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The Elusive ‘Thigh Gap’ May Be Encouraging Eating Disorders In Teens

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shutterstock_151320365__1381068633_142.196.156.251A day doesn’t go by that I don’t thank the stars above that social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager. It’s hard enough being a teenager without the added pressure of documenting how you look everyday via the dreaded “selfie” that kids today seem to love so much. With seemingly unattainable trends like the “thigh gap” the pressure to look a certain way is just getting worse and worse.

The “thigh gap” is pretty self-explanatory. The visual goal is to become so skinny that your thighs don’t touch when you are standing with your feet together. I can pretty confidently assert that I have never had a “thigh gap” in my life. I’m just not built that way. Even when I was a slender kid and teenager, my thighs always touched. What can I say – I have a thick legs and a big butt. Even when I was skinny I was built this way. I have absolutely no idea what it feels like to walk around without your thighs touching. If my daughter takes after me, she’ll have no idea what this feels like either.

Why am I even thinking about this? Because hard to attain physical attributes like the “thigh gap”- combined with social media and an emphasis on women being thinner and thinner – are all aspects that are encouraging eating disorders in young women:

‘The intrusion and presence of social media in our lives really does make it very difficult,’ said Nancy Albus, chief executive officer of Castlewood Treatment Center, a suburban St. Louis facility that focuses on eating disorders.

‘The important distinction about thigh gap is it gives you an actual visual to achieve, this visual comparison of how your body does or doesn’t stack up.’ 

…experts believe that ‘exposure to online images of extreme beauty standards and the drive to compare does increase the risk of developing eating disorders.’

Now that I have kids of my own, I’m already totally horrified thinking about how their teenage years will be – especially my daughter’s. Who knows what the world of social media will even be like when she is a teenager, 13 years from now? The only thing I can do is teach her to appreciate her body and let her know as she is growing up that people are shaped all kinds of ways – and no one way is the best. There’s nothing wrong with a “thigh gap” if you are genetically predisposed to having one. But trying to attain something like that is ridiculous and maybe even impossible:

Dr. Vonda Wright, a Pittsburgh-based orthopedic surgeon and fitness expert, said the spacing between a person’s legs is based mostly on genetics. And even extraordinarily thin people may not have a body type that can achieve a gap. You have to be both skinny and wide-hipped, she said.

Besides, Wright said, it isn’t a goal worth chasing. Most fit people won’t have a thigh gap because their thighs are muscular enough that they touch, she said.

‘Skinny does not mean fit or muscular,’ said Wright, who works with Division I athletes. ‘I cannot think of one athlete I deal with’ who has a thigh gap.

Stupid thigh gap. What’s the next trend going to be? Sunken cheeks? Really skinny fingers? Who knows.

(photo: Anton Oparin/ Shutterstock)

41 Comments

  1. J

    October 6, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I’ve had a thigh gap my whole life, but never really put a name to it until reading this. Even 9 months pregnant I had one. I’m just small with my mom’s hips. I’m in good shape, and have always been athletic. I never thought of it as a sign of attractiveness before. It’s tough being a teenager in the age of selfies.

    • AugustW

      October 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Yeah, sounds like it has more to do with hip width than anything, which is genetic I think.

  2. pixie

    October 6, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I’ve never had a thigh gap and could never achieve one. Even though my legs are fairly thin, my hips are too small (not quite boyish, but close). I remember a few years ago reading an “fml” that some girl’s thighs touched and all I thought was “wait, it’s a thing to want your thighs to not touch? Welp, I’ll never be able to attain that.” Then I went and ate a bunch of cookies, not because I was upset, but because I realize the limitations of my body, not eating them wouldn’t have achieved anything, and just really wanted to eat those cookies.

    • Amelia

      December 13, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      A thigh gap isnt an “achievement” its just something that happens to a girl with wide enough hips when she loses a lot of weight.

    • pixie

      December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm

      By “could never achieve one” I meant my hips are too small. I didn’t actually mean that I believe it to be an achievement to strive for. I know it’s not an achievement, but something that happens in females with wider hips who lose a bunch of weight. It is kind of sad that some females hold the thigh gap as something to be achieved, though, even when they have very small hips.

    • Amelia

      December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      Oh okay, sorry its just one of those internet fads that causes such a fuss and you forget that not every one values it like that.

    • pixie

      December 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      Don’t worry, I wasn’t offended or anything 🙂

  3. NicknamesAreDull

    October 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I am a small person, and I’ve never had a thigh gap. Right now, I’m 86lbs (I’m not underweight for my height). I’ve been smaller, and my thighs still touched. It’s all about bone structure.

    I’m glad my thighs touch, because they make an awesome cupholder.

