“That’s how early girls fall prey to this issue,” says Hemmen, who is the mother of two teenage girls. “I feel like thigh gap is just the newest incarnation of a ridiculous standard that’s depicted in the media. It used to be a concave stomach. Next, it’ll be a dimple here or there.”
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 Beyonce 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.’”