Today I became aware of a horrifying social media trend taking instagram, tumblr, twitter, and other image blogs by storm. It is the #thighgap trend. Teen girls and young women take photos of their thigh gap and up load them to their platform of choice to celebrate the achievement of gaining a thigh gap by starving themselves, exercising to the extreme, and self loathing. I am appalled. It is bad enough that girls feel pressure from advertisers to engage in extreme behavior to achieve a culturally lauded homogeneous and exclusive “perfection,” but now they have the means to make their own depraving imagery. You can also read the disturbing wishes that these girls post alongside these photos as motivation:
“With those ankle boots I would also like:
A nice pair of legs with a thigh gap
A flat stomach
My collar bones to stop hiding away
To be able to fit my hand round my arm”
“Me: I want to lose weight
Friend: You aren’t fat?! If you’re fat then I must be obese
Me: You’re not fat though and I never said I was ‘fat
Friend: If you want to lose weight then you obviously think you’re fat
Me: You wouldn’t understand.”
“Today I ate an actual meal. It felt as though I just drank lead that immediately hardened at the bottom of my stomach. The aftermath felt as though I was twisting a dagger from behind my rib cage.”
“im currently fasting and im on day three i plan to go as long as possible which will probably be a week to twelve days then ill start adding some liquids like soup and broth so if any one else is fasting or dieting and needs support my kik is : stolenangelz”
and my favorite: “What you eat in private you wear in public.”
Artists have not always been considerate to the wants and realities of a being a woman when it comes to recreating them. In fact the topic of women in art is
Diego Velázquez The Toilet of Venus (“The Rokeby Venus”) 1647–51
so long I could not cover it in this small post, in fact I should probably make a blog just for discussing the appropriation of women’s bodies in art. But for now let’s just take the Rokeby Venus for example. Diego Velázquez decided that the model wasn’t curvy enough in reality so he “fixed” the problem by removing her rib. He altered her anatomy to achieve a compositional balance that would be impossible to replicate in reality. And of course he is not the only one, just go google “Venus of Urbino” or “Madonna paintings.” Back in the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods, artists were mostly men and so paintings of women were created to engage the male viewer. Later feminist views of the paintings deemed this perception the “male gaze” and rightfully accused it of being biased and objectifying woman as a man’s sex object. Artists were creating long and large bodies of impossibly voluptuous and languid women. Also impossible— especially when they removed ribs, lengthened legs, and other editing of the anatomy— and of course not healthily to aspire to.
And today women are still surrounded by ads that constantly tell them they are ideal enough. Ads are not altered by paint brush any longer, now they use photoshop to create eerily hyper real photographs of unreal subjects. These images of altered women are powerful— they are created to be so. They speak to the viewer in a direct and personal way. Only now it is to the opposite extreme , we are told we should be smaller. And women have responded with tumblers dedicated to thigh gaps and thinspo support that validate a sick obsession with obtaining a shape that is impossible, dangerous, and small.
I think that is what gets me the most riled up. Women live a dichotomous culture in which they are told they can be strong and smart but all of the imagery of women reinforces the idea that to gain acceptance they need to appear weak and frail. It is almost like they are pressured because somewhere along the way they got the idea that they shouldn’t take up any room in the world. Everything about the women appearing in these sites is small, weak, frail and delicate. And boney… These women struggle to control their appearance, and to feel loved by themselves and others. To have this control they harm themselves, and each other, and they are creating a cult of imagery that supports abusive dieting and exercising behavior; all in the hopes of having a gap between their legs or to see their chest bones. Some women are still ashamed to have a figures, they still are convinced that being natural is not enough and that they have to suffer work towards “perfection” and give up being strong in the process.
But if art can cause harm, perhaps it can heal too. Below is an image of my no thigh gap. Please share a picture of what you love about yourself. I know this strays off topic a little from what the blog is about, but I am so very upset by this and I needed to somehow work it into a post. We need to use art to make images that make people better, sometimes that does mean asking us to digest information that we don’t want to hear, and disturb and shock, or just confuse us, but these thinspo blogs and thigh gap pictures are not “art;” they seem to me to be tools of self hate and of abuse towards women. Art should in the end empower us to think more or do more. I am sharing this photo to remind girls that real women don’t just take up space, they force others to make room for them ’cause they are strong and proud and beautiful in more than one dimension, and they deserve that place.