    • AugustW

      October 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      This, with boobs too. Hands full with groceries and holding toddler hand? Boobsmare more than happy to carry your keys. Or your water bottle, in my case. 😉

  4. Annona

    October 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    When I was a teenager, I had “thigh gap”. It had very little to do with weight and a whole lot to do with bone structure. And you know what it was called then? CHICKEN LEGS, and I fucking hated it. I’d say I was just born too early, but honestly I wouldn’t be a teenager in this body-obsessed, social media distorted era of absurdity for a million dollars and Johnny Depp’s phone number.

    • Muggle

      October 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      I had a thigh gap for a bit, and got called chicken legs. This wasn’t very long ago, actually. I was about 15 or 16? And that was about 5 years ago. Thigh gaps were supposedly desirable then, but I got SO much shit for my weight in general that I just wanted mine to go away.

      Now? My thighs touch and I’m not much heavier– maybe about 5 pounds. I’ve always been thin, but just maturing made my thigh gap go away. A lot of models are not just thin, but very young as well. They’re also all about 6 feet tall, which is also way out of reach for most women.

    • Annona

      October 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm

      Yeah. Mine went away as my body matured as well. I don’t think it’s a trait you see in many adult women, really, as much as in young people. I’m 6’1″, also, and have pretty much been since 7th grade.

    • ted3553

      October 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      it seems very much like one of those ridiculous things we’re supposed to pay attention to and care about but it was started by men (or boys). what a ridiculous thing to be the standard of being “skinny” or “thin” or “perfect”.

  5. Rachel

    October 6, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I’ve always had a thigh gap–it never kept me from an eating disorder. That’s the other beautiful thing about the social media–if you are skinny according to one set of criteria…there are at least three other criteria you can call yourself fat by.

  6. goodie

    October 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I got into a debate with a guy on imgur about thigh gap and why saying “Dat thigh gap” is encouraging girls to have eating disorders. The picture was of a co-player and all the comments were about her body and not about her costume. I pointed out too that it was a double standard because if she was male, everyone would be commenting about how awesome the costume was.
    But sadly, everyone jumped on me and told me that I was wrong for holding this opinion…
    Except, I work with teenagers. I hear all the time that they are dieting to achieve a thigh gap, that they don’t understand how when they weigh 100 pounds that they don’t have one, that if they just ate less, maybe they could get one.
    It breaks my heart that girls are valued more for what they look like than what they can create, what they can aspire to, and what they do. And it’s not just by guys, but it’s also by girls. Even girls that active work against the idea of traditional beauty – the ones that dress differently, dye their hair, get piercings – tell me that they sometimes wished it was easier to look like everyone else.
    I do what I can by encouraging healthy eating habits, talking to both boys and girls about their ideas of beauty and the gender differences and by encouraging all children to developing into their own unique person that celebrates their differences and values their talents, beyond looks. I am doing my small part.

    • Cee

      October 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      You tried to talk sense in the gaming world?! Are you mad, woman?! It just does not happen. Try telling them you’d like strong female roles in games, see how that goes. The gaming world just doesn’t seem to want to evolve.

    • Tania

      October 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Depressing and true.

  7. Courtney Lynn

    October 6, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Damn. I didn’t even have a “thigh gap” when I was a size 2! I won’t say how long ago that was, either.

  8. Fleezie

    October 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    My six year old was supposed to be working on her math facts when she stopped and looked me square in the eyes and told me she wishes she could be skinny. I about shat, and then my heart broke. I told her that she’s perfect for HER. She’s not chubby at all and she’s used to hearing from so many people that they think she’s beautiful. I always tell her that it’s nice to be pretty, but it’s way more important to have a kind heart and clever brain. I’m not looking forward to the teenage years if her little mind is already thinking this way.

    • AugustW

      October 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      I really hope I can show my daughter how much more important being a good person and working hard in school are….genetically she comes from stubby German fire hydrant stock. Her doctor does say she’ll be taller than me though.

  9. Paul White

    October 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Huh. I kinda want a thigh gap since it seems like it might help reduce chafage. Can I get that without being thin?

    • Emmali Lucia

      October 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      I’ve always secretly wanted a thigh gap because I never buy new jeans and they end up wearing out in the thighs in less than three years. I want a pair of five-year jeans. I want them so bad.

    • DatNanny

      October 6, 2013 at 6:11 pm

      Just dust your thighs with baby powder and enjoy some ice cream with me.

  10. DatNanny

    October 6, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Ok… I had no idea a thigh gap was supposed to be when your feet were together. I thought it was when you were standing straight in a relaxed stance. I never understood the desire as a fitness goal, but it didn’t seem too out there.

