Opinion: Thigh gap? More like a gap in our perception

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Eating disorders are on the rise. Does the media have a part to play? Photo: Supplied
Eating disorders are on the rise. Does the media have a part to play? Photo: Supplied

I drove my daughter to kindy this morning, and there was a discussion about anorexia on the radio.

Various people discussed what they thought caused the disorder, and shared their experiences with and around the illness. The considerable use of ‘thin’ girls used in advertising and social media was repeatedly brought up as being the main culprit for the increase of eating disorders here in New Zealand, and I agree.

I often think about the way we can be conditioned by society, the way it subconsciously manipulates us to live within certain parameters. More and more I find myself feeling confined in the way I behave or think, having to ignore my human nature or instinct because of the way I have been led to believe we should live. Basically, I’ve been trapped in a box with walls that don’t really exist. This way of living goes against what I believe life should be about. I consider myself a free-spirited person who speaks for myself and, more importantly, thinks for myself.

The mainstream definition of beauty is manufactured; we have been manipulated and lied to and now our children, as a result of the false perception of beauty, are becoming unhappy and sicker.

Today’s world looks a lot different to the world our parents grew up in.

The generation of today spend more time looking down at their screens, than they do looking up at the people around them. Unfortunately, their virtual worlds are blanketed with altered images and predispositions of what we should look like.

The Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand (EDANZ) states that 81 per cent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, and 46 per cent of nine-to-11-year-old girls are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, as are 82 per cent of their families. Girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents. And it’s starting at home – in their families, on their televisions and computers.

This makes me want to cry.

I have a four-year-old daughter. When she is 10 years old I want her to be running riot in the garden, or making up dance routines with friends. It breaks my heart to think that girls of such a young age are having this kind of pressure put on them. As a parent, if anyone ever told my daughter to lose weight or look a certain way I would turn ‘mother bear’ on them and show them a piece of what I got. But, the irony is that this is EXACTLY what we are allowing the media to do to our kids. But in a manipulative, sneaky, brainwashing way, it’s messed up – but it’s real.

This new-age perception of beauty is something that has slowly snowballed as opposed to one person deciding that this is the way it should be. It’s become a trend. Humans follow other humans just like sheep. We find safety in numbers. We follow the flock. If everyone is doing something then it must be ok, it must be safe. It must be right. Right?

Wrong. The media has jumped on the bandwagon by using digitally-enhanced pictures of thin, glamourised models as positive visual stimulation for promoting articles, products and enticing reader interest. It’s basically bait. They are using sexually enticing, or physically appealing images of women portraying ‘perfect’ but impossible physiques to get money from people. From you. They are playing us off against ourselves.

If all we see on the internet and social media is the glamorisation of thin girls day after day, year after year, then of course this is going to start seeming normal; which means that anything that doesn’t look like this must not be normal. And here we are, left with our children feeling unhappy because their so-called thigh gap isn’t as big as the girl on Instagram’s thigh gap.

Otago professor of anatomy Mark Stringer says: “Only the malnourished or those with a slightly splayed pelvis will have a visible gap between their upper thighs.”

And there we have it. Our young girls are striving for goals that for most will never be attainable without becoming detrimental to their health. Who are they trying to be thin for? Themselves? Their friends? The opposite sex? Whatever reason it is, it isn’t right and we know better than this. We know our understanding of beauty is warped, we know we are fed unrealistic expectations. So why are we still trapped in this cycle?

I think it goes back to the safety in numbers idea. Some people stand up for ‘real’ women. They hire plus sized (who are in my books, normal healthy sized) models instead. BUT, for example – if only five per cent of the world does this and the other 95 per cent sit back and do nothing then, you guessed it – nothing is going to change. We need to start glamorising healthy weight and features of a healthy body in our homes first and watch it trend from there. There will certainly be no Tumblr and glossy magazines in my household from now on.

Unfortunately, issues like this don’t really become apparent in people’s lives until they have children themselves or know someone affected by an eating disorder.

When your mind is suddenly taken over by love and care for another person’s life and well-being you start to realise the true values of humanity. Something very powerful. My message from all of this is that if you are faced with this issue of body image, or any issue in fact, don’t run from it. Add to that five per cent of people who stand up against it. Because no one is alone, and before long it will be 10 per cent of people standing up, then 30 per cent and the power we as a nation hold will surprise you. It’s world-changing.

The more people who are aware of the issue brings us closer to breaking free from the false expectations that society has thrown in our faces.  We are parents. We are friends. We are aunties and wives. We have careers, ambitions and homes to run. We don’t need that pressure. Let’s stop allowing media to use us as bait. Let’s stop being controlled by superficial, money hungry media mush and really try hard to put the well-being of our children first.

The gap is in our perception – our children are real. The Photoshopped cover girl isn’t.

Photo by by Janine

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