The contemptible thigh gap


I recently read an article about the infamous thigh gap, and seeing as I’m in the market for a little weight loss and toning myself at the moment, it peaked my interest. So instead of doing what I’d normally do, which is to say, read the article, think it’s all a bit silly, and move on, I typed ‘thigh gap’ into pinterest to see what all the fuss was about. It was an education, I can say that much at least. For example, I hadn’t realised that the test for a thigh gap is ‘feet together, thighs apart’ (all the way down), or that the look desired is that of a toneless, little girl. The images mean I now understand why people are so uppity about the topic; ‘thigh gap’ may as well be dubbed ‘anorexic legs’, at least for anyone past puberty whose bone composition and fat distribution does not support this naturally.

The fashion industry has been widely blamed as the instigator of the deterioration of women’s self-esteem and I’m not inclined to disagree. Fashion houses still insist on sending women who have the same properties as clothes hangers down the catwalk, and then, just to add insult to injury, they place them in glossy magazine adverts, and hold their awkward, scrawny, pre-pubescent look up as some crazy form of beauty. I think in reality this is a great deal like the Emperor’s new clothes. Somebody, somewhere is having a large and very well paid laugh at the expense of the rest of us, as they collude to put increasingly disturbing face shapes, eyebrows, and sticking out bones in front of us. I can only imagine how smug they feel as women diet and exercise themselves into the ground, feelings of self-worth evaporating a little more with every new image placed before them.

Partly because of the fashion industry, being thin is wrapped up with notions of success and glamour; the idea that your life will be wonderful if you become thin (and indeed if you spend enough on potions to make yourself more beautiful) has been successfully propagated, however, as most people never reach the level of skinniness depicted, they never get to find out for themselves that it’s all a horrible lie. Instead, they find themselves embroiled in a cycle of self-loathing and dissatisfaction as a result of failing to achieve the thigh gap, or equivalent. Of course, the cruel irony is that a large number of the images women aspire to resemble are total fiction; creations of designers in Photoshop and unattainable even for the women in the images themselves.

However much we hate to admit it, it is still, today, in the year 2013, important to most women that they are able to attract a man, get married, and have children. Whether they want to be a high flying career women, save the world, or climb Everest in addition, is neither here nor there, although the expectation that women should want to do this (especially on those who don’t), only serves to add to the mountain of stress we are under. To further compound the problem, women have a much more limited timeframe than men if they do want to have children, and we end up measuring ourselves against every other woman out there to check we are on the right track, and console (or condemn) ourselves with the result. This creates an environment where it would be a wonder if women were not vulnerable to messages about body image and susceptible to unhealthy views on the way we should look, especially as these messages are being perpetuated at every turn, in the fashion industry, the media, by celebrities, in TV shows, films, and by other people we know; every outlet, right down to Disney stories pedals the fiction that women should be thin, and the thigh gap is just the latest, ridiculous manifestation of this.

In Legacy, I subconsciously created characters with a broad spectrum of body types, probably because this best reflects reality. Anita is a Body, and therefore has a toned, hard, sculpted physique, whereas Cleo, a Mind, doesn’t do any exercise at all, is naturally thin, has no real tone to speak of, and if you asked her to run a mile, she probably wouldn’t be able to do it. If you asked me who I would cast in each of these roles, someone who looks like Jessica Ennis would be Anita, however someone like Naya Rivera would play Cleo; different women with very different lifestyles and therefore very different bodies. What do I want to look like? Neither of these two, because I LOVE food and couldn’t stick the crazy training schedule. I’d rather look something like Jennifer Lawrence, who for me has the perfect, feminine figure, someone who, outrageously, is considered ‘fat’ in Hollywood. You’d have to pay me to look like most of the models out there - stripping off to nothing and displaying stick-like legs and jutting out collar bones is not sexy; it’s weird, narcissistic, and orchestrated by predominantly gay men.

The fact is that women come in all shapes and sizes, different men are attracted to different body shapes, and so should women be. The problem is that as soon as anyone says anything along these lines, it either sounds like an excuse, or like something your mother would say, which means it immediately loses all credibility to the gain of the glitzy, glamorous world of the stick insects; which would you rather your life to resemble, a Dove advert or a Channel one?! However, it’s distracting that such an unhealthy ideal is revered in our society; it leads to dreadful attitudes, deepened insecurities, and appalling behaviours. When a superb, thin, actress like Jennifer Lawrence is considered ‘fat’ because she is being compared to people who starve themselves, something’s got to be wrong. But if we want to make any headway here at all, there needs to be a mass paradigm shift in the attitudes of those who have the power to influence, to change the aspiration from stick thin to something healthier, and for god’s sake move away from idiotic measures like the contemptible thigh gap.