Experts in eating disorders are concerned about an internet-fueled trend in which teenage girls and young womenpursue
an elusive and possibly dangerous weight-loss goal: to become so
slender that their thighs don't touch even when their feet are together.
say achieving a so-called thigh gap is risky and virtually impossible.
But some exceptionally thin models have the gap, which is upheld as a
beauty achievement on countlessTumblr pages, blogs and other social media sites.
issue of focusing on a particular body part is very common,'' said
Claire Mysko, who oversees teen outreach and digital media for the
National Eating Disorders Association, an advocacy group. "What is new
is these things have taken on a life of their own because of the
internet and social media.''
the vast majority of people stand with their feet together, their
thighs touch. A tiny percentage of people have thighs so slim that they
don't come together. The ``thigh gap'' refers to this space.
suggest that peer pressure from social media plays a significant role
in eating disorders. A 2011 study at the University of Haifa found that
adolescent girls who spent the most time using Facebook had a greater
chance of developing a negative body image and an eating disorder.
intrusion and presence of social media in our lives really does make it
very difficult,'' said Nancy Albus, chief executive officer of
Castlewood Treatment Center, a suburban St. Louis facility that focuses
on eating disorders. ``The important distinction about thigh gap is it
gives you an actual visual to achieve, this visual comparison of how
your body does or doesn't stack up.''
Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and fitness expert, said the
spacing between a person's legs is based mostly on genetics. And even
extraordinarily thin people may not have a body type that can achieve a
gap. You have to be both skinny and wide-hipped, she said.
Wright said, it isn't a goal worth chasing. Most fit people won't have a
thigh gap because their thighs are muscular enough that they touch, she
does not mean fit or muscular,'' said Wright, who works with Division I
athletes. "I cannot think of one athlete I deal with'' who has a thigh
say it is impossible to know if the pursuit of a thigh gap has caused
any deaths, nor is it known how many eating disorders are blamed on the
phenomenon. But Mysko said experts believe that "exposure to online
images of extreme beauty standards and the drive to compare does
increase the risk of developing eating disorders.''
a 22-year-old Castlewood client, said thigh-gap sites were a
contributing factor in her struggle. She spoke on the condition that she
be identified only by her first name to avoid the stigma associated
with eating disorders.
a high achiever, Sara was captain of her high school swim team and a
straight-A student. In college, she graduated near the top of her class,
even while hiding her secret.
was in high school that Sara developed anorexia. By college, she was
purging and excessively exercising. She was a frequent visitor to
helped to normalize what I was doing to myself,'' Sara said. "I never
knew before that I wanted a thigh gap. It felt like it was some type of
accomplishment that people would want to achieve.''
sites offered photos of slender-legged models, testimonials on how to
achieve the gap and tips such as chewing food but spitting it out before
some of the sites showed pictures of Holocaust victims ``for
motivational purposes'' or martyred those who died from eating
disorders. It seemed to make her own struggle OK, Sara said.
"I would say, `Well, I'm not that bad.'''
Her therapist, Kim Callaway, said she often encourages clients to avoid social media and even delete their Facebook pages.
not uncommon for people to be on Facebook talking about what they ate
today, posting pictures of their meals or writing about how they're 10
pounds (4.5 kilograms) lighter than they were a month ago,'' Callaway
ability to be instantly connected to everybody and see what they look
like and see them blog or talk about what they are eating and what they
do for exercise - this makes it a lot more difficult for those with
eating disorders,'' Callaway said.
National Eating Disorders Association is fighting back with its own
site, www.Proud2BMe.org, which promotes positive body image and
encourages healthy attitudes about food and weight.
is getting better after about four months of treatment at Castlewood.
She's moved out of the treatment center to an apartment, though she
still gets outpatient therapy.
"I want to recover,'' she said. "And I don't want this to be my life anymore.''