Thigh Gap: Worth Starving For?

14445664-young-woman-measuring-her-thigh-with-a-meter-tapeIs a “thigh gap” worth starving for?

Thigh gap: When a woman’s legs are so thin that her thighs don’t touch. Right now it’s all the rage on social media with Twitterers and Tumblers sharing photos anxiously captioned, “Three inches to go.”

It’s all fueling a mass obsession and deemed a universal “ideal” instead of a crazy trend.

Not so long ago the “perfect woman,” embodied in Miss Universe, was one whose thighs touched. Look at how the thigh gap (figure 6) was seen then, compared with 1950’s “perfection” (figure 7).

-1

Text: (6) Legs irregular, with spaces at calves, knees, thighs. (7) The form divine, needs only a beautiful face.

Years before, “plump” was the ideal, embodied in these erotic dancers:

In some parts of West Africa today women are force-fed in hopes of achieving the longed-for obese look.

It’s all craziness when women and girls are pressured to fit an ideal that is unnatural to their bodies, and we all need to know this.

Young teens are just developing their bodies and their identities and look to each other to figure out who they should be and how they stack up. Right now the thigh-gap is the measuring rod.

On some girls it is perfectly natural, on others it is not. Depends on things like bone structure and genetic tendencies toward weight gain and fat distribution. Actually, young women should be gaining weight in their adolescent years. It’s healthy.

Lucie Hemmen, a Santa Cruz psychologist, says parents should teach their daughters about things like Photoshop and help girls to understand that the media doesn’t care a whit about their health and well-being.

She says we need girls who will rebel against nutty media images. Sometimes a little teen rebellion is a good thing.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on November 27, 2013, in body image, feminism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. I find this whole thigh gap issue ridiculous! When I was in middle school, having a gap in between your legs meant you weren’t a virgin and therefore was pretty undesirable. Recently I read that this renewed obsession is actually a crossover from the pornography industry. Can anyone answer why this is popular now? I have trouble understanding how fringe ideas of beauty all of a sudden become mainstream…

    • Funny how things change.

      Advertisers sell products by making people feel bad about themselves– Making them feel like they should be able to look like something that is impossible to look like, for example. When few people can do this, and yet it’s an ideal, you can sell a lot of product to people trying to look that way. In this case, diets and gym memberships.

      In women’s magazines advertisers often want certain types of body types portrayed. Something that will help sell their product. I don’t have any evidence of that in this case but I do have evidence in other cases, so it could be happening.

  2. Yikes! I hadn’t heard of thigh gap. Is our world really so superficial that we depend on something that silly to determine beauty? That’s insane.

  3. Hehe !! I’ve never heard of it until today and then two posts come along together ;) xox
    http://storiesfromthebelly.com/2013/11/25/i-think-i-found-my-thigh-gap/

  4. Ironically (I don’t know if that’s the right word) thigh gap isn’t only about being very thin. It also has to do with the body structure, few persons can have a thigh gap even when they are thin, so most of these girls are starving themselves “chasing” something they will most likely never achieve and when they see that they haven’t achieved it, their reaction is to starve more.

  5. I like how you didn’t villainize the thigh gap. A lot of blogs about squashing the ideal go on and on to say how gross, unnatural, and unsexy thigh gaps are, while demonizing them as a prime indicator of an eating disorder. I have a thigh gap. I didn’t ask for one. I didn’t starve myself for one. I didn’t even notice I had one up until the thigh gap became a “thing”. (My husband has never noticed, either.) When I was in school, no one cared about that kind of thing so it was never pointed out to me. I just have wide hips in proportion to my otherwise slender frame. Now that i know I have one, I can’t help but get defensive when people criticize it as a body feature rather that criticize it as an ideal. I certainly don’t think it’s an ideal. I just know it’s a natural part of some women’s bodies and that is (or should be) ok.

    I also read that models or thinspo fans can either fake a thigh gap or make it look wider by standing with their toes together but ankles apart. It creates the illusion of a wider thigh gap and thinner legs. They just make sure the photo is taken without showing their feet. So many of the thigh gaps we see in advertising or thinspo imagery aren’t even as extreme as they might look. It’s all about teaching girls about the fantasy realm that is advertising and not letting those images dictate our self-worth.

