WASHINGTON – The latest weight-loss craze among American teens is the “thigh gap,” in which slender legs do not touch when standing with feet together.
Experts say that the cost of what teens see as an ideal body shape — but one that is for most of them unattainable as they strive to emulate the models they see in magazines — is self-esteem problems that can lead to eating disorders, depression and even suicide.
On Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook, “thigh gap” photos abound: close-ups of sometimes unbearably skinny legs published by young girls eager to show off their success — or bemoan what they see as a failure to whittle away fat.
“My thigh gap is huge,” brags a Tumblr user with the handle “foster-the-beatles.”
Another, “skinnysizezero,” cheers her fellow dieters on, saying: “Together we can lose weight. Together we can be skinny. Together we can be a size zero with a beautiful thigh gap and flat stomach. Together we can be happy and finally say that we love our bodies.”
Another poster, “elleskyyy,” said she felt better when she “realized I’m getting a thigh gap.”
A user called “starving for perfection” complained about her “mediocre/nonexistent thigh gap” and flagellated herself for her “fatfatfatfat.”
Experts say the obsession with leg shape is not new but has been dramatically amplified by social media websites and their 24/7 influence on the lives of American teens.
The fan Twitter account Cara’s Thigh Gap is dedicated to the extreme slenderness of British model Cara Delevingne, while dozens of Facebook pages and websites propose diets and exercise regimes to achieve the almighty gap.
But clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg warned that for most women, the “thigh gap” is a pipe dream, even via extreme dieting and exercise.
“Most women are not built that way to have that space between their thighs,” she explained. “It is a matter of bone structure (that) the majority of women do not have.”
For teenagers, adopting what Greenberg called an “unrealistic obsession” can be dangerous — increasing pressures that can lead to depression, even suicidal behavior, as well as to severe eating disorders, which can cause lasting brain and bone damage.
Indeed, starvation diets — and self-loathing — are a common theme on the “thigh gap” pages of young girls.
“Yesterday i had 380 calories but then i ate candys so much that my calorie number switch to ca. 650. . . . faaaaaaaaaaaaaat,” writes Anastasia, a young German girl, on Tumblr, while praying, “Please God let me be skinny.”
The World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of around 2,500 calories to support the energy needs of a growing teenage girl.
However, a countermovement against the “thigh gap” is building, with girls also taking to social media to mock the obsession.
On Twitter, for instance, “Common White Girl” declares herself relieved that her thighs touch, saying: “Not having a thigh gap saved my phone from falling in the toilet.” And one YouTube video, “5 Ways to Fake a Thigh Gap,” posted by “tadelesmith,” suggests that girls who want a gap between their thighs should simply move their legs apart.