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The Thigh Gap Struggle: Seeking Perfection in the Impossible

by Shavon L. McKinstry

This post contains content that may be triggering to people with eating disorders. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, self-harm, or other mental health issues, please call or chat online with the National Eating Disorder Association (calls US only) at 1–800–931–2237, or Befrienders Worldwide to find an international hotline.

The first time I ever heard about the thigh gap was when I was 15. I was checking one of my favorite blogs, Postsecret, when I came across a submission that I never quite forgot: A black and white photo of a thin girl in her underwear with words typed over her legs. “I’m terrified that my thighs will touch together one day.”

I was conscious of my body and weight already, but this was something  I had never considered. The thigh gap. A new standard of thinness and beauty for me and others to obsess over. The fear of legs touching. The desire for negative space.

That was 2009. Today, in 2013, the thigh gap is becoming more popular than ever. Entire blogs are dedicated to worshipping the anatomies of girls with impossibly thin legs. Tumblr has a Fuck Yeah Thigh Gap, a “The Wonder That is the Thigh Gap,” and innumerable pro-anorexia posts and blogs tagged with “thigh gap.” Even on wikiHow, a site that lets anyone create detailed instructions on how to do and make nearly anything, someone has written a guide on how to achieve the elusive thigh gap with a dangerously restrictive diet and excessive exercise.

Here’s the problem, among many others: the thigh gap, as a unit of perfection, beauty, and fitness, does not exist–at least, not the way all these blogs act like it does.

Simply put, your weight does not determine whether your thighs touch or not. The natural width of your pelvis is the deciding factor, according to pediatric orthopedist Laura Tosi. This is no different than the shade of your skin, the size of your feet, your dimples, your birthmarks–they’re all features determined by your genetics that you can’t naturally change. You can’t have a thigh gap if your pelvis isn’t wide enough.

A recent post from a Tumblr used this gif to expose how easy it is to fake this  “look.” The girl in the picture, who is thin, does not have a natural thigh gap. She braces her legs and pushes her pelvis back to create the look of one. A thigh gap can be faked just as much as a fuller bust with a padded bra, or a bigger butt with a pair of padded jeans or underwear.

This new craze hurts girls. It’s another gateway to unhealthy body-image, and so specific that it even allows girls who are already starving to be thin to find more things to be dissatisfied about themselves with. It adds to the culture of judging women’s bodies to fit impossible standards of beauty, to jump through more psychological hoops.

Four years ago, I didn’t know what a thigh gap was. I wasn’t blithely unconcerned about my body image, I was (and sometimes still am) always aware of the size of my stomach, my cellulite, my double chin. These are all simply different concerns in the same vein as thighs that don’t touch: society tells us that if we have or don’t have these things, we aren’t being women the way they want us to be women. We’re doing it wrong.

Here’s the PSA of the day: there’s no wrong way to be a woman. There’s no wrong way to look. There’s no wrong way to be you. What the nameless, faceless mass that is society wants you to look like should have no bearing on your day-to-day life. A counter-campaign has been taken up against the thigh gap fad. Tumblr blogs like Fuck Yeah Touching Thighs post pictures of women of all body types without a thigh gap. The backlash against the thigh gap isn’t meant as a punishment for people who already have them, but rather a means to normalize “other” bodies, not just the rare ones that are deemed “okay” or “beautiful” by society at large. People, whether they be strangers, enemies, friends, relatives, should not be able to make you feel bad about your body. These blogs are helping to move to a more positive view of body image to stop the shaming of bodies that don’t fit these specific images. They take away the power of the thigh gap and those who use it as a standard of beauty, something we should all be working towards.

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14 Responses to “The Thigh Gap Struggle: Seeking Perfection in the Impossible”

  1. Me says:

    For goodness sake. Poor girls, bombarded with such rubbish. Years ago, when I was just over 7 stone after an illness (I’m 5’7″) I was very very skinny but I still didn’t have a ‘thigh gap’, because I have relatively narrow hips. As this article says, it’s just how your bones hang together.

    As a mother, and an older woman, may I also say that all of you girls are lovely, every single one of you, in every one of your *different* ways. If you wouldn’t want to turn up to a party in the same dress as someone else, why crave someone else’s body?

    PS These blogs are great – keep up the good work!

  2. Ashley Steimer-King says:

    Thank you for this post Shavon. I have a thigh gap, but not because I’m especially thin – I had to have surgery on my right thigh to remove a large cancerous tumour from the adductor muscle. I have a big dent in my leg and a very large scar. My new attitude is that I love my thighs (no matter their size) as long as they are cancer-free! Healthy thighs are beautiful thighs!!

  3. Jwillmd says:

    Thanks for the post! It triggered some painful memories for me. It took me YEARS (and a medical degree) to finally understand that this f#*%ing thigh gap was unattainable for me (and most women)! But I wanted to point out that this is, by no means, a new craze. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and vividly remember all the teen magazines and even pamphlets in doctor’s offices showing drawings of women’s thighs that don’t touch at all to a small triangular gap to no gap whatsoever (with the thighs not touching at all being the illustration indicating “normal”) as a means of determining whether or not a girl was at the proper weight! Even at 110# and 5’4″, I never had any gap, so, needless to say, I was constantly dieting and felt so ashamed that I was ” very overweight” (according to the illustration), no matter how thin I got!
    Thank you again for pointing this out. I want to do all I can to ensure that my daughters and future generations of women don’t fall prey to such ridiculous ideas!

