Selfies and Self-Objectification: A Not-So-Pretty Picture

Selfies aren’t inherently evil. And taking 55 pictures of your own face at slightly different angles and with varying expressions is not fundamentally wrong. BUT (you knew that was coming) … when we put this female-driven phenomenon in the context of the culture in which we live, selfies aren’t just a trivial trend or a form of self-expression. 

Photo by Michelle Phan

Rather, they are a clear reflection of exactly what girls and women have been taught to be their entire lives: images to be looked at. Carefully posed, styled, and edited images of otherwise dynamic human beings for others to gaze upon and comment on. Selfies are not just images you take of yourself for yourself; they are images you take of yourself for others to see. Selfies weren’t a thing until social media made it possible to receive validation in an easy, public way online. And what have girls and women been taught from Day 1 brings them the most value? Looking good. Not being smart or funny or kind or talented — mostly just looking hot. Thus, the validation females have been taught to seek is the approval of others regarding their appearances.  Today, we’re coining a new term:

Selfie-objectification. Noun: to present oneself as an object, especially of sight or other physical sense, through a photograph that one takes of oneself, for posting online, which process manifests itself in three steps (see below).

Snapping photos of ourselves to document what we look like in certain moments, looks, or angles is a new form of self-objectification that we call “selfie-objectification.” There are three stages of selfie-objectification: 1) capturing photos of oneself to admire and scrutinize 2) ranking and editing those photos to generate an acceptable final image, and 3) sharing those photos online for others to validate. In our doctoral studies (Kite, 2013 & Kite, 2013), almost 3/4 of women described themselves in self-objectifying terms, meaning they viewed themselves from an outsider’s perspective. Self-objectification diminishes our capabilities, happiness, and self-worth because we have to live and do and be and also constantly monitor and imagine what we look like while living and doing and beingIf you’re an avid selfie-taker, we ask you to consider the effects of these 3 stages of selfie-objectification in your life.  

 

 Stage 1: Capturing and Scrutinizing

Selfies are a unique phenomenon because they work as a more permanent form of a mirror. The images that are captured don’t just disappear in a glance — they fill phone memories, computer albums, and social media feeds. They aren’t captured and forgotten; they are captured and analyzed over and over again by the photographer herself, looking at her face and body and imagining how other people perceive her. With selfies providing a way for people to scrutinize and evaluate their own faces at any given moment, as well as more opportunities to compare their looks to all the other female forms that fill our social media feeds, it’s no surprise to us what brand new research shows: “Selfie Trend Increases Demand for Facial Plastic Surgery.”* This annual poll of members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) revealed that 1/3 of surgeons surveyed saw an increase in requests for procedures due to patients being more self-aware of looks in social media. The report attributes a 10 percent increase in rhinoplasty (nose jobs) from 2012-’13 as well as a 7 percent increase in hair transplants and a 6 percent increase in eyelid surgery to social media’s influence.
“Social platforms … which are solely image based, force patients to hold a microscope up to their own image and often look at it with a more self-critical eye than ever before,” says Edward Farrior, MD, President of the AAFPRS. “These images are often the first impressions young people put out there to prospective friends, romantic interests and employers and our patients want to put their best face forward.”
What is most frightening to us is the idea of putting “their best face forward,” which really means, “changing their faces to fit ideals they’ve been trained to perceive as ‘the best.'” It reminds us of Self editor Lucy Danziger saying the magazine Photoshopped the crap out of Kelly Clarkson’s entire body “in order to make her look her personal best.” This is not about an individual’s “best” — this is about the beauty industry’s best-selling ideals. When people experience body shame, they often resort to extremes in order to cope with those feelings of inadequacy by hiding or fix parts of ourselves they feel ashamed of (which often stems from comparisons to mediated ideals, including social media). One of the ways many women cope with this shame is through “fixing” their faces and bodies with cosmetic surgery — and 81% of people who underwent cosmetic procedures in 2013 were female. This is a dangerous, expensive, painful, and ineffective way to reduce body shame or improve one’s body image. More on that here.

