A decade ago, I was a body double, a Hooters girl, a shot girl and a comedy club waitress. I worked jobs where I had to fit into Barbie-size orange shorts and gigs where I needed to be able to strip down on set and resemble whatever actress I was doubling. Basically, I got paid to look a certain way, and if I didn't, I heard about it.
My agents sat me down every time I gained three pounds. One well-meaning dude suggested I would enjoy a "coffee diet." If I drank coffee all day long, not only would it keep my appetite in check, I would also have so much extra energy for working out! A costume person on a film once yelled at me because the jeans she pulled were too tight the day of shooting. "Your measurements are a lie!" she screamed. "You're wearing these anyway. I don't care if you can't sit down or breathe! And you better stay away from the Craft Services table. If you so much as eat an almond, I'll kill you!"
Yet during my entire time in an industry known for its insane and often problematic body standards, I was never made to feel like I had to live up to the one crazy ideal that has been fetishized in recent years. You know the one I mean.
I speak, of course, of the thigh gap. Ugh, thigh gap. I hate typing that stupid phrase. I hate that I even know the expression.
I remember when I first heard the term. I was sitting outside a Los Angeles yoga studio waiting to go into class. A beautiful girl in Lululemon yoga pants told another beautiful girl in Lululemon yoga pants that her body looked "amazing." The first girl responded, "Thanks, but I still can't seem to get a thigh gap. No matter what I do my legs still touch. I'm so depressed about it."
I averted my gaze from the girl's perfect body and ended up catching eyes with another woman. The expression we wore was the same: wide eyes, eyebrows up. I call it the WTF face, but in this case it was a "WTF kind of fresh hell is a thigh gap?" face.
The thigh gap as an object of fascination isn't new — as model Robyn Lawley wrote in the Daily Beast, "The sad reality is that I've known about the 'thigh gap' since I was 12." But it wasn't long after that yoga class before I started seeing the terrible phrase everywhere. By early 2013, the term "thigh gap" had become almost as mainstream as "selfie." Dedicated Tumblr blogs popped up: pages and pages of artfully posed sets of skinny legs. Skinny legs on a highway, skinny legs in an alley, skinny legs with the sunrise peeking through the space between a pair of emaciated thighs. Girls began posting full-length selfies in front of mirrors with the hashtag #thighgap. An extremely fit friend of mine put a "Thigh Gap Workout" on her Facebook page with the caption "Can't wait for my legs to look like THIS!" I even saw a tweet that said, "Starving myself until I get a thigh gap LOL!" Oh, yeah, that is totally laugh-out-loud hilarious, girl. How funny that you're possibly doing harm to your body so you can look like a little boy from a Wes Anderson movie.
I blame social media for the alarming new "trend." Nowadays, you don't have to be a body double in Los Angeles to be constantly worried about how you look, and as images of super skinny women spread, the expectations for your average woman are becoming more and more extreme and unrealistic. And it's not just affecting women, it's affecting teenagers too. A 2011 study from the University of Haifi looked at girls ages 12 to 19 and found that the more time they spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to suffer negative body image and develop eating disorders. A study out of Australia echoed these results: Researchers interviews more than 1,000 high school girls and found that the more time they spend on Facebook, the more likely they are to be unhappy with their bodies. Furthermore, 50 percent of the girls said they were terrified of gaining weight.
Anyone who spends time online can understand how this could occur. In a world of selfies, it's easy to compare yourself not just to women in your college English class or your office building but to every other female on the Internet, making self-esteem issues more equal opportunity than ever before.A secretary working in Detroit can be made to feel badly about herself in half a second just by checking Instagram. A fitness instructor in Dallas can instantly hate her amazing strong toned figure just by clicking on a photo on Tumblr. Thank you, technology!
True, when you search for "thigh gap" or "thinspo" on Tumblr, you get a pop-up ad for their eating disorder counseling page, which is good. But, all you have to do is click "dismiss" to see the photos, many of them very disturbing. (One particularly terrible quote I found said, "Feet together, thighs apart, this is called the starving art." If I had a daughter, I'd rather her see a horror film than this damaging crap.) This is yet another reason the whole trend is so terrible. While the ban on pro-ana content on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest is a step in the right direction, negative body image content still slips through.
Having a thigh gap has become a status symbol. We want it because it's hard to get, but we see it everywhere so we think it must be attainable. We want it despite the fact that most of us aren't built that way. We want it even though we'll have to resort to unhealthy habits to get it. And we all need to stop it already! Stop looking at those blogs. Stop relentlessly comparing ourselves to filtered-to-hell strangers we'll never meet. Stop bashing our bodies. Stop obsessing over an inch of space between our legs. Why should we waste our time on an inch of negative space? Just the phrase "thigh gap" is nuts. What's next, toe divide? Elbow point? Kidney sparkle? Bikini bridge was a hoax, but people bought into it because it was exactly the type of unrealistic body standard that becomes the hot new thing. Why don't we just go back to foot-binding or neck-lengthening? "Get my dowry ready, Pappa, I'm gonna hook a hottie with my thigh gap!" Come on!
Look, we all have different body types. True, some healthy girls naturally have a space between their thighs. But most of us don't and never will without drastic measures. I'm calling it, ladies. Thigh gaps are bullshit. They're just another stupid reason for us to feel badly about ourselves. And it's up to us to stop the cult of the thigh gap. So the next time you see a #thighgap post, keep scrolling. Don't "like" it, don't "heart" it, don't reblog it, don't retweet it. Don't give it any attention whatsoever. It doesn't deserve any. Because if we're going to obsess over other women's body parts, why not make it something like brains? You want something to aspire to? How about a big beautiful brain? There's no shortage of smart witty women to look up to. Who cares what their thighs look like? Do you really think women like Tina Fey or Beyoncé care one single bit about a thigh gap? I bet they don't. I bet they're too busy being cool, talented and incredible. So, that's what I'm suggesting. Ignore the lame and revere the intelligent.
Screw "Thinspo." Bring on "Smartspo."
What's more important to you than wasting time worrying about your thighs? Tweet #StopThighGap and share this story to spread the word.
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Related: Stop Dressing for Your Body
Photo Courtesy of Kendra Alvey