  4. Kristi says:

    I look forward to the day when we never have to talk about body shapes, sizes, images, or standards again. Probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but no matter what, anytime the subject of body image comes up it is painful to me, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

  5. chantal says:

    When I was twenty I remember using the thigh gap as a measurement of how skinny I was. If my thighs touched ever so slightly, panic would set in. At the time I was suffering from a great deal of self-loathing…to the point where I would workout 2 + hours a night and I’m pretty sure (my mind fails me now!) I restricted my diet as well. I know I substituted smoking for eating.

    I want to share to anyone who is reading this (and you all know it deep in your heart anyway) that using this or any other control mechanism (dump your scale now!) as a measurement of your self-worth (or self-hate as it turns out) that in twenty years time, you’ll look back and say to yourself…why did I care so much about that crap?! By all means, stay healthy, eat well, exercise and have fun. But don’t gauge your happiness on an extra inch of flesh – you are more than that.


  6. Dont want to say just-N says:

    I’m naturally skinny and I hate being skinny I wish to be thick which to me is way better than being skinny I am sometimes called anorexic when I’m not.I get rude comments from my friends for being too skinny which is something I can’t help I try getting fat and I can’t I have been so affected by their comments that I have asked my doctor for pills to get fatter and she denied them to me saying that it isn’t good for u. I eat more than some obese ppl do yet I don’t gain weight and I have the gap that all u want and all I wish is to not have it cuz it just reminds me of the fact that I’m too skinny according to society. So it’s awesome if u do or don’t have the gap.Just as long as u don’t obsesse about it

    • MaryKate says:

      Don’t say that! As long as you have a normal diet, you’re fine. Your friends are just too heavily effected by the media today and are jealous of your figure. My grandmother used to always say “you can never be too skinny or too rich.” Although this isn’t a perfect phrase, just be proud of who you are and flaunt your small waist and your thigh gap!

  7. Michelle says:

    I personally want to tone in my inner thighs and still be curvy. I’m not fat at all but my legs ard thick and my thighs rub alot. Its painful when wearing dresses , skirts and shorts.

  8. SarahH says:

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting a thigh gap. Stop hating!

  9. MaryKate says:

    I don’t get it. Girls are always like “my thighs are too big” or “ugh, I don’t have a thigh gap.” Thighs are supposed to be big, and most of the time, girls thighs are mostly muscle.

  10. […] didn’t know what the ‘thigh gap’ was until very recently (you’re supposed to have space between your thighs?!). But I can honestly […]

  11. Charlotte says:

    I have a thigh gap. And I can see my ribs and knock on my hip bones. I eat a lot. I just finished a breakfast where I ate 5 huge slices of French toast covered in maple syrup, plus three glasses of orange juice. I don’t try to be skinny. I wish I was heavier, I really do. People make jokes about anorexia around me and I hate it. We should all respect our own bodies. I promise you, somewhere out there is a person who wishes they had yours.

  12. Jessica says:

    I wouldn’t have said it any better myself but I do know a number of girls who do have thigh gaps standing normal, most of them are my friends and it hurts seeing it in person, perhaps more so then over the Internet, buy i do admire this(:

  13. ruby says:

    when i was 13 and in middle school I first heard about the thigh gap. I would stop eating at school and at home. I would always loath when it was lunch. I would walk as slow as I could get whatever they were serving and end up giving it to one of my friends. They would just shrug it off and eat my food. I only ate as much food i could to actually keep me alive. I was so miserable. I had extra dark bags under my eyes from sleep deprivation because my stomach would hurt extruciatingly from hunger. I would throw up what ever little food i ate. You could see my ribs i weighed about 90-100lbs by the time i made it to 8th grade and i was 5’9 so that wasnt good for me i was very very chunky at first i was 189 at 13 and i wanted to make a change. so that was when it got out of control as you have read above. By the time i started fresh men year i finally asked for help from my mom. She was shocked when i spilled the beans. and when i showed her my stomach i saw tears weled up in her chocolate brown eyes. She was my own personal counselor up to junior year when i finally realized that you could really hurt yourself i mean physically and mentally when i graduated senior year i was a healthy weight of 134 lbs. i believe that a healthy women should stay between 110-149. i still to this day have my doubs but i push through it the healthy way. good excersize each day, (with the exception of ONE cheat day), Eat healthier. and just stay positive. CAN I GET AN AMEN! (just kidding). If you dont like how you look now ask yourself one thing, are you really over weight or are you just self consious of what others think of you. I’m telling you DO NOT waste your life worrying about how you cant wear that short sleeve top or i cant wear those skinny jeans. just think about the things you can do. Spend time with your family go take a drive or even go to the mall with your friends etc. Anything that’ll take your mind off the thighs. or any part of your body that you like, it gets better :)

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