  6. The thigh gap will never be a thing for me. I joke that, even if I were to simply stop eating, there would be no change in my pant size. I have these hips and they just are where they are. I have the same body type as my mom where our legs are better described as muscular instead of slender. I knew this at a young age, so a thigh gap was never a part of my ideal shape.

    I see my boyfriend’s nieces, who aren’t yet in high school, talk about the thigh gap. I think it must be a thing for younger girls, which is even more scary. They’re going to grow and their bodies will change. They can’t look like 12-year-olds forever.

    As a young 20-something, I’ve heard nothing about the thigh gap being desirable for my age group. Or maybe I just have caught on to the fad.

  7. This may come as a surprise to you, but I can remember feeling inadequate because a girlfriend had a thigh gap and I didn’t…over 40 years ago.

  8. As a teenage girl, I have had my share of unhappiness with the way my body looked. Although I weighed 104 throughout high school, I was always pressured to try and look even better. Being a cheerleader, this meant extra effort on my part to look nice and toned. I never really considered myself “fat” because I knew I wasn’t overweight, but I did always strive to look better, and be just a little bit smaller. I realize now that the old me, as well as many other teen girls are never going to be satisfied with their bodies. Even those of us who maintain a healthy weight will never be 100% happy, or small enough.
    I remember trying to exercise more, swap out some unhealthy foods for healthy ones, and always looking and judging my physical appearance in the mirror. As ridiculous as this sounds, I even was concerned with the thigh gap. Although my thighs did have a gap (I think due to my body’s structure rather than being too thin), I was always worried they would eventually touch and I would then be “fat”. My skin was not flabby, therefore there was no underlying health concern regarding my weight, or really any reason to worry in general, other than the fact that I wanted to always be smaller and always look better. I think this is common among many other young women, whether it be the thigh gap issue, our bellies not being perfectly flat, us women in general not being at our desired weight, along with other things concerning our physical appearance.

  9. I agree with the psychologist Lucie Hemmen, parents should teach their children that media does not care about anyone’s health and well being. All they care about is having the “perfect model” and creating an image to show off to the world and convince them that what they are showing is the definition of beauty. To starve yourself for the perfect body including a gap in between the thighs is obviously not right. Health is far most important. What’s the point of starving yourself to have a “sexy body” if half the time you will end up at the hospital. You wouldn’t even be able to enjoy your looks which is why it’s important to eat right and just exercise instead. Amazing how a woman can be easily judged by her physical appearance. I’ve actually came across guys that like woman who have “the upper gap” in between there legs. As a result, I’ve seen woman posing in pictures trying to make it seem as they have a gap.

  10. It is completely ridiculous how society pressures women in every way about their looks. If you look at the advertisements from the 1950′s, women were being pressured into gaining weight. The ads say things like “Men wouldn’t look at me when I was skinny” and then goes on to sell a product that makes you curvier. Today, the opposite is true. There are thousands of weight loss products, all aiming to turn women into skin and bones which is the ideal look of today. In both cases, they are telling girls that they are not good enough and need to change to fit society’s standards. It is about time the media and society starts telling people that being HEALTHY should be what you strive towards, whether that means you are skinny or curvy.

  11. Ashley Steffenson

    I completely agree with the above stated views over the idea that people really ought to take it upon themselves to teach young girls that what the media is trying to brainwash to young girls living into today’s society over that standard of what it means to truly define beauty. Self-harm in any form should not be encouraged amongst young adolescence. Promoting such ideas of starving to morph a person’s body to mold into something that it doesn’t naturally take on its own is a format of self-harm. Starving one’s self is a forum of self-harm. It’s unhealthy and dangerous to the human body to extendedly not provide it with the nutrients it needs in order to survive and thrive. It’s not a natural instinct to not feed one’s self consistently once a person reaches the point of feeling hunger. It’s not only harmful moreover it’s even further saddening to see it amongst young adolescent girls and learning the sole purpose and motive of striving towards this set out standard of “ideal” body was something that society and media alike promotes resiliently within the younger generation of girls. It’s about time that this “ideal” be exposed in all sincerity for what it is, which is utterly nonsensical.