 

Stage 2: Ranking, Editing, and Selecting a Winner

 

After our selfie-ographer has examined and evaluated her photos, she selects the perfect shot for public viewing. If she’s like at least 50% of social  media users**, she’ll Photoshop or edit her image before posting. About half of people who edit their own photos will do this in order to “enhance their looks” by removing blemishes, changing skin tones or color, or making themselves look thinner (or in recent Kardashian-related incidents — curvier). We NEVER get to see female reality in mainstream media, and those unreal ideals result in the pressure we feel to alter our images to look more like the normalized cartoonish “perfection” we see everywhere else, and creates a whole new world of un-reality in social media. JUST in case this needs to be stated outright: Please don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s photos. You don’t know the effort that has gone into that shot behind the scenes or in post-production. Self-comparisons in social media contribute to depression and anxiety among girls and women, and when we’re aware that we’re comparing our unfiltered lives to shots of others’ glamorized lives, we can consciously cool it. Please cool it. For your health.

Stage 3: Sharing and Monitoring

 

After posting the winning shot, she’s likely to carefully monitor the “likes” and comments each photo receives and compare those tiny symbols of validation to others’ photos. The more likes and the nicer the comments, the better she feels about herself, or rather, the part of herself she’s been trained to prioritize: her appearance. But what happens when the number of likes isn’t to her liking? Or the comments are critical, or there are no comments? What happens to her self-worth then? When that self-worth is largely based on others’ perceptions of her appearance, and others don’t seem to be appreciating her appearance, her entire self-worth suffers.  This brings us to the biggest issue we have with people touting selfies as tools for empowerment. They’re not. You’re confusing “empowerment” with “feeling beautiful” or “feeling like other people think I look good.” Empowerment has to be so much more dynamic and all-encompassing than that. “Power” can not be minimized to something that is gained and wielded through appearance or beauty. “Power” from beauty is cheap. It is fleeting and can be consumed and discarded at any moment. Your power isn’t just in your beauty; it’s in who you are and what you do. Dove’s latest marketing video, aptly named “Selfie,” asks girls and women to “redefine beauty” by taking selfies and realizing how beautiful they are. One of the take-away messages at the end of the video is a girl saying, “I was looking through my selfies last night and I realized I am beautiful. I’m pretty cute.” Looking through your selfies to remind yourself of your value is the perfect illustration we’d use to describe selfie-objectification. We’ve written a whole post on the subject hereOf course we want people to feel good about themselves, and even to feel beautiful, but what we really want people to know is: regardless of what you look like, or what you think you look like, you can feel good about yourself because you are not your appearance. Positive body image is the cornerstone of our work, and it is founded in the life-changing understanding that your body is an instrument to be used and not just an object to be adorned and looked at. In a world that teaches us we are our bodies, and that our carefully selected images of ourselves are a great tool for validation and empowerment, we want to YELL that THIS IS NOT TRUE! Taking the perfect selfie, loving your selfies, admiring your selfies are NOT strategies for empowerment, but merely strategies for short-lived, surface-oriented endorsements from others from which we’ve been primed to base our selfie-worth. (Had enough of that word yet? We have.)

 

Here’s what we want you to take away from this post:

