Mind the Gap: Thigh Gap
*Trigger warning* – contains pictures depicting ‘thinspiration’ images.
I have been thinking about the thigh gap trend for a while. I mused that it was similiar to the Heroin Chic look that Kate Moss made popular in the fashion world when I was a young teenager. It was only when women my own age (pushing 30) who I know personally started posting their own thigh gap progress pictures on social media sites, that I knew something was different. Because no longer were teenagers fetishizing the boney bodies of top models, but women my own age were regulating their own bodies to acquire the same look. And they were not doing it in private, or amongst a tight circle of friends, but openly, and publically. These women are not just policing their own bodies, but also those of their peers.
To quote Dr Alison Winch again, who gave a paper at the Talking Bodies conference at the University of Chester in March 2013, (and whose book Girlfriends: Postfeminist Sisterhood will be published by Palgrave later in 2013) not only is the sexual female body seen as excessive, but the fat body is seen as sexually excessive, those deemed overweight are seen as sluts. Anorexia and other related eating disorders have long been seen as a way of keeping the body small, not taking up too much space, recoiling from the public sphere. But the non-thin body as sexual and slutty, in such an overt way is a new way of regulating female bodies. Winch calls this “eternal girlhood” (2012, p.1) females trying to keep their bodies as girls, not women. (Of course there are intersectionalities here, of race and class, the white middle-class normative body has long been lean and non-threatening, it was the ‘other’ of ‘not white or ‘not quite white’ origins whose body could not be contained and flaunted itself).
In discussing the Girlfriend Gaze, Winch argues that the “democratisation of celebrity means that all women now have the potential to be hyper-visible, and so Heat includes its readers in its sphere of body analysis” (2012, p.2). Winch points to the race/class intersections mentioned above, that it is Heat magazine’s working-class readership that is governed. Winch continues that the female body is the subject of analysis (2012). Is this objectification? The discourse seems to be mainly used to discuss sexual behaviours and imagery. But what about the thigh gap, does that objectify women and reduce them to a collection of doll parts? In posting progress pictures of thinning thighs (and a wider thigh gap) are women not reducing themselves and others to one objectified part? Or interestingly here, nothingness, the gap that is between their thighs. And whilst Thinspiration sites were once the preserve of those suffering from eating disorders, they have entered the mainstream arena. Photos that once appeared solely on thinspiration sites, (liable to be removed at any time and the sites closed) and now freely shared via twitter, facebook, tumblr and instagram. The use of technology, and especially the worship of the visual means the Panopticon is now a grave reality. Instagram is a case in point, removing the text in favour of the visual. Why write an ‘About Me’ section on a blog or account when you can live through pictures, symbols and signs.
Of course the sexual women is a threatening one. Winch writes that “The female body also becomes a sign of woman’s sexual appetite, evidencing the devouring of food, menstural bloat or motherhood” (2012, p.3). So perhaps we should not be surprised that ‘not thin’ now equates to excessive slut. Encouraging women to contain themselves in an iron-cage of eternal child-like factions, is a wonderful way to oppress them. Best still, they are doing it to themselves. This does not rely on the male gaze, it relies on the female one.
I remember reading Wasted by Marya Hornbacher as a 14 year old (bit shout out to my brother Marc and his book collection) and feeling haunted by it. The same way I felt when I first paid attention to the lyrics in the Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘4st 7lb’, “I want to walk in the snow, and not spoil its purity”. Now these sentiments of eating disorders have spilled over into the mainstream. Susie Orbach’s Fat Is a Feminist Issue, and Bodies, first hit home to me that these are feminist issues. Whilst we are regulating ourselves and others to have child-like proportions, whilst we are negative about our bodies, we cannot hope to free ourselves of other chains of patriarchy. A shrinking body is a passive body. Why are campaigns like Noremorepage3 OBJECT so high-profile and popular, whilst there is no lobbying group to tackle these issues. I am not dismissing the excellent work conducted by charities such as BEAT, but where are the feminists out in force? Where are the placards? The moral panics surrounding women’s sexual bodies should be put aside for a moment, whilst we investigate this very real danger.
Winch, A (2012) Surroundings, 52, 2012, Available at: http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2012-12-04-winch-en.html
[Page numbers are calculated from a printed version of the online content]