Teen Talk: Obsession over 'thigh gaps' leads to unhealthy practices

11/12/2013 12:00 AM

11/18/2013 7:13 PM

Dear Kelly: About six months ago, my best friend and I decided we wanted to get thigh gaps so our homecoming pictures would look good if we wore short dresses. We read all about it on Tumblr. We dieted, worked out hard and did everything we could to lose any weight so we could get the thigh gap. We put “Keep Calm and Remember Thigh Gap” as our screen savers on our phones to remind us not to eat junk and keep exercising.

Everyone has noticed how much weight we have lost and they keep telling us how great we look. But the problem is that no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get thigh gap, and it’s really starting to make me obsess about it. My friend has thigh gap and is so excited and shows me all the time how great she looks. I’ve done everything the same as her and no-go on the thigh gap. I’m so frustrated and angry and don’t understand what more I can do.

The problem I’m writing to you about, though, is that I think I’m like becoming obsessed with it now and I’m kind of scaring myself with how much I think about it. But when I tell myself to stop and act normal, I can’t do it anymore. I told my best friend that I was becoming crazy about it, and she said that was OK because I just need to inspire myself to get it.

My parents noticed I’ve lost weight but they don’t know that I’m fixated on my legs. My mom says my weight is good now and I don’t need to lose any more weight and just maintain where I’m at, but I don’t want to stay where I’m at because that means no thigh gap.

Do I sound crazy? Do you think I’m obsessed with my legs and am afraid if I stop working on it I’ll get thunder thighs again?

– Jannae

Dear Jannae: First, be careful of what you are reading on Tumblr. The Internet can be a very dangerous place to research and learn about unhealthy habits and dangerous goals. If you are using the Internet to teach you about thigh gaps and how to lose weight in order to get one, then it’s time to close down your computer for a while and focus on getting emotionally and physically healthy.

Thigh gaps are a disturbing, fairly new trend that started with the ultra-skinny supermodels and now have young people (women, especially) trying to achieve the same look.

A “thigh gap” is a space between your legs when you stand with your feet together. Social media sites such as Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook show images of people with thin people and have large followers all trying to achieve the same look. Looking at these images can not only be destructive to your self-image, but also to your self-esteem if you aren’t able to achieve the goal.

The reality of thigh gaps is that for most people it is next to impossible to attain. It doesn’t matter how much you diet or exercise, the thigh gap is all about your bone structure and your genetic body makeup. Some people have body skeletons that have their legs closer together and some people have narrow hips that makes getting a thigh gap an unreasonable goal. Getting a thigh gap may never happen, and you will become incredibly unhealthy trying to get it.

You don’t sound crazy, but you are obsessing over the thigh gap, which could lead into an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder. Those disorders can lead to deadly choices for your weight and body-image aspirations. If you don’t get help now, I’m afraid of how unhealthy both mentally and physically you will become. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to break this unhealthy pattern of behavior you have started.

Go talk to your parents. Or your school counselor or school nurse. Or any trusted adult who can help get the point across to your parents that you need to speak with a professional counselor about what is going on. Hopefully your parents will see the urgency in this issue and have you go speak with a professional ASAP.

If they don’t, have your school counselor help point you in the right direction for where to turn and how to get the ball rolling on getting you someone to talk to. It’s so important you find someone who can help you work through this obsession and start to focus on being healthy instead of just skinny.

You are teenager and you need to learn to embrace your body instead of trying to mold it into something it was not meant to be. Our bodies are not just fat and bones; we have muscles, too. And they are important to helping us maintain our lives. Thigh muscles are valuable and help us walk, sit down, exercise or a host of other body movement functions. You are obsessed with dieting these muscles away.

You need someone to help you examine your thought process and change your goals to be more healthy and attainable. You are scaring yourself – that should be enough to make you know its time to reach out for help.

You can do this. You are important and you need to treat yourself and your body like you are a treasure. Learn to love your body regardless of what the Internet bloggers, social media or your best friend say. Love you for you.

Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.

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