Self-objectification is a serious threat to our capacities to achieve all we can achieve. And selfies, as a product of our appearance-obsesssed culture, can be viewed as one more tool we use to self-objectify without even realizing it because of how normal and prevalent the phenomenon has become. If we’re serious about empowerment and positive body image (which we at Beauty Redefined very much are), then we have to critically consider the ways we view and represent ourselves and the ways we seek validation and empowerment. If you are using selfies as a means for looking at yourself from an outsider’s perspective, scrutinizing and evaluating your appearance, and seeking approval from others in order to improve your self-worth, then we recommend reconsidering the role of selfies in your own life. One of the best ways find out how much you depend on social media for validation is to go on a media fast. Take just a few days and cut out all media. It’ll rock your world — in a good way. Please understand: For many people, the occasional selfie is not a desperate cry for approval or even a misdirected means for empowerment. By all means, show your social media friends that new haircut, or your awesome fuchsia lipstick. It’s OK to desire validation for how you present yourself to the world. We are not going to pretend like our bodies are invisible or that anything beauty-related should be shunned. Absolutely not. However, we live in a world that prizes beauty for females above all else, and all beauty-related choices must be critically viewed through that lens. If you recognize that you’re basing much of your self-worth or personal feelings of empowerment on what others think of your appearance, or even spending too much precious time, money or energy on beauty-related matters (including selfies), then you’ve got a great opportunity to make changes that yield actual empowerment. We hope you’ll join us in the fight against self-objectification by taking a critical look at the role of selfies in our lives. Women are more than just bodies. See more. Be more. THAT is Beauty Redefined.   Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

* Source: http://www.aafprs.org/media/press_release/20140311.html
** Source: http://renfrewcenter.com/news/afraid-be-your-selfie-survey-reveals-most-people-photoshop-their-images

Photoshopping: Altering Images and Our Minds

Photoshopping, digital alteration, image manipulation, blah blah blah. Everyone talks about the fact that so many images of women are “perfected” with the help of technology, but we can’t just toss it aside as a non-issue everyone already knows about. Whether or not a person is aware of the possibility of image alterations, not everyone realizes exactly HOW MUCH these images are changed to fit some seriously un-human and unrealistic ideals that we view over and over. And not everyone understands that it isn’t just fashion magazine covers that feature drastically Photoshopped images. It’s TV. It’s video. It’s your favorite brand online. It’s everywhere.

While the vast majority of images of women are being digitally altered, so are our perceptions of normal, healthy, beautiful and attainable.

A before-and-after image from Britney Spears’ 2013 “Work B****” music video obtained by the Daily Mail, which shows the digital slim-down Britney’s body received via CGI.

One of the main strategies used to reinforce and normalize a distorted idea of “average” is media’s representation of women as extremely thin (meaning much thinner than the actual population or what is physically possible for the vast majority of women) – either by consistent use of models and actresses that are underweight or extremely thin, or by making the models and actresses fit their idea of ideal thinness and beauty through digital manipulation both on screen through computer-generated imagery (CGI — shown in the Britney Spears music video example) and in print media. Essentially, “the feminine ideal is tanned, healthy slenderness, with no unsightly bumps, bulges or cellulite, and bodily and facial perfection that results from hours of labor: exercise, makeup and hair care” (Coward, 1985) – and 30 years later, plastic surgery and Photoshop. This unrealistic form is consistently represented across almost all media forms, along with blemish-free, wrinkle-free, and even pore-free skin, thanks to the wonders of digital manipulation as an “industry standard” that is openly endorsed and defended by magazine editors and media makers the world over.

Though we hear about digital manipulation controversies all the time (check out our Photoshopping Phoniness Hall of Shame for tons of examples), media executives and producers continue to use it to an unbelievable extent and they violently defend it as a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Here are a couple interesting (and appalling) case studies from Seventeen and Self magazines to showcase this very issue:

The Feb. 2014 cover of Seventeen, featuring Troian Bellisario

The February 2014 cover of Seventeen featured “Pretty Little Liars” star Troian Bellisario, who opened up about her past problems with an eating disorder. The teen magazine decided to feature that as a teaser on the cover, right above a much larger headline for “Get an Insane Body — It’s hard, but you’ll look hot!” This juxtaposition of providing an outlet for a young actress to open up to young fans about a disorder that “ripped her life apart” next to a story promoting the thin ideals that drive many girls and women to such extremes in eating is appallingly irresponsible. Read more about our thoughts on Seventeen here.