    But with feet together… wtf? Is that even possible? Pretty sure that’s like hoping for brown eyes when your own are blue.

    And also I would never want a thigh gap because then I couldn’t secretly pretend to be a mermaid in the pool.

    • Alexandra

      January 6, 2014 at 9:43 am

      My mom has one, it’s (like article says) when you have skinny legs and wide hips. I have never had one, even at my skinniest cause my legs are too muscular. All about genetics.

  11. AP

    October 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I have a thigh gap, and back before skinny-cut pants were in (mid-2000s), I had store clerks advising me to buy billowy, wide-legged pants to hide it, so I wouldn’t look like a stick. When I was in school and on swim team, my butterfly was always suspect because my legs don’t fully touch when I do dolphin kick.

    I don’t get why this is even a thing, since it’s so subjective to your bone structure.

  12. becky

    October 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    ive always had a thigh gap im 20 n have always been thin not bcause i want to but because i acc find it hard to put weight on i love my legs not because of the thigh gap but because they are muscley i walk alot. people today are ‘crazy’ all you talk about is unimportant shit i really would love to give every1 a slap ‘thigh gap wtf who gives a shit not one person looks at u and think she dosnt have a thigh gap or she does…? people just need to stop caring what people think of them i have n when i look at all the people who havnt it just makes me sad get over yourself every1 is ugly and every1 is perfect because every1 looks different.. apart from idential twin lol btw dont start on my grammer its the internet i really dont have the time. 🙂

  13. Gangle

    October 6, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    I have thigh gap. It is less pronounced than when I was in my twenties. Part of it has to do with the fact that I am slim, long, and lanky. Part of it has to do with my hip structure. To be honest, I never even really thought about ‘thigh gap’ before as being either a good or bad thing. Why do we obsess over the most silly and inconsequential parts of our bodies? Its like bitching over our little toe not being perfect enough. Women are gorgeous. The end.

  14. Emily

    October 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Once upon a time, I had a thigh gap. And it was awesome! Except that I was 5’6″ and weighed 110 lbs and ran 4+ miles a day and consumed 600-900 calories. So yeah, I could keep it up until, you know, my organs might start to give out. I feel that the advantage of having experienced that and moving beyond it is that I can now offer my daughter a circumspect viewpoint of dieting and image culture. Sucky getting there, but I hope that I will be able to lend valuable insight later.

  15. Simone

    October 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I had one when I had a mindset that bordered on body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t now.

  16. 88Mwife

    October 7, 2013 at 8:44 am

    When I was younger, around 14, the ‘thigh gap’ of the time was your boyfriend being able to have his fingers touch when he put his hands around your waist. And since social media wasn’t a thing, this ‘trend’ came from tv shows and the popular girls at school. None of whom ever achieved it, now that I’m thinking about it. Thank God there was no instagram or facebook back then. All I had to feed my ed insecurities was Google images. Sadly, there will always be something. We just have to make sure that we build people (girls and boys!) up to show them that they are more important than their physical attributes.

    • 1850s thigh gap

      October 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      Before Mary and Laura came along, Pa Ingalls could span Ma Ingalls’s waist with his two hands…

  17. AnonyMouse

    October 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

    My thighs have always touched, regardless of age and weight. They touched when I weighed 75 pounds when I was younger (I had an eating disorder, it was rough) and they touch now that I’m a healthy weight. It’s an unobtainable goal for many, I was never able to achieve it, and I nearly wound up in the hospital.

  18. jenn

    October 7, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I have thigh gap. Wide hips and skinny frame. The last time some one noticed I got told I was anorexic. I have never been anorexic as I love food but single momma of two special needs kids who also works full time keeps me fairly active. combined with a high metabolism makes me a prime candidate for being called that. I hated the fact I was so skinny and could eat whatever I wanted as a teen. now I just joke I have to fill up the hollow legs before I will look ‘normal’.

  19. Rachel Sea

    October 8, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I hadn’t thought about it in years, but maybe 10 years ago, when my friend’s daughter was in elementary school, they had a “fitness day” and all the kids got measured, and their BMIs checked, and one of the lings they looked at were whether the girls’ thighs touched, and if they did, the girls were labeled overweight. The office drowned in parental (and family friend) rage for days, and apologized, and promised never to do it again, but the damage was done.

    My high school did something similar, which was how I decided that BMIs are bullshit. One of my friends was told she was obese, though she was 5’7″ and barely over 100 pounds.

    Expecting everyone to fit the same mold is just so much crap.

    • scooby23

      January 9, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      Yup. My friend has always told the story of how when he was in about 3rd grade, her parents got a letter that said she was “at risk of becoming obese”. Maybe I just have horrible memory, but I think when she was 8 she was so skinny you could see her ribs pretty well. Yeah.

