Thursday, April 24, 2014

This Thigh Gap Thing is Bonkers

Yes. Bonkers.

Nothing has (yet) more perfectly illustrated the arbitrariness of what becomes cherished, sexualized, and desired as The Thigh Gap.

Breasts have a long and complex history of connoting femininity, fertility, blah blah blah. Wide hips meant you could bear children. There are elements of normative femaleness and femininity that I recognize as socially-naturalized aspects, but at least I understand them.

I simply do not understand the desire for a thigh gap. It doesn’t seem to be exclusively about thinness because, theoretically, a very slim person may still have thighs that touch. It’s not simply about weight, or leg shape, or even thigh thickness. 

It’s about your thighs…not touching when your legs are together.

When you really unpack what it is, when you really get to the bottom line of the desire, it’s ridiculous.

And Im pretty pissed off about the fact that when I start typing thigh into Google, “thigh gap” comes up before thigh tattoos, thigh high socks, or even just THIGH. 

This new pursuit is not only leading women and girls to diet and exercise specifically in the name of attaining one, but it’s leading advertisers (and people using PhotoShop with their eyes closed) to retouch photos to create the look of a thigh gap.

I recognize that sometimes I get so caught up in my bubble of open minded, critical people and feminist discourse that I truly do forget what’s going on. I’m also 27, and (hopefully) past the prime age for self-loathing’s critical mass. 

It takes things like the emergence of the thigh gap phenomenon to remind me about the state of body image at large.

I had to read a lot of articles and watch some videos about this phenomenon to really believe there were girls and women that cared about this.

While I recognize that boys and men can – and often do – also have negative body image and self-esteem, I’ll be referring to women and girls in this essay because I’ve found no evidence that the desire for a thigh gap isn’t a female gendered issue.
Target PhotoShopped in a thigh gap...and failed.

I admit, I can’t imagine what being 15-years-old with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram would have been like. I remember what it was like to be 15 and to hate my body, but the utter saturation of ways to communicate messages and ideas in the year 2014 is overwhelming. 

That statement isn’t coming from a place of media-blaming or wariness. I am very multimedia-positive. I love the media. Hell, in my city I am part of the mainstream, mass media.

And if you know me or have read some of my philosophy on body image and appearance, you may think I’m coming from a place of positive-body-image privilege. But unlike other kinds of privilege, I’m not sure that anyone is really born into an actively self-conscious positive body image.

Self-loathing is learned, and can be unlearned.

This is a real book.
So while I’m something of a positive body image activist now, trust me, I wasn’t just born into this mindset. My natural psychic state in my childhood and teen years wasn’t one of self-love. I had disordered eating at 15. I dieted and exercised myself down the 95 lbs (and I wasn’t just a light, not very developed teen at this point – I was well past puberty).

I remember looking in the mirror and thinking I would never be happy because of my acne. I remember, in grade seven, deliberately trying to stand on one side only of boys I liked because I was convinced I had a good side and a bad side of my face. I sucked in my cheeks and pursed my lips for every photo taken throughout junior high.

Even after $5,000 in orthodontic work, I wouldn’t smile with my teeth. Because even after my teeth were straightened, I still saw them in my head as ugly. I still rarely smile for photos with an open mouth.

I plucked my eyebrows into oblivion because I thought they were too thick, even though they were naturally quite thin and light. Now I pencil my brows in order to have the eyebrow shape and thickness I want.

The image searching for this blog was painful.
I do take issue with articles that criticize the thigh gap ideal as unhealthy or unachievable because I don’t like to condemn or shame any body of any proportion. Through nature or through effort, many women out there have thigh gaps. And that’s totally fine! I really don’t care about the circumference of anyone’s thighs, or their hip to waist ratio, or whether or not their thighs touch when they stand up straight.

My right thigh is an entire inch thicker around than my left thigh due to an overdeveloped quadriceps muscle from my years of soccer. It’s really not a big deal.

My point: just as “The Media” and Internet messaging and images can teach people to hate their bodies, the same media can show women and girls how to love their bodies. “The Media” doesn’t have to be a negative and destructive force bringing forth airbrushed images and “thinspiration.” 

The media can also heal.

I’ve been living with a female body for 27 years now and it’s taken a long time to really get comfortable inside it. And I am.

In fact, I’m about 30 lbs heavier than I was at 15 when I first decided I had to be thinner. So my positive body image and self-love hasn’t changed because my body has “improved”– my attitude has improved.

There are a lot of harmful images on the Internet. Make some positive ones. Here’s mine:

These are my thighs...TOUCHING!!!

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