The thigh-gap obsession is not new but it’s the most extreme body fixation yet

From The Guardian UK:

Young women worrying about thigh fat is not a passing fad. So what advice can we offer?

Read Rosie Swash on the thigh-gap obsession here

The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013

I read a piece in the Observer about young women’s latest obsession: having a gap between their thighs. Surely this must be the harbinger of the apocalypse.

Rita, by email

Come come, Rita. To intimate the apocalypse you’re going to have to do better than citing an obsession with one’s legs. As all Bill Murray fans know, the only true harbingers of an apocalypse are “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!” So until you show me any feline and canine cohabitation, I’m going to maintain you’re still OK to make holiday bookings for next year without any risk of losing your deposit due to brimstone flooding.

However, as my colleague Rosie Swash detailed in her article, the thigh gap obsession is not good. In fact, this column is officially dubbing it A Bad Thing. To type “thigh gap” into Instagram is to gaze down a dark hole of scary sadness. The sense of horror Edvard Munch captured in The Scream is the terror he felt upon seeing Instagram names such thigh_gap_please and Twitter accounts such as @CarasThighGap. No, it is not a widespread trend and, no, not every single female between the ages of 14 and 29 is obsessed with ensuring that their thighs don’t touch any more than every single female thinks it is totally normal to wear 5in Louboutin heels every day (or ever). What it is, though, is an example of yet another form of body hatred that has been successfully marketed to vulnerable girls and women, and anyone who says that these trends are propelled by articles (such as – wahey! – this one) about said trends has clearly not spent much time talking with teenage girls recently or looking at their social media.

Just when you think there hasn’t been an inch of the female body that has failed to be deemed in some way wanting, along comes another body obsession, whether it’s the Daily Mail wailing about women’s cankles or Instagram accounts obsessing over Alexa Chung’s thigh gap. From one perspective, one could see this as proof of the inexhaustible ingenuity of the human species. From another, one might want to crawl under a rock.

Two popular misconceptions, though, should be cleared up from the start. This column has always given a big thumbs-up to Madame Caryn Franklin, but her contention in Swash’s piece that young women aspiring to unachievable physical ideals is a new development won’t quite do. “I had spent my teen years listening to Germaine Greer and Susie Orbach talking about female intellect,” she says, and cheers all round. But to suggest that there is a dichotomy between having body neuroses and being intellectually stimulated isn’t fair and misunderstands the problem here. When I was a teenager in the 90s, I happily read Charlotte Brontë and Chaim Potok novels, but simultaneously became so obsessed with having a flat stomach when I was 14 that I pretty much stopped eating for a decade. Turns out that intellectual pursuits are no guarantee of good mental health. To reduce body obsession to empty-headed narcissism feels like yet another way to criticise women and girls. Moreover, to claim that it’s only in the past few years that women have been encouraged to suppress signs of sexual maturity in favour of looking like little girls is very selective imagining.

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