Joanna Rowse on the way the Stop Thigh Gap campaign was dangerous and destructive to women.
If you were to walk into any WHSmith today and browse the women’s magazines, you might be fooled into thinking expectations of women and their bodies were changing. No longer are these magazines communicating that working towards being as beautiful as the models featured within their pages is the sole living purpose of their readership. The Times’ Style magazine last year launched their ‘Girls Get Ahead’ campaign, aimed at helping women achieve in the workplace, and now regularly publish articles on female role models who are smart, confident and creative (although, according to the stock photos used for the articles, all white, slim and blonde). Many companies which advertise in women’s magazines are now adopting a language increasingly geared towards self-confidence and inner strength (see Sure’s ‘Women are Strong’ ad campaign or any Dove commercial). Also, Cosmo this year began a social media campaign encouraging women to share ‘What’s more important to you than wasting time worrying about your thighs? Tweet #StopThighGap’. Which was really nice of Cosmo, having spent 50 odd years promoting thin thighs via the endless use of predominantly very slim models and ‘self-improvement’ articles such as ‘Lean Thighs… Without Lunges’ (May 2011 US edition).
By now, you probably know what a thigh gap is. It is literally nothing – it is the absence of flesh inbetween a girl’s thighs as she stands with her feet together – but it could not have caused more of a moral panic in the UK last year; it was reported (in Vice, the Guardian, and other publications) that teenage girls had become captivated by this new benchmark for attractiveness, and had dedicated Instagram accounts and tumblr sites to the phenomenon for inspiration. Obviously, it is dangerous to aspire to lose a lot of weight, from a physical and mental health perspective. Young women these days do not need another crushing beauty standard to aspire to. Yet the reporting of the ‘thigh gap’, and indeed, Cosmo’s #StopThighGap campaign was often not geared towards promoting healthy body image, whatever your size, but shaming slender women.
Some of the language used in the articles had me staring down at the tiny gap inbetween my thighs and wondering: did I really look like ‘someone cut it out on Photoshop’ (aww, thanks Vice!) or like a ‘little boy from a Wes Anderson movie?’ (too kind, Cosmo!) Did I really look so unsturdy, unhealthy, unwomanly? Scrolling through comments underneath articles and reading opinions on social media did not make me feel any better. People brazenly declared that ‘real’ women had curves (is there a diet to hit puberty again?). While thigh-gappers apologised for their body shape, reassuring readers how much they hated their thigh gap, ate rubbish all the time and never exercised, lest they be perceived as self-obsessed or vain.
The message seemed to be that standards of beauty are crushing women, but we can still crush them more. We will have women literally apologising for their bodies, because it is their duty and responsibility to maintain their figure to the shape that we see fit (at any given time).
The #StopThighGap and its accompanying articles and outrages were not a part of the movement towards instilling confidence and acceptance in every body shape, be it curvy, skinny, round, tall, short, whatever. In Cosmo’s mind, promoting body confidence in women without thigh gaps meant shaming women with thigh gaps. And with this an understanding and acknowledgement of a harmonious multiplicity of different body shapes continues to cease to exist. Pitting women who are superficially different against one another does nothing to encourage self-confidence and acceptance in the individual. No one should have to apologise for their body; so when the next craze comes around (be it #StopTheRibCage or #GetTheRibCageLook) take a moment to completely ignore it and continue with your life.