Have You Heard About the Thigh Gap?

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If not, go ahead and Google it, but prepare to be horrified. The "thigh gap" is a dangerous thinspiration trend that has taken off swiftly and fanatically via social media sites like Tumblr. Girls reblog waist-down photos of naturally skinny celebs, rake-thin models, and real girls just like them, emphasizing the slight space that exists between their upper legs. It has become a badge of honor for those who have it—or are able achieve it. And for those who don’t, the thigh gap is a perilous and precarious end-goal, fueling dieting habits that often develop into full-blown eating disorders.

In a story exploring the phenomenon in this month’s issue of Seventeen magazine, a 17-year-old girl—once a star athlete—says: “I wanted a thigh gap, no matter what I had to put my body through to get it.” Another talks about tracking her progress with a measuring tape. Of course, this sort of bad body talk and obsessive weight-monitoring behavior is nothing new. In fact, as a preteen in the early ’90s, I remember hearing a girl at school talk about the “pencil test”—if you could hold a pencil between your upper thighs they’re “too fat.” But the scary part is that these once fairly private fixations now have hash tags, providing girls with an instantly clickable sense of community—and competition.

So what can you do?

1. Understand the trend. This Huffington Post piece from last February is an excellent exploration of the larger thinspiration and pro-anorexia movements that have been developing online, while this article analyzes the thigh gap’s social media presence. Read. Digest. Think about why girls are latching on to increasingly unrealistic (not to mention terribly specific) body ideals.

2. Talk it out. Bring up the topic completely casually, but come armed with the details you need to make an impact. The space between your thighs relies on genetics, ethnicity, and your bone structure; these are things we can never change. So mention how Beyoncé would have to diet herself to death to get a thigh gap—and reinforce the fact that you’re happy she owns her natural body shape.

3. Be a good listener. Remember, these girls might have fallen so far into a demented digital world that they believe fixating on their bodies is the rule, not the exception! So though it’s important to educate girls about these unrealistic ideals, you need to acknowledge the conflicting messages they get from the media and the pressure they’re feeling. Empathy builds trust—and eventually trust can help you help them build better self-esteem.

We’d love to know: Have you noticed the teens in your life talking about the thigh gap? And if so, how did you address the issue? Share your thoughts below.