By Tanya Silverman
For women, a massive amount of media imagery and societal pressure seems to continually promote particular body types as beautiful. The same cloud of ominous appearance pressure can breed hyper-focused fixations on particular parts of the body. Whether women are battling muffin tops, bat wings, and thunder thighs, longing for washboard abs or a thigh gap, they are constantly made to feel like their physical selves are inadequate.
A thigh gap–if you didn’t know–is the empty space that can form between a woman’s legs when she stands straight with her knees touching. According to a Washington Post article, the thigh gap recently became a burgeoning trend that was popularized through social media, triggering extreme dieting and eating disorders among teens. Exercise fads then emerged around attaining a thigh gap.
Jessica Lovejoy, an advocate of body positivity who runs the online community, Body Positive Image Inspiration, agrees with the observation that micro body obsessions have grown more prevalent in recent years.
“Somewhere along the line, we developed this obsession with the ‘perfect’ beauty ideal, then from that, we started picking little things like the negative space between our thighs to gauge our health and beauty,” she writes to BTR.
While we need to remember that the leg feature is natural for some women, she says using “a thigh gap as the main reason and inspiration for weight loss isn’t the right way to go about it.”
Lovejoy also writes articles about how we perceive our, and others’, physical selves. Her recent piece “Body Positivity Has No Size Limit” addresses the fact that people should embrace different types of figures as beautiful. One aspect of which means not pivoting against thin women or bashing those with thigh gaps–that type of shaming misses the overall point.
The body positivity movement needs to be inclusive, Lovejoy reasons, and open to “all body types, all genders, sexes, ethnic backgrounds, social backgrounds, [and] religions.” She supports “blogs, public speaking, videos, social media, songs, [and] art” to promote such an all-encompassing platform, but argues that telling people how to lose weight or praising one type of physique against another as ineffective.
Though she’s very active in promoting her message, Lovejoy tells BTR that the greater body positivity movement only really began to gain momentum and media attention last year. When asked whether the inclusivity factor–and doing away with the thin versus fat mentality–is making any progress, she writes that it’s making some headway, but moving slowly.
Lovejoy addresses the fact that “fuller figured women have only recently become as celebrated as their more slender counterparts.” Plus “there is so much gymspo/Fitspo that uses more chubby bodies as inspiration to get fit, perpetuating the body hate cycle by shaming bigger people.” Such norms cause advocates to “lean more toward the fuller figured people, as they are somewhat underrepresented in the media and within society.”
Stop the Beauty Madness, a campaign geared toward urging women to reassess their value on beauty and body image, also touches on topics like body inclusivity and obsessions such as thigh gaps. To highlight the latter, they took a stock photo of a woman’s lower half, inserted a subtle arrow pointing between her thin legs, and wrote “My Worth”.
Robin Rice, the founder and Creative Director behind Stop the Beauty Madness, brought up the thigh gap issue with BTR when asked about men’s reactions to the campaign.
“Some of the fathers I’ve spoken to… never even heard of a thigh gap,” admits Rice. “They never knew it existed and were horrified to realize that their daughters’ lives were obsessed with it.”
The arrowed “Worth” image was one designated choice out of the 25 stock photos Stop the Beauty Madness used to address body issues relevant to women. Others that were addressed included old age, feeling uncomfortable in workout environments, young girls prioritizing prettiness over capability, darker (“not white enough”) skin color, and eating disorders.
“It’s important to understand that it’s culture-wide,” explains Rice. “It doesn’t matter what your age or your actual looks are. The size of the woman does not indicate the size of the suffering.”
One of the ads, “Choice”, features a toned, muscular woman with text that indicates she’s not a freak, man, or beast. Another shows a tall, thin female, reading: “I’m not anorexic. I’m not sick. I’m not a ‘lucky dog.’ I’m thin. It’s a body type.”
Rice explains that the campaign is not a matter of thin versus fat, which is a narrow view that often distorts the overall message. She explains that they are not against thin women–as it’s the way some people are naturally or by choice–but to the culture that dictates thin as the only form of beauty.
Nevertheless, that engrained conditioning can still be difficult to break through when we’re fed with the endless imagery from the beauty, fashion, and fitness advertisements that encourage us to look a certain way.
“We’re so used to all the ads and we look at them and we register that’s what the culture says is beautiful, and I’m not beautiful, in the split of a second,” Rice admits.
To effectively make a psychological difference on the individual level, Rice explains that women can’t necessarily control their first thought–be it “do I look fat in this” or “my nose is too big”–but they can try to change their second: deciding that the judgment is irrelevant. Continuing to practice that correcting process and not buying into the constant dictation of what magazines or society say is beautiful, is important and can ultimately make the transition.
All images courtesy of Stop the Beauty Madness.