Thu, Nov 07, 2013 - Page 9 News List

How the ‘thigh gap’ became the latest pressure point on a woman’s self-image

Once, only models were determined to make sure that their thighs did not touch. Now it has become a widespread, harmful — and often unachievable — obsession

By Rosie Swash  /  The Observer, LONDON

Caryn Franklin, the former presenter of British fashion TV program the Clothes Show who cofounded the diversity campaign All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, is quite appalled.

“We now have a culture that convinces women to see themselves as an exterior only, and evaluating and measuring the component parts of their bodies is one of the symptoms,” she said.

“Young women do not have enough female role models showing them action or intellect. In their place are scantily clad celebrities. Sadly, young women are wrongly looking to fashion for some kind of guidance on what it is to be female,” she said.

Franklin, who was fashion editor of style magazine i-D in the 1980s, says it has not always been this way.

“I had spent my teen years listening to Germaine Greer and Susie Orbach talking about female intellect,” she said.

“When I came out of college, I knew I had a contribution to make that wasn’t based on my appearance. I then landed in a fashion culture that was busy celebrating diversity. There was no media saying ‘get the look’ and pointing to celebrities as style leaders because there wasn’t a homogenized fashion look, and there weren’t digital platforms that meant that I was exposed to more images of unachievable beauty,” she said.

Asked whether the fixation on skinny thighs is a way of forcing women’s bodies to look pre-pubescent, Franklin said: “This culture has encouraged women to infantilize themselves. When you are so fixated on approval for what you look like, you are a little girl: You haven’t grown up.”

For many, the emergence of the thigh gap trend is baffling.

“About four hours ago, as far as I was concerned a ‘thigh gap’ was something anyone could have if they stood up and placed their feet wider than hip distance apart,” Vice magazine journalist Bertie Brandes wrote when she discovered the phenomenon.

“A thigh gap is actually the hollow cavity which appears between the tops of your legs when you stand with your feet together. It also means that your body is underweight,” she wrote.

Other bloggers have responded with a sense of the absurd; feminist blog Smells Like Girl Riot recently posted a diagram of a skeleton to show why the ischium and the pubis cannot be altered through diet alone.

Shimada, now 26, is about to launch her own fanzine, A-Genda, which aims to use a diverse range of models to show young women “something healthy to aspire to.”

“When I was a really young model, there were girls who used to talk about the pencil test, which is when you measure the depth of your waist against the length of a pencil, and back dimples, when the lack of fat would create concave areas of skin,” she said. “But I don’t even think this kind of thing is limited to the fashion industry anymore. It’s all a big mess, but we all have to play a role in making it better.”

“When did everyone become so narcissistic? What happened to intellect?” she added. “My sense of myself was not informed by a very shallow patriarchal media that prioritized the objectification of women — it was informed by feminism.”

Lawley signed off her call to arms with a similar acknowledgement of the potential power of women’s bodies.

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