When superstar singer Kelly Clarkson was digitally slimmed down almost beyond recognition on Self’s September 2009 cover, people noticed. Her appearance on “Good Morning America” within just days of the cover shoot proved that her body did not look anything like the very thin one that appeared on the cover. In a shockingly ironic twist, the issue she appeared on was titled “The Body Confidence Issue” and featured an interview inside where she explained how comfortable she felt with her body:

“My happy weight changes,” Clarkson says in the September issue of SELF. “Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more. I’ll be different sizes all the time. When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’ I’ve never felt uncomfortable on the red carpet or anything.” 

Kelly Clarkson before and after Photoshop on Self magazine, Sept. 2009

Rather than apologizing for the seriously unethical and extreme Photoshopping snafu, Self editor Lucy Danziger tried to defend her magazine’s work to the death:

“Yes, of course we do post-production corrections on our images. Photoshopping is an industry standard,” she stated. “Kelly Clarkson exudes confidence, and is a great role model for women of all sizes and stages of their life. She works out and is strong and healthy, and our picture shows her confidence and beauty. She literally glows from within. That is the feeling we’d all want to have. We love this cover and we love Kelly Clarkson.”

Interestingly, Danziger wasn’t satisfied with that statement and felt inspired to take to her personal blog to further rationalize away the Photoshopping hack job:

“Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best…But in the sense that Kelly is the picture of confidence, and she truly is, then I think this photo is the truest we have ever put out there on the newsstand.”

It’s hard to believe anyone’s “personal best” is a fake representation of herself. They’ll plaster “body confidence!” all over the magazine and quote Kelly talking about her own real body confidence, but they refuse to show us her actual body.

Target’s March 2014 Photoshop hack job to the JUNIOR’s swim line is unreal.

This is just one example that happened to generate enough media coverage that people were able to find out about the scary distortion of an active, 27-year-old superstar’s body in media. Unfortunately, this case study is pretty representative of thousands more that appear in magazines, on billboards, in advertisements, in stores and everywhere else you can think of every single day. At Beauty Redefined, we’ve termed this phenomenon “the normalization of abnormal.” Since we’ll see millions more images of women in media than we’ll ever see face-to-face, those images form a new standard for not just “beautiful,” but also “average” and “healthy” in our minds. When women compare themselves to a standard of beautiful, average and healthy that simply doesn’t exist in real life, the battle for healthy body image is already lost. Last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced they’ve adopted a policy against “false advertising:”

The AMA adopted a new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.

Dr. McAneny of the AMA states, “We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.” And yet, in the last year, Photoshopping has reached an all-time high. It is inescapable.

From lost self-esteem, lost money and time spent fixing “flaws” and a well-documented preoccupation with losing weight (NEDA, 2010), the effects of these unreal ideals hurt everyone. We know that advertising – especially for fashion or beauty products – depends on two things: 1) girls and women believing their happiness, health, and ability to be loved is dependent on their appearance, and 2) girls and women believing can achieve physical ideals by using certain products or services. Do we really understand that ALL media (with very few exceptions) depends on advertising dollars to operate? Because of that, the editorial content or programming has to uphold those same ideals or else advertisers aren’t happy. Digitally slimming women’s bodies, adding or exaggerating a “thigh gap,” and removing signs of life like pores, gray hairs, and wrinkles aren’t just casual decisions based on aesthetic preferences of a few editors — they are profit-driven decisions to create false ideals for females to seek after in hopes of someday attaining. These hopes are largely driven by desire to be found attractive, loved, appear healthy, and ultimately, happy.

Same model, differing degrees of Photoshopping on REAL printed ads, Oct. 2009. Ralph Lauren responded: “After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

One telling example from the ‘90s (found in Naomi Wolf’s “The Beauty Myth”) explains how a prominent women’s magazine featured gray-haired models in a fashion spread (unheard of even today, right?). It was a success until one of their biggest advertisers, Clairol hair color company, pulled their entire campaign as a protest against the spread. The magazine, which depended on those advertising dollars, was forced to never again feature gray-haired women in a positive light. The same holds true for media today. Pay attention to what kind of companies are advertising in your favorite magazines or during your favorite TV shows. There’s a very good chance they are selling beauty products, weight loss products or other appearance-related services, which means the female characters featured positively (like in relationships or pursued by men, complimented, not the butt of jokes, etc.) will likely resemble the idealized women in the advertising.