  20. jade

    October 9, 2013 at 1:03 am

    It’s ridiculous what we blame eating disorders on now. Should we be alarmed about boys wanting six pack abs because it’ll lead to an eating disorder?

    Plus, all these experts who haven’t tried to get a thigh gap, or have failed at getting one – how do you figure it’s impossible? I wish they’d stop going around spouting the myth. I mean, all it takes to prove this theory is wrong is one person having a success story – and I am that one (as well as countless others) .

    i have very narrow hips, i’m petite and was able to get a gap by getting lean enough. Basically, the only thing stopping most women from a gap is stubborn lower body fat or overdeveloped leg muscles. I worked out all the time, but in the wrong way, – doing jillian michaels videos and hiit.

    I had developed all these muscles that was quite literally, filling in the gap.

    A few months ago I came across a book called “The Thigh Gap Hack” and bough it. Finally, I realized all the things i was doing wrong. Last month, I was finally able to see some light between my thighs. (I chose the protcol for losing the bulky muscles, there was another for losing the stubborn fat.) And I need to stress that i wasn’t starving or throwing up or binging or anything like that.

    Many women (not just teenage girls) AND men find the thigh gap to be quite attractive. Thin thighs are feminine, elegant and sexy and to be honestly, most women would kill to magically change their legs because the stubborn areas throw our proportions out of whack e.g. pear shaped girls.

    I should add, having a thigh gap doesn’t mean your legs are automatically bony, since there is no standard gap. It can be a slit or a huge gap, and it’s still considered a thigh gap.

  21. Arielle

    October 9, 2013 at 1:11 am

    It’s ridiculous what we blame eating disorders on now. Should we be alarmed about boys wanting six pack abs because it’ll lead to an eating disorder?

    Plus, all these experts who haven’t tried to get a thigh gap, or have failed at getting one – how do you figure it’s impossible? I wish they’d stop going around spouting the myth. I mean, all it takes to prove this theory is wrong is one person having a success story – and I am that one (as well as countless others) .

    i have very narrow hips, i’m petite and was able to get a gap by getting lean enough. Basically, the only thing stopping most women from a gap is stubborn lower body fat or overdeveloped leg muscles. I worked out all the time, but in the wrong way, – doing jillian michaels videos and hiit.

    I had developed all these muscles that was quite literally, filling in the gap.

    A few months ago I came across a book called “The Thigh Gap Hack” and bough it. Finally, I realized all the things i was doing wrong. Last month, I was finally able to see some light between my thighs. (I chose the protcol for losing the bulky muscles, there was another for losing the stubborn fat.) And I need to stress that i wasn’t starving or throwing up or binging or anything like that.

    Many women (not just teenage girls) AND men find the thigh gap to be quite attractive. Thin thighs are feminine, elegant and sexy and to be honestly, most women would kill to magically change their legs because the stubborn areas throw our proportions out of whack e.g. pear shaped girls.

    I should add, having a thigh gap doesn’t mean your legs are automatically bony, since there is no standard gap. It can be a slit or a huge gap, and it’s still considered a thigh gap.

  22. TriciaClaire

    October 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    In seventh grade, I went pretty much straight from a size 16 in girls to a size five in juniors. There was no size zero or even two along the way. Even when I was super skinny (5’6″ and105 pounds) I never had a thigh gap. Luckily, it was still the age where I got admired for how well puberty was going for me rather than picked on for my weight. Of course my family being what it is, there were lots of comments about a “childbearing physique.”

  23. Amelia

    December 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Thing is even as teens we all did that at some point . . well most did. A few months down the line theyll give up and move on to the next rebel thing to obsess over. Teenage girls are absolutely nuts with the hormones and everything yes its shocking what they do but in most cases very few actually have eating issues they just think and act like they do for a little while . . . Theres no thinspo log page where the girl keeps at it longer than a year max.

    However it pathetic how the media is encouraging it things like victoria secrets and people like karl lagerfeld should shut off completely. EVERY thinspo blog is plastered with victoria secrets models. The love you body campaign is bullshit, 6 super thin, very tall models on an ad photoshopped and airbrushed to high heavens. Girls see theres no “normal” (and by that i mean average healthy weight/unedited photos) looking girls there and think there must be something wrong with them because they dont look that way to the point they all want something that in most cases doesnt even exist for most girls. Someone told me at least 80% of photos on things like tumblr have thigh gaps and waist lines photoshopped.

  24. arrow2010

    February 26, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Funny. I’m a guy, have a thigh gap and I’m no runway model. LOL

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