Trigger Warning: This post discusses specific body image issues and the discourse of thinspiration in a way that may be triggering to those in recovery. Please do not read if you think you may be triggered. I won’t take offense. Actually, I will hi-five you for respecting your needs and wish you a good day.
Okay. So let’s sit down together for a moment.
Before I go off (and I don’t usually go off like this, so please bear with me if I sound a little rant-y), let me add in a little disclaimer. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, I think talking about issues of body image, eating disorders, and self-esteem is a good thing. There’s already so much stigma around people struggling with these issues that the best thing we can do to ensure equitable treatment and cultural understanding is to open up a dialogue about it.
Look at me. I’m a body image blogger. If I didn’t feel strongly about open and honest dialogues, what the heck am I doing with my time?
That said, this is a public service announcement to all body-image-slash-feminist-slash-lifestyle-slash-whatever websites and news services out there:
PLEASE stop talking about thigh gaps.
For those of you who don’t know, don’t worry about it: I started an internship with the fabulous body-image website Adios Barbie in February, and before that point the only gap I was paying any attention to sold me overpriced sweaters. But now that I’ve started swimming more exuberantly in the positivity side of the Internet pool, it seems like I can’t visit a single site without reading about teenage girls starving themselves so that the tops of their thighs don’t rub together.
The point is, though, writing up exposés about girls and their specific body-image hang-ups being perpetuated by the media is perpetuating these body-image hang-ups. And it’s making it worse.
Do you want proof?
It’s pretty self-explanatory, really. Before I knew that there was something “wrong” with the way my thighs looked, I didn’t funnel all that much energy there. Sure, I’m not quite at the point where I can say, “I love my body despite all its socially-constructed flaws! Hooray!” but for comparative purposes, let’s say it was just another item on the list of things I was dealing with at the time.
And then the media told me that I was supposed to be worried if my thighs touched, and suddenly that became a thing.
Even though articles and videos are clear in saying that this is not a healthy ideal to strive for, it’s not realistic for most body shapes and sizes, and that working this hard for the “thigh gap” may or may not be a sign of disordered eating or body dysmorphia, all these articles served to do was to point out a flaw that I didn’t even know I had. Now, oriented in positive change as I’m trying to be, I still can’t help glancing down when I’m putting on my pants in the morning and wondering whether it’s weird that my thighs rub against each other when I stand.
As if I needed another part of my rapidly changing body to be self-conscious about.
Well-meaning media reporting about the “thigh gap phenomenon” (or TGP, as I’m going to refer to it because I dislike the phrase in general), serves essentially the same purpose as the “thinspiration” communities proliferating like sexually enthusiastic rabbits all over Pinterest and Tumblr: it presents a socially-constructed “ideal” of the slim, pretty, attractive woman, and then invites women all over the nation to freak out and stress when their bodies do not measure up to this construction.
It’s the equivalent of writing a piece against thinspo while peppering the article with the very images that you’re trying to stop the spread of.
It’s like trying to put out a forest fire with a blowtorch. It just doesn’t work.
If the entire online community is worried about the TGP, shouldn’t I be worried about it too?
Let me repeat that just one more time, for clarification:
The media has taken the TGP and blown it up into the problem itself, when in reality it’s just a manifestation of a much larger problem: the need to conform to socially constructed and unrealistic standards of beauty. The TGP is just another variation on painful beauty practices dating at least all the way back to Elizabethan England, where women painted their faces white with lead to appear more “fair.” (Clearly, lead poisoning was not a known issue at the time…) Society has always told us that we are less than ideal, and we always have a shifting standard that we’re expected to conform to.
Let’s talk about this instead. Let’s talk about social expectations and beauty norms and what industries are benefiting from making people feel insecure about their appearance, because God knows they’re benefiting from it.
But let’s not make the problem worse by inadvertently participating in the same tradition. Stop counterproductive reporting, and stop spreading the hysteria to consumers who are as susceptible to the message whether it comes from a pro-ana site or the Huffington Post.
Because let’s face it, at the end of the day those suffering from or susceptible to eating disorders are not going to remember the url at the top of the page. They will remember the image and the message. And that is not a message that we, as media producers, should be spreading.