Girls have found a new body fixation to obsess over—the thigh gap—not realizing that the most important gap is the one between their ears.
By Mary Jo Rapini
If you tweet on Twitter, you will see many #Thighgap hashtags. There is always something new, and it appears thigh gap is the new way girls are comparing themselves with one another to feel thin and pretty. Thigh Gap is the space between your legs, and our tweens and teens are starving themselves to achieve it. A popular Victoria’s Secret model recently lectured for TED (a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading–TED started out as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design), where she stated that 58% of all thirteen-year-old girls report disliking their bodies, and by the time girls are seventeen years of age 78% of them don’t like their bodies. This model goes on to explain that, outside of plastic surgery and lighting, there is little anyone can do to alter her body. Genetics basically determine our looks, our bodies and whether or not girls have thigh gap.
Websites that plug “thinspo” and “thinspirtation” promote starvation. The body, however, is more vulnerable to bad nutrition during the tween and teen years. Social media has made it possible for girls to compare their bodies, makeup and hair twenty-four hours a day, and Pinterest helps them pin only the best looks on their Facebook page. It’s become a game or way of life for many girls to achieve what lighting, makeup artists and genetics do for models. Parents don’t become concerned until their child becomes ill and a pediatrician tells them that their child is suffering from severe malnutrition.
Beauty is power, and no one can deny that we judge and treat people based on looks. However, when achieving “the look” means you are willing to forfeit your health, social life, and school, it becomes a sickness. Girls who starve themselves and feel bad about the way they look cripple themselves way beyond their school years. Their body image suffers through much of their adult life as well. One of the underlying causes of addictions is due to a poor self-esteem due to body image.
The key to helping girls deal with their self-concept, self-esteem and distorted body image is being aware that it is happening, listening to your daughter, and talking to her about it. As a parent, you don’t have to help them starve, but you do need to be in touch with the pressure they are feeling, and offer healthy options as a way of coping with their stress. Below are a few more suggestions that can help build your daughter’s self concept and help repair her distorted body image.
1. Ask your pediatrician for a consultation with a dietician who works with teens. A dietician can help your daughter understand what she needs for her body, and will also help guide her with healthy weight management.
2. Join a gym or seek help from a trainer together, if possible. Working out at the gym is more fun with someone else, and it will help build your relationship with your daughter.
3. Begin looking for role models who are good-looking and educated. Remind your daughter that she can be both. The gap between her ears is more important and interesting than thigh gap.
4. Watch what you say about your own body. Daughters listen to their moms and many complain about the same body areas as their moms.
5. Girls who obsess about their bodies may feel that their bodies are the only aspects of their lives they can control. Encourage your daughter to engage in sports and other school activities to help build confidence. Studies have revealed that children who play sports suffer less with eating disorders.
Feeling pretty and popular is important during the teen years. Self-esteem isn’t stagnant and continues to be built throughout children’s teen years and on into adulthood. Helping your child build a healthy self-concept is part of parenting, but their friends and the community at large influence what makes your child feel good about themselves as well. Telling your child that she is beautiful and shouldn’t worry will not repair a distorted self body image as much as listening to her and helping her make a healthy plan. Some moms struggle with a distorted body image no matter how old they are; taking the opportunity to help their daughter heal may have the additional benefit of helping mom heal.