It's the latest weight loss
craze among American teens striving to emulate the models they see in
magazines: the "thigh gap", in which slender legs, when standing with
feet together, do not touch.
Experts say the cost of
what teens see as an ideal body shape – but really is for most unattainable –
is self-esteem problems that can lead to eating disorders, depression and even
On Tumblr, Pinterest and
Facebook, "thigh gap" photos abound: close-ups of sometimes
unbearably skinny legs, published by young girls eager to show off their success – or bemoan what they see as a failure to whittle away fat.
"My thigh gap is
huge," brags a Tumblr user with the handle foster-the-beatles.
Another user, skinnysizezero,
cheers her fellow dieters on, saying: "Together we can lose weight.
Together we can be skinny."
"Together we can be a
size zero with a beautiful thigh gap and flat stomach. Together we can be happy
and finally say that we love our bodies," her post pledges.
Another poster, elleskyyy,
said she felt better when she "realised I'm getting a thigh gap".
Meanwhile, a user called
"starving for perfection" complained about her
"mediocre/non-existent thigh gap" and flagellated herself for her
Social media websites
Experts say the obsession
with leg shape is not new, but has been dramatically amplified by social media
websites and their 24/7 influence on the lives of American teens.
The fan Twitter account
Cara's Thigh Gap, is dedicated to the extreme slenderness of British model Cara
Delevingne, while dozens of Facebook pages and websites propose diets and
exercise regimes to achieve the almighty gap.
But clinical psychologist
Barbara Greenberg warned that for most women, the "thigh gap" is a
pipe dream, even via extreme dieting and exercise.
"Most women are not
built that way to have that space between their thighs," she said.
"It is a matter of
bone structure," she explained, which "the majority of women do not
For teenagers, adopting
what Greenberg called an "unrealistic obsession" can be dangerous –
increasing pressures that can lead to depression, even suicidal behaviour, as
well as to severe eating disorders, which can cause lasting brain and bone
Indeed, starvation diets –
and self-loathing – are a common theme on the "thigh gap" pages of
"Yesterday i had 380
calories but then I ate sweets so much that my calorie number switch to ca.
650.... faaaaaaaaaaaaaat," writes Anastasia, a young German girl, on
Tumblr, who prays: "Please God let me be skinny."
The World Health
Organization recommends a daily intake of around 2 500 calories to support the
energy needs of a growing teenage girl.
Shannon Snapp, a
sociologist at the University of Arizona, blames magazines, movies and
television for spreading the "thin ideal", and urges consumers to
stop buying into it.
"That message is
internalized by young women and girls: if you want to be successful, if you
want to be liked, this is the way you should look," Snapp said –
"thin everywhere except for their breasts."
"Teenage girls are
probably the most likely to be feeling the pressure to look that particular
way, because they are going through puberty: for the first time, they are
compared to adult women," she added.
Likewise, San Jose State
University sociologist Natalie Boero said the skinny-obsessed "are looking
for social acceptance and to fit in."
"Young women are aware
that in a sexist and sizeist culture, their bodies are their currency, and they
are looking to increase their perceived social value," she added.
How teens see themselves
That's not how the
teenagers themselves always see it, however.
"mannddda", declares on Tumblr: "I hate when people tell me I'm
dumb for wanting a thigh gap and to be skinny. It's not for anyone else but ME.
I wanna look in the mirror and be happy for MYSELF & NO ONE ELSE."
But sociologists say there
is an unmistakable trend linking body size with social status.
Abigail Saguy, a body image
expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, told AFP: "Attaining
thinness is a way of signalling elite social status."
But, worse than that,
"fatness not only connotates low social status, but it may predict low
"Studies show that
heavier girls and women are less likely to get hired and when they are hired,
they are paid less," Saguy said, adding that larger women are also less
likely to marry.
However, a counter-movement
against the "thigh gap" is building, with girls also taking to social
media to mock the obsession.
One YouTube video, "5
Ways to Fake a Thigh Gap", posted by "tadelesmith", suggests,
for example, that girls who want a gap between their thighs should move their
And on Twitter, Common
White Girl declares herself relieved that her thighs touch, saying: "Not
having a thigh gap saved my phone from falling in the toilet."