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What’s behind a dangerous...”

Thigh gap
What’s behind a dangerous teen body image obsession

JESSICA YADEGARAN McClatchy Tribune News Service Modified: April 23, 2013 at 6:22 pm •  Published: April 23, 2013
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class="krtText">To combat the spread of thigh gap worship, Hemmen says parents must teach their daughters media literacy and hang around when their teenager is trawling Tumblr or watching a YouTube video so they can say, “Honey, that’s been digitally enhanced. No one looks like that.”

“We need to encourage irreverence in girls about a media that doesn’t give an (expletive) about their health and wellness,” she says.

That has been a central goal at the Girl Scout Research Institute in New York. In 2010, researchers released a study on body image among girls 8 to 17. The findings are contradictory. Sixty-five percent of the 1,000 girls surveyed think that the body image represented by the fashion industry is too skinny and unrealistic (63 percent) but nearly half wish they were as skinny as those models and even strive to be.

“The girls have a cognitive dissonance,” explains Kimberlee Salmond, a senior research strategist at the Girl Scout Research Institute. “They know it’s wrong for them and yet they continue to aspire to it.”

Meanwhile, a small, anti-thigh-gap movement is developing online. Tumblrs like Touching Thighs and No Thigh Gap give Hemmen hope, she says. They also remind her how much teenagers love to push back against the status quo. “We need more people to post anti-thigh gap pages,” she says. “And more celebrities, like Beyoncé and Adele, representing diverse and realistic body images.”

Sweedler thinks there needs to be a collective movement to adjust the current beauty ideal. “Some group needs to stand up and say, ‘Yeah, we wear mom jeans and we’re going to fill them,’” the 16-year-old says. “‘And study on a Friday night.’”

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FIVE EASY WAYS TO STOP THE SPREAD OF THIGH GAP OBSESSION

Thigh gap: What’s behind a dangerous teen body image obsession

Lucie Hemmen is determined to push back against the thigh gap trend currently spreading across social media. Hemmen, a Santa Cruz, Calif., clinical psychologist, is the author of “Parenting a Teen Girl: A Crash Course on Conflict, Communication, and Connection with Your Teen Daughter” (New Harbinger, $20) and works extensively with teenage girls on body image and self-esteem.

Want to join her cause? Here are five things you can do now to counter “thinspiration” and thigh gap concerns:

1. Encourage athletics. Hemmen says girl athletes are somewhat inoculated against the media’s too skinny messages. “Sports keep them focused and confident,” she says.

2. Seek positive role models. Focus on celebrities who defy the status quo image of beauty. “I’m so glad there are women like Beyoncé and Adele out there,” Hemmen says. “They are beautiful and strong and represent real women.”

3. Wield your power. Mothers, aunts and other adult women need to recognize that they are powerful role models. You may think your daughters don’t listen to you, but they do. “If you are always on a diet or complaining about your body, you are sending your daughter a message,” she says. “You must speak lovingly and acceptingly of your bodies and of others’ bodies.”

4. Help someone with an eating disorder. “Eating disorders are highly communicable,” Hemmen says. “If a girl who’s 98 pounds is hating on her body and saying how fat she is then her entire friend group feels the effects of that.”

5. Encourage media literacy. “Make an effort to be around when your teen daughter is on Tumblr or watching something on YouTube you can say honey, ‘That’s been digitally enhanced. Nobody’s ribs or legs or whatever look like that,’” she says. “We want to encourage irreverence to girls about a media that doesn’t give an (expletive) about their health and wellness.”