  12. My opinion’s probably biased since I’ve never had issues with my weight, but thigh gaps are definitely not something you should starve for. I have a thigh gap, but personally I think it’s inconvenient because things slip out from between my thighs all the time. This turned out kinda funny, but I’m speaking from personal experience, so bear with me. I have to use my knees if I want to hold something between my legs, it works okay for paper, but I can’t really hold my phone or my portable game consoles because it always falls out and my thigh gap is too darn wide to hold stuff properly which is lame. Whenever I eat chips, there’s a 70% of it going through my thigh gap so consider yourself blessed if you have a second chance to pick up food off your lap. If you sit down with your legs together, your thighs touch anyways so I guess it doesn’t really matter half the time. The only practical advantage I’ve noticed with having a thigh gap is that your thighs don’t rub when you wear stockings/tights so that area doesn’t wear down from friction.

    I’m underweight, but I’m not starving myself or doing anything crazy to maintain my weight. I’ve never dieted much less have an eating disorder. I’ve just accepted that I’m like this for now and when I’m older and my metabolism slows down, I’m probably going to be normal weight like everyone else whether I like it or not. So for now, I’ll eat junk food or whatever I want like everyone else. I just don’t binge or overeat and that’s enough for my body to stay thin, I guess.

    People should just live their life however the way they want as long as it’s healthy for both their mental and physical well being. Inner beauty is way more important in the long run than what you look like now because people will age and you can only look beautiful for so long. I don’t want to be defined as a number, and weight is just that.

  13. I think there is a secret society of advertisers somewhere that hold regular meetings on “what part of the body can we make people feel bad about this year?” Imagine how bad for business it would be if we all felt happy in our own skins!

  14. As stated above in one of the comments, when I was in high school, a gap between the thighs would mean that you’re not a virgin. And it definitely wasn’t something that a person would starve for. It’s so silly that one would starve for that thigh gap. How long would it take? It may not even be possible for some body types. We should put energy towards being healthy and getting all the necessary nutrients every day instead of trying to get that unhealthy image. How about… Drink water. Lots of water. Vitamin D. Calcium. Exercise. We already form many bad habits as we get older…. like too much coffee, sugar, and maybe even alcohol. Being healthy is important and that’s already hard to do nowadays with the responsibilities and maybe even battles that come along. Everyone will age, and everyone’s body will not be as efficient as when they were younger. Why add starving to the list? there’s no fun in that at all. Eating good food is satisfying. Starving is dumb, unhealthy, and not worth it.

  15. One of my surfer friends called this “vision”–when you can see through the thighs of a woman’s legs. Not sure what the appeal is, but he claimed to never date a woman unless she had vision. Of course, this was before “Baby Got Back” came out. Love the new perspective Sir Mix A-lot gave the monochromatic Cosmo crew.

  16. I think it really depends on where you come from and how you were raised by your culture because in some parts of the world, being fat is a good thing and it means beauty, while in the United States, skinny girls are the most attractive. It’s just very difficult being a girl because you don’t know who to look up to. Most ads nowadays are full of lies and no one should fall for them. Adults should tell their daughters that the most important thing is to be yourself. I find it so ridiculous that girls starve or diet themselves, just to get the thigh gap. It’s really sad seeing girls that are already perfect, tell themselves that they’re too fat because their thighs are touching each other. We all have different identities and no one is perfect. Some girls are skinny because they have high metabolisms, other girls may look wider because of genetics, etc. What’s important is to just be healthy and be yourself.

  17. Hildegarde Dolson, in her autobiography “We Shook the Family Tree”, tells about being a teenager in the 1920s and being utterly *horrified* at her natural own thigh gap — so much so that she went to the beach wearing a fringed sash over her swimsuit, with tails dangling to her knees — and deeply envying her cousin’s plump legs. (It may not have helped that her mother’s explanation of the gap was, “It just means you’re a little bowlegged, dear.”)

    • Thanks for that.

      It can be helpful to see that beauty ideals that we think are universal are not. And hopefully we can come to appreciate variety as the spice of life.

