DENTON, Texas (WOMENSENEWS)–Last month the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority forced Urban Outfitters to remove a photo of a model with a thigh gap from its website, calling the image "irresponsible and harmful."
As the director of an outpatient eating disorders program I couldn’t agree more. My patients usually cite their thighs as a source of their body-image struggles, even when they are dangerously underweight. Listening to their extreme hatred for their thighs can be painful.
For anyone lucky enough not to know what the thigh gap is, here you go. It is a hollow cavity that can appear at the top of the legs when standing with feet together. Few women achieve a thigh gap without the assistance of genetics, extreme dieting, or even surgery. In most cases, a thigh gap means a body is underweight. Several of my patients have told me that their weight was dangerously low when they had a thigh gap.
Although the thigh gap has long been sought by the modeling industry, it has gained momentum in the past few years. Pro-anorexia social media activity promotes the thigh gap and the concept has spread to a wider population of young women and girls who believe the bigger the gap, the more beautiful the girl.
The thigh gap debacle may have started in December 2012 with a Victoria’s Secret fashion show featuring models with thigh gaps. Camille Hugh‘s 2013 book, "The Thigh Gap Hack: The Shortcut to Slimmer, Feminine Thighs Every Woman Wants," correlated beauty with a thigh gap and proposed a restrictive diet that led Dr. Oz, the popular TV show host, to express concern that the thigh gap rush was a gateway to eating disorders. Most women do not have the skeletal frame to allow them to have a thigh gap, unless they lose fat and muscle, which is not healthy.
In 2014, Target apologized for publishing models’ pictures with Photoshopped thighs and they took down images of teen swimsuit models with thigh gaps that were visible to the point of being absurd. Later that year, Old Navy came under fire for an apparent thigh gap on a plus-size mannequin, although they denied any intentionality. Even Beyonce, who promotes positive body image, had to show additional pictures of her naturally thin legs after she was accused of using photo-editing software to add a thigh gap to an Instagram photo.
Fortunately, some people are resisting thigh gap promoters. Robyn Lawley, the fashion model, was criticized for not having a thigh gap when she modeled a corset. She pushed back in The Daily Beast, saying those words were "just another tool of manipulation that other people are trying to use to keep me from loving my body."
What happens when we believe that beauty is based on just one physical quality? Physical attractiveness is an important initial quality that represents beauty, but beauty is also a combination of shared values and intellect.
In January, Hannah Bronfman, the Seagram’s heiress and a fitness blogger, declared 2015 as the "year of wellness," and she represents a growing number of women who focus on physical health. Women should be concerned with wellness, and the thigh gap should be added to a list of things– like cankles and muffin tops–that keep us from loving our bodies.
Maybe the Victoria’s Secret models should go back to pouting.
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