Friday, 10 March 2017

Me and My Thigh Gap

This article was originally posted as a video on my YouTube channel.

In January 2016, I attended a friend’s birthday party; we were supposed to bring different teas and crafts to share (I brought a Christmas cake-flavour tea and a pattern to make cards). One of my friends had found a pattern to make a stuffed cat out of old socks, and so we were all trying to make that at one point. One of the other girls commented that her stuffed cat was going to “have a bigger thigh gap than she’ll ever have”. I don’t remember what I’d said in reply to that, but another girl (who was several years older than me) said something to me along the lines of “you have a thigh gap, you’re skinny”.

It’s not the first time that I’ve been told that I have a thigh gap (a space between your inner thighs when you stand with your feet together), and could be considered to be “skinny”. A few years ago at another birthday party, two girls who were nearly 2 years younger than me also made a comment about my thigh gap and how I would look good wearing jeans.

Yes, it’s true that I have a thigh gap. At its widest part, I think I can stick two fingers through it. If I am sitting on a chair with my knees hugged to my chest, I could easily drop my phone through my thigh gap (this has happened before). I also have quite thick thighs and I definitely don’t have a flat stomach. Whenever I have a huge meal, my tummy sticks out and I feel super-full and I get scared of gaining weight. For the past 8 years of my life (since I was about 13), I have been told by a family member that I should “watch my weight and BMI” (body mass index), have been questioned whether or not I should eat that ice cream, and as a 13 year old on a school trip in the USA, had peers asking me if I wanted to look like a “beached whale” (a term associated with being overweight) when visiting beaches in Los Angeles when I was eating the croutons that accompanied my salad. I weighed myself every day and I dreaded gaining weight.

I first heard of thigh gaps when I was about 16 years old. I didn’t think I had one at the time and had searched online for steps on how achieve this seemingly celebrated thigh gap (probably a combination of weight loss and specific exercises, sometimes including extreme and unhealthy weight loss), but at the age of 18 or 19, I did realise that I do indeed have a thigh gap and I often just wonder why it’s there.

In Everyday Sexism (Laura Bates, 2014), the section called "Girls" is headed by the quote "If you don't have a thigh gap, you NEED to get a thigh gap" which was apparently said by a 14 year old schoolgirl interviewee. On the next page, the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on body image report (2012) says that "by the age of 14, half of girls have been on a diet to change their shape".

Horrifying as I found these quotes, they rang true to me. By the age of 14, I was already weighing myself all the time, dreaded gaining weight, and was skipping my school lunch sandwich every day – habits that stayed with me for over 6 years.

When I originally read this, one of my female second cousins on my mum’s side of the family was 14 years old. Around the same time, my dad had received a Fitbit for his birthday to aid his efforts to lose weight, and he was already going everywhere and talking about his Fitbit, exercises and weight loss. I had never told him about my history of anxiety about my body and weight, and so he wasn’t going to make any adjustments to his behaviour to accommodate how I felt about it (now that I have mentioned it, he still hasn’t made any adjustments). A short time after that, we were due to attend a family party with my mum’s mum’s side of the family. I genuinely felt like I needed to protect my second cousin (now nearly16 years old) from the negativity that my dad’s discussion of weight loss would bring to the party. I don’t want her to ever have to go through what I felt, and I don’t want my younger female second cousins (ages 4 years, and 6 months old) to go through that either when they reach their teenage years.

Hopefully, we will have created a world by then (2026-2030) where body diversity will be celebrated, and diet culture, thigh gaps and the media’s obsession with our bodies will be a thing of the past.

This is why I’m now wary of having a thigh gap as a 21 year old woman. I feel like I don’t deserve one. I’ve not acquired a thigh gap through weight loss or dieting and exercising. I weigh the same now as I did when I was 14 years old. Me having a thigh gap is probably more attributed to my bone structure. I have wide hips (therefore I am never going to be able to fit into UK size 10 jeans or whatever) and my knees meet in the middle, but this is my body and I’m learning to be ok with it.

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