  18. All bodies are different, it is absolutely not okay to compare each other. This is a new term for me and I also just learned that I have a “thigh gap”. I have always been skinny and now that I think about, I have always hated that big gap…
    Nobody can ever be happy with their body-we always wish to have a different body. We should not all want to be the same.
    Thanks for this post!

  19. I don’t know if you wrote about this in any of your blogs or not, but it’s related to body image for women. You talk about media and society putting pressure on women’s looks and body as well as women internalizing this pressure from images they see from the media of the “ideal” body and feeling self conscious about it. But you know what I’ve noticed recently from seeing women in ads wearing bikinis and commercials, movies, etc showing pretty women, is there is a common trend. This has been going on for a long time, and slightly better, but with all the diversity of people in the U.S. I’ve noticed most ads even now are of pretty WHITE women. I don’t know if it’s all racism or what marketers genuinely feel as far as white women’s beauty compaed to others.

    Judging from ads and media, it seems like white women are the ideal of beauty or the most beautiful of all other races of women. What I’ve noticed most is how for some of the other races of women, it seems like asian women are shown and maybe spanish. It seems lowest on the totem pole is black women. If going by ads, etc, it seems like society or media rates black women as lowest on the totem pole as far as beauty compared to white women as well as other races. Spanish women are seen as or advertised as seductive or more often as beautiful compared to black women. I find white women more attractive generally, because of my own personal preference, not because I feel white women are more beautful objectively, but just a preference. But I can and have found some black women pretty, usually biracial girls. I did date a biracial girl and she was and still is very pretty. But like I said, the ads make women in general feel bad, but I wonder how this only adds even more to black women about their beauty and if it makes them even more self conscious?

    • I’m glad you are aware enough to have noticed this. I haven’t really discussed it too much but it comes up in a blog post that one of my students wrote, Though it wasn’t her main point:

      When Did This Become Hotter?
      http://broadblogs.com/2013/01/09/when-did-this-become-hotter/

      The only other thing that comes close is:

      Black Isn’t Beautiful Claims Evolutionary Psychologist
      http://broadblogs.com/2011/06/06/black-isn%e2%80%99t-beautiful-claims-evolutionary-psychologist/

      The effect is both bad and good (oddly). As you suspect, many women of color feel left out of cultural notions of what’s beautiful so that can hurt their self-esteem. But women of color who are more identified with their own culture than with white society can be protected. They don’t see any models that they can relate to in white society, and if they choose to reject the ideals of white society and latch onto the ideals of their own (my men like more meat on the bones) or focus on style and health (their culture’s values), they can be protected from things like eating disorders and comparing themselves to impossible images.

      I’ll have to write about this more. Thanks for the idea.

  20. You’re welcomes. Even though black women are aware of how men do like their bodies and like the curves and such, it makes me wonder how this doesn’t hurt black women seeing this. What I mean is while black women might reject the white beauty standard and look at the attraction they create for men. It just seems like society-wise and media wise, black women are the least desired or it’s projected that way. What I mean is remember that clip I showed you of Terrel Owens and him eating that burger and the women in bikinis next to him? He’s a black man and black women could have been used in the commercial in bikinis, but white women were. This might sound good, like it’s ok to show interracial relations. But I don’t think the commercial had the white women because of that. There was another commercial I saw with two nfl players, (black men) walking down a football field and this male moisturizing product. And then at the end, two white female cheerleaders fall in their arms and the guys are smiling as well as the white female cheerleaders. So yes, black men desire black women.

    But it seems from society and media, that white women are the most desired as far as from men of various races as like I exemplified from the commercial. You see all around you black men dating or marrying white women, but it’s much much more rare for white men and black women. And on tv, ads or commercials, you see hispanice men desiring white women, asian men desiring white women, and various races desiring white women. Blacm women seem at the bottom for this too. Where you’ll see hot spanish women being approached or lusted for in movies and tv by white men and other races, but black women pretty rarely or much less so than white women and even less so that other women of other races too. That seems it could be damaging to black women to feel they are less desirable among men in general and various races. Whereas, like I said it seems like white women are desired more so by men or various races.

