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For decades women have been pressured to aspire to a certain archetype. Though said ideal has taken many different forms as fashions have changed, and consumerism and advertising has become more and more prominent in our lives, women and girls have always been expected to conform to a set standard – and those who don’t are often ridiculed for not fitting into a designated box.
I have been a freelance model for over four years, and over that time I’ve done many different shoots; from night shoots on the docks in Liverpool to location shoots in the Lakes in freezing cold temperatures. I have fluctuated from a size 6 to a size 10, but I’ve always had thick thighs and am perfectly comfortable with them. For this reason, I was somewhat dismayed when I discovered photographs of myself which had been photoshopped to give me thinner legs and the coveted thigh gap.
The rise of a desire for a thigh gap has been an obsession among the social media generation for some time now. Just go on Tumblr and you’ll find countless images of skinny teens with stick-thin legs and the aforementioned gap, often accompanied by depressing hashtags such as #thinspo. Even Cara Delevingne has a fan-made Twitter account devoted to her thigh gap.
It is the increasing prominence of fashion brands in the media, which has helped to further the ubiquity of images of thin, beautiful women, making them appear to be the norm. Victoria’s Secret’s Instagram account has over 10 million followers; focus on the VS Angels has exploded over the past couple of years, and I’ve seen many tweets from girls my age expressing their wishes to look like these impossibly slim women, perceiving them to be in possession of the ‘perfect’ body. Victoria’s Secret even launched a campaign titled ‘The Perfect Body’ last year, which they changed after protests from several outlets that the campaign was guilty of body-shaming.
But body-shaming isn’t only reserved for those who might be deemed more ‘curvy’, whatever that means. It can take many different forms, and can target many different people. Whilst Meghan Trainor’s 2014 song ‘All About That Bass’ was deemed to positively include larger women in the media, it came under fire for appearing to body-shame skinnier girls. Released not long after this was Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’, which hailed larger butts as ideal, and included the lyric ‘F**k those skinny bitches’. Over the past year or so, the search for the ideal body seems to have moved away from the idea of thigh gaps, and a curvier figure has become more covetable; take Kim Kardashian, who doesn’t fit into the tall, slim model category, and is idolised by millions.
Achieving fitness and strength is becoming more desirable. However, so-called ‘fitness blogs’ often use images of incredibly skinny women to promote ‘fit’ bodies, when in reality they are presenting unrealistic images which have nothing to do with bodily strength. Equating a slim figure with a fit one may suggest to those who see these images that to be fit, you must be thin. This is absolutely not the case – campaigns such as ‘This Girl Can’ are helping to promote more varied and realistic images of women who exercise, diverting the focus away from fitness for the purpose of beauty, and showing how exercise promotes health and happiness.
Today’s media outlets (in particular fashion and gossip magazines) are extremely critical of women’s images. At awards ceremonies, reporters focus on female celebrities’ outfits, rather than asking them about their work. Actresses such as Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway have expressed their disbelief in interviews at being asked questions about their diet and exercise regime – in particular Anne Hathaway, who was asked about her diet for Les Misérables, a film for which she lost weight in order to look starved. When the spotlight is constantly on women, the pressure to look a certain way can be overwhelming. Hollywood is guilty of holding up thinness and youth as the norm – actresses are often told to lose weight for roles, and women over a certain age often resort to cosmetic surgery in order to retain a youthful visage.
I believe that unless we make a more conscious effort to promote a range of body images, body shaming will still be a problem in our society. So next time you see someone who you think looks good, tell them. Positivity is key.