.

A trend that is catching fire online

It’s not uncommon to see teenage girls, and women, post their meals or fitness routine on social media. Some even share their weight loss journey with their online social network by posting before and after pictures. Take it up another notch, and you will find that some share pictures of themselves with toned abs exposed, shapely biceps and now, the thigh gap.

Likewise, the thigh gap is often seen featured in “thinspiration” blogs. These blogs have become a place where women can go to find support and encouragement, as they rally together in their quest to achieve such an unrealistic goal. The unhealthy choices that one makes during this process are often justified, knowing that there are many other women making the same choices, or even worse. Many girls and women find a sense of belonging in these social spaces.

But the reality is, the thigh gap is not just a “space between the thighs.” It’s an addictive behavior, one that can lead to a false sense of body image and a skewed perception of what healthy really looks like.

What can parents do?

Many teenage girls have jumped on the thigh gap bandwagon because they just want to fit in. Not with the boys (boys probably don’t even know what a thigh gap is), but with their girlfriends. Girls are notorious for comparing themselves to one another, especially during the adolescent years. Knowing this, parents have a responsibility to communicate with their daughter about peer pressure and body image.

Having once roamed the halls of high school myself and knowing just how judgmental girls can be, I would tell my daughter that skinny does not equal strength. It does not always equal health, either. I would tell her that her worth is not what she looks like on the outside, but who she is on the inside. I would tell her that she is beautiful just the way she is. I would encourage her to set herself apart from others by making wise choices, and to not succumb to the pressures around her. I would tell her these things because this is what my parents told me.

Teenage girls are bombarded every day with images of what a “perfect” body looks like. However, perfection doesn’t exist (except in photoshopped magazines!). Have regular conversations with your teenage daughter about healthy eating and exercise habits. And most importantly, set a positive example for her, because believe it or not, she is listening to you and is watching the choices you make for yourself, too.