    • Yes, it both hurts them and protects them. As I said, if they reject white culture they are protected from things like eating disorders and poor body image. And it clearly hurts women of color buy into white culture. They have higher than average rates of eating disorders.

      I’m not sure what the research is on how women of color are affected when they reject white culture.

      I do know that black women have the highest self-esteem of all women in American culture–-except when it comes to the intellectual. That may be partly due to a male shortage (because black men are much more likely to be incarcerated than black women), necessitating being very strong and independent. But also, growing up in a racist society, their mothers are very good at teaching them to get their self-esteem from within and not from without. Knowing who you are and not caring so much what others think–especially people outside your culture who have no basis for understanding you and judging you.

  21. And one other thing related to body image. Not about black women but men. I know it’s been discussed before as you wrote a blog. But I’m talking about something different here. Before the convo was about women’s arousal towards men and the media, etc, but I’m talking about men’s perceptions of their own bodies. You say it hurts women more and I agree society puts much more focus on women’s bodies and women feel their value is all body and looks based so its easier for it to effect a woman’s self esteem more so. However, as far as how men feel about their bodies vs women feel about their own bodies, I think it’s similar or maybe men think less of their bodies than women do. The difference is that guy’s, perhaps because they have other things to focus on for their worth and I think, it’s not something for a man to dwell on per se as far as his body flaws go and to “man up”, it’s not something that seems to be acknowledged like it is for women. I think because it’s a “fact of life” thing men accept, they don’t think too much into it.

    What I mean by this is look at questions maybe yahoo answers or listen to a man talk, not about his own body but what his response of his body and other men’s bodies compared to other women is. I think a lot of guy’s even one;s in good shape, even more confident one’s feel, probably because of the strong hetero bias men have towards women’s bodies and their own views of theirs and the male body in general has to do with this. Countless times I’ve seen men say something about how women’s bodies are definitely more attractive than men’s. Straight women are saying that too. And I’ve seen questions on yahoo answers asking why women aren’t lesbians, since women have such nice bodies, compared to the neanderthal bodies guys have. It’s not something though a lot of guy’s cry about, but a matter of fact thing like “yeah, our bodies are symian, oh well” or “yeah, our bodies don’t compare to the beauty of women’s oh well”. I remember a funny scene in meet the parents with ben stiller and his wife tell him to not worry as he ex had an extra swim suit for him to wear in the pool. Ben’s thinking it’s swimming trunks, but instead it’s some tiny speedo and him just staring at it, keep chewing gum, figuring out what he’s going to do and knowing he’s going to look so stupid in it ha.

    • Yes, it’s true. Blame the way patriarchy works in our culture. Historically men have controlled images, like in advertising, and so they sexualize the bodies that they are interested in– Most being hetero. So women’s bodies are sexualized and men’s are ignored. Men have beautiful bodies but the world we live in is not concocted to notice.

  22. Media hurts things for men. But I think many straight guys genuinely feel that our bodies aren’t attractive like women’s, not because it’s not shown on tv, but perhaps a hetero bias, but just acknowledging in the mirrior the hairyness, dangly, blocky body parts, compared to the smoothe, soft, wonderful curves and features of the female body. I guess that why such sayings as from Seinfeld came about such as “a woman’s body is a work of art, a man’s body is utilitarian” And something like men’s bodies are the rough draft, whereas, women’s bodies are the finished master piece.

    • Okay, but the male body is not inherently less attractive. For some reason this idea is getting out there. And media communicates this–both in the Seinfeld joke, and in the lack of pictures depicting the male body as beautiful. That’s actually a powerful message. Imagine if media treated the male body the way it does the female body.

      That said, there is only one type of female body that is depicted as beautiful too, so most women feel as left out as men-at-large do.

      But again, it’s not that other types of female bodies are inherently less attractive. In other times and places different types of female figures were thought beautiful, as you can see from examples in the post– Like the plump ideal around the turn of the last century.

  23. It’s so strange for girls to be so specific about what they want their ideal body to look like. I never understood why girls wanted thigh gaps. My philosophy on my image is that as long as I exercise and eat generally healthy, I am in good shape. Why should us girls feel the need to please society by fitting the mold of an ideal body?

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