From media outlets like that go to great lengths to make unrealistic and unattainable beauty ideals look normal and within reach, to the diet and weight loss industry raking in an estimated $61 billion on Americans’ quest for thinness in 2010 (Marketdata Enterprises, 2009), those with financial interests at stake in our beliefs about women’s bodies are thriving unlike ever before. Simultaneously, women and families are losing. Losing self-esteem. Losing time and money spent on items, services and products meant to fix our never-ending list of “flaws.” Losing real understandings of healthy, average and attainable. Sometimes even losing weight they didn’t need to lose in dangerous ways in order to measure up (or down) to Photoshopped ideals we see every day as “normal.”

Former high fashion model, Crystal Renn, battled a deadly eating disorder for many years before deciding to switch to “plus size” modeling for health purposes. Photographer and Fashion for Passion founder Nicholas Routzen said that Crystal looked thinner because the photos were “…taken from a higher angle with a wider lens,” but that“I shaped her … I did nothing that I wouldn’t do to anyone. I’m paid to make women look beautiful.”

While representations of women’s bodies across the media spectrum have shrunk dramatically in the last three decades, rates of eating disorders have skyrocketed – tripling for college-age women from the late ‘80s to 1993 and rising since then to 4% suffering with bulimia (National Eating Disorder Association, 2010). Perhaps even more startling is the 119 percent increase in the number of children under age 12 hospitalized due to an eating disorder between 1999 and 2006, the vast majority of whom were girls (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010). Though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2000) reports that “no exact cause of eating disorders have yet been found,” they do admit that some characteristics have been shown to influence the development of the illnesses, which include low self-esteem, fear of becoming fat and being in an environment where weight and thinness were emphasized – all of which are shown to be related to media depictions of idealized bodies, which is all but inescapable. Scholars have proposed that eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are due, in part, to an extreme commitment to attaining the cultural body ideal as portrayed in media.

Photoshopping has taken these unreal ideals to a scary new level. Henry Farid, a Dartmouth professor of computer science who specializes in digital forensics and photo manipulation, agrees. “The more and more we use this editing, the higher and higher the bar goes. They’re creating things that are physically impossible,” he told ABC News in August 2009. “We’re seeing really radical digital plastic surgery. It’s moving towards the Barbie doll model of what a woman should look like — big breasts, tiny waist, ridiculously long legs, elongated neck. All the body fat is removed, all the wrinkles are removed, the skin is smoothed out.”

What we see in media, and what we may be internalizing as normal or beautiful, is anything but normal or beautiful. It’s fake. It’s a profit-driven idea of normal and beautiful that women will spend their lives trying to achieve and men will spend their lives trying to find. But until we all learn to recognize and reject these harmful messages about what it means to look like a woman, we all lose. And I don’t want to lose. Are you with us in taking back beauty for females everywhere?

Recognize that you are not just a body. Recognize that your body is not just an ornament or an object to be fixed and judged — it is an instrument to live and do and be. Reject messages that teach you otherwise. Cancel subscriptions, unfollow on social media, spend your money elsewhere, talk back to companies and speak up in your own circles of influence. Your reflection does not define your worth, and self-comparisons to unreal ideals get us absolutely nowhere. These ideals are unlikely to change anytime soon, so we have to change our perceptions of media and bodies with or without media.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

For the largest and most detailed collection of Photoshopping Phoniness on the Web, see our Hall of Shame Gallery!

