THE BLOG
09/09/2014 04:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Enough With the Thigh Gap! Attacking Body Image Is Not a Hobby

Staras via Getty Images

By Ellen Williams

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Yoo-Hoo! Society!

I've been thinking you should get a new hobby -- something that will divert your attention away from creating new and ridiculous ways to tear apart the female body, piece by piece, like your latest weapon of mass destruction: thigh gap. How about you take up something like soap making instead of undermining women's spirits? Think of all of the bubbly fun. You could set up a booth at a Renaissance festival, make some cash and enjoy a turkey leg and some ale. Pinterest might have a tutorial or a gazillion to get you started.

If you have not heard of "thigh gap," I'm so sorry to be introducing it to you, but basically it's lauding (or coveting) the tops of your thighs not touching. This is not just another flavor of fat shaming. It really is more than that. This moves beyond weight, which is a matter of health and is managed with diet and exercise, and moves on to the way girls' skeletons are built, something they can't change.

Depending on the roll of the genetic dice determining the width of your pelvis, your femurs are either wide set, making you (according to the Internet) a thigh-gapped flamingo or closer set making you one step away from being a mermaid with your rubbing thighs. Such whimsical imagery for what is basically another avenue for self-loathing and eating disorders.

It was Pinterest images popping up in my feed about "Thigh Gaps Are for Flamingos" that got me thinking about the topic in the first place.

It seemed like an innocent giggle, but was it? It rankled with me, prompting me to do a search for "thigh gap" on Pinterest.

My mouth dropped open when I saw the eating disorder warning at the top:

"Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening. For treatment referrals, information, and support, you can always contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org."

I was grateful Pinterest was responsible enough to post this, but I was deflated because as I suspected, this wasn't a laughing matter.

But I didn't have true chills of disgust until I expanded my search beyond the rainbows and mason jars of Pinterest and perused Tumblr, that wild west where all of the teens hang. There, girls with thigh gaps were called whores, blatant glorification of anorexia abounded, and fat shaming oozed.

I have two teenage daughters. One naturally has a thigh gap and one does not, but until a couple of months ago, this was something I would have never noticed. What's important is they're both healthy, trim and athletic. Why should either one of my girls feel badly about the set of their femurs?? Damn you, Society, for planting another seed of obsession.

Those seeds have a way of taking root and burrowing in. I remember yucking it up at a Dane Cook show until he started on a riff about how disgusting it is when the inner labia are longer than the outer ones. As someone who did time in an OB/GYN residency, I knew he just shamed about half the women in the audience. Why did he even have to suggest that my vagina was less than acceptable? And why do I still think about it to this day? It's like once you hear it, you can't shake it out of your head. All I know is, at that moment, I wished a thousand fire ants would crawl up his pant leg... and that he would never have the privilege of seeing another vagina ever again.

These missiles against women are lobbed up so cavalierly, but they aren't new. Twenty-first century boredom and Tumblr accounts aren't solely responsible. Corsets anyone? Foot binding?

The problem is as old as time, but what are modern moms to do? You can't send an army of ants to attack offenders and you can't shield your kids from life, but you can give them another point of view, another inner dialogue. You can combat the negative messages because they really do listen to you.

With my daughters, I monitor how I speak about my own body, promote exercise as a way to maintain health and good moods, embrace desserts in moderation, emphasize healthy foods as delicious fuel, and present my girls with reasons to love and respect the strength of their bodies through organized and leisure sports.

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I also teach them about fads and how not everything on the internet is worthy of their time or attention. We talk about this A LOT because the web is constantly serving up new points for discussion. (Damn you, Internet!)

This week I'm branching out, though. I'm going to take a vacation from combating the negative and teach them how to pick a worthwhile hobby. Soap making here we come! There's a festival in our future.

This article first appeared on Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms. You can follow them on Facebook.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.