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What is a thigh gap? Parenting on body image issues

Monday - 2/24/2014, 6:55am  ET

Thighgap_AP.JPG
In this Sept. 10, 2006, file photo, a thin model walks the runway at the Rosa Cha Spring 2007 fashion show in New York. Experts in eating disorders are concerned about an Internet-fueled trend in which teenage girls and young women pursue an elusive and possibly dangerous weight-loss goal: to become so slender that their thighs don't touch even when their feet are together. Some exceptionally thin models have a gap, which is upheld as a beauty achievement on countless websites, blogs and other social media. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)

What is the 'thigh gap?'

WTOP's Randi Martin reports

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WASHINGTON -- "Say what?" That was the reaction most adults gave when asked if they know about a "thigh gap." But for teens -- and in some cases, tweens -- a thigh gap is the new norm.

"It's very frustrating," says teen development specialist and body image expert Robyn Silverman. "Because it is something that is