And have you seen our new sticky notes to slap on magazines in the store aisle? They’re soooo good. Find them here

Mind the (Thigh) Gap

Ever heard the phrase “Mind the gap?” It’s a warning to train passengers to take caution while crossing the gap between the train door and the station platform that began in London. Today, it’s time to use that phrase as a warning of a different kind of life-or-death danger – the obsession with “thigh gaps” taking place on social media and beyond. Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter are flooded with thigh gaps, which are basically pictures of thin legs from the front or back with space in between them. The thigh gap qualifying “rule” is for the gap to be visible when the person’s feet are together. Millions are following this trend online and resorting to unhealthy extremes to get a gap of their own – a trendy status symbol of beauty. We believe this trend is SO pervasive because it is so largely unattainable. It pops up where you’d least expect it – on conservative blogs or Instagram feeds of young moms wearing skinny jeans “just showing off their cute new sandals!” And it pops up where you’d always expect it – the Twitter feeds of supermodels with profiles dedicated to their thigh gaps (and no, we will not link to them and give them unnecessary attention). We are asking you to MIND THE (THIGH) GAP.  The next time you see thin thighs and the space between them being celebrated online — whether blatantly or subtly — mind the gap!  Use it as a warning that what you’re seeing is the latest symbol of oppression and objectification for girls and women – not a symbol of feminine success, health and beauty. Sounds a bit extreme? We don’t think so. Here are four reasons it’s time to mind the gap:

Significant thigh gaps in real life are brought to us by certain genetics, ethnicities, pelvic sizes and widths, and most girls and women do not have a natural gap, according to a director at the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. If you or someone you know has a thigh gap, cool! That’s great. We’re not calling anyone out for resorting to unhealthy extremes to get one; we are simply pointing out the reality that thigh gaps are not NEARLY as common in real life as media would have us believe. These days, websites are dedicated to explaining how to get a gap between your legs when your feet are together and too many of them emphasize that you must avoid exercises like calf raises, squats, lunges, stairs, or anything else that might build muscle. Really?! No.

 

Victoria’s Secret is famous for digitally enhancing a “thigh gap” on their models.

Thanks to the wonders of an easy tool on Photoshop, thigh gaps are made and widened with one click. If a media maker has any sort of photo editing software, she or he can make a thigh gap appear instantly. Victoria’s Secret is especially proficient at using it constantly! One of the easiest ways to detect this Photoshop trend is to check out the background behind the model. If the area behind her thigh gap is blurred or looks different than the area on the other sides of her legs, it’s a good way to spot a Photoshop hack job thigh gap.

The perfect way to objectify a woman is to literally or figuratively view her as a compilation of body parts to be looked at, judged, and fixed. If you see an image of a woman without her face visible or with her head cut off, she is being objectified. It happens to women in media EVERY SECOND. You can’t pass a billboard without seeing a headless woman selling plastic surgery or flip through a magazine without a set of breasts selling anything unrelated to breasts. Millions of thigh gap pictures are floating around online to serve as inspiration for girls and women fixated on the gap and willing to resort to any extreme to get there (plastic surgery, eating disorders, exercise obsession, etc.). SO many of these thigh gap pictures feature only part of a woman, which effectively renders her less than human. Most of them feature naked or nearly naked women. What a great way to keep a girl in her place as a sexual object to be looked at. Instead of moving on to progress and be happy in any way that matters – instead of looking outside ourselves for one moment – girls and women are learning to obsess about their parts and self-objectify to a degree never before seen. Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter [power], the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison” (Wollstonecraft, 1792).

New beauty ideals are being sold to us at every possible turn. Media makers and industry leaders are coming up with new “flaws” we need to feel ashamed of so we’ll shell out our hard earned money, compromise our health, and stay in the prisons of our own bodies instead of living, being, and doing. From our heads to our toes, we’ve got so much to worry about! Hair color, complexion, eyelash length, eyebrow shape, nose shape, lip fullness, skin color (too dark OR too pale), skin softness, skin firmness, armpit smoothness, body hair, breast size, amount of cellulite, body shape, weight, and our toenails. “Women’s work” is beauty labor, and it keeps us from the happiness and fulfillment of doing ANYTHING ELSE. Can you imagine the progress girls and women could make in every possible field if we could learn to rebel against industries that are established to prey on our insecurities? Scholars assert that beginning with puberty and continuing across the life course, girls are twice as likely to experience depression as boys and men. For girls but not boys, self-esteem plummets at puberty and is directly associated with body dissatisfaction, which negatively affects their performance in mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, athletic performance, and sexual assertiveness.* Next time you see a thigh gap being celebrated online, mind the gap as a symbol of oppression that is keeping girls and women inside the prison of adorning their bodies. You can work on taking back beauty that rightfully belongs to you by refusing to buy the lies these industries are selling. 

So if you have “thick thighs” or any meat on your thighs at all, it’s time to stop vilifying them! It’s time to stop hiding them by sitting in that precisely flattering way or only wearing baggy clothes or refusing to swim or hike or play in case someone sees them in all their regular-womanly-thigh glory. Can you imagine the inexpressible joy girls and women across the world would feel if we could just have ONE DAY to not worry about the way our thighs LOOK and instead focus on how awesome our thighs are, seeing as how they help us to LIVE and DO and BE and PLAY and WORK? What if we took the time to appreciate having the use of our thighs, regardless of what they look like, and consider what a gift they are? Many people don’t even get to enjoy fully functioning thighs. I don’t know about you, but I’m dedicated to doing my best to appreciate them and OWN that gift every day with the help of my thighs that absolutely, positively touch each other when my feet are together, and always will forever, thank you very much.

Friends, social media is where activism takes place. Do you realize your power in this world to DO and BE and SPEAK? You are where you are right now on purpose, and you’ve got some cool work to do that no one else can do.  You’ve got more power and influence than you know to make a difference in a world that needs you – not just a vision of you, not just you with a thigh gap – but ALL of you.  And you’ve got an opportunity to take media into your own hands – to use it for good, to share positive truths with your circles, to choose what you will and won’t watch/read and help others do the same. A good place to start is on our Facebook page. Just like Naomi Wolf says in her awesome book The Beauty Myth, “While we cannot directly affect the images [in media], we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them and look directly at one another. We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth.”

We take a bottom-up approach to the epidemic of body hatred and looks obsession plaguing girls and women today.  We are all about rethinking the ideas of “beautiful” and “healthy” that we’ve likely learned from for-profit media that thrives off female insecurity. Girls and women who feel OK about their bodies — meaning they aren’t “disgusted” with them like more than half of women today – take better care of themselves. We continuously promote the idea that all women are worthwhile AND beautiful while fighting against the harmful ideals we’re sold at every turn. So, whether you’ve got a thigh gap or not, it’s time to MIND THE GAP and then turn our time, attention and energy to much better things. Each time you see a thigh gap being unhealthily celebrated in media, choose to heed that warning symbol – a symbol of oppression that serves to keep us “in our place” as objects to be looked at. Next time you see a blatant celebration of the thigh gap, mind the gap in these easy ways:

  • Take the opportunity to share our website or this post with whoever posted the photo or commented about striving for that ideal.
  • If the photo you saw triggered a feeling of shame or inadequacy about your own body, go for a walk or play a sport or dance with your mom, sister, friends or mirror to remind yourself what a gift your body is.
  • If you frequent a Tumblr, Facebook page, or Instagram account that features thinspiration like thigh gap images, whether intentionally focusing on thigh thinness or just subtly highlighting it in the name of “fashion,” turn away. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Block them so you don’t go back.
  • If you shop at stores that glorify the thigh gap and perpetuate it as a beauty ideal, speak up with your pocketbook and stop shopping there. Hit them where it counts!
  • Now give a girl or woman in your life a hug and tell them why they are so amazing. I have a feeling it’s about way more than whether or not she has space between her thighs.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media. *Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Harter, 1993; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Simmons, Rosenberg, & Rosenberg, 1973; Steinberg, 1999; Steingraber, 2007 **Patricia van den Berg & Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. (2007). Journal of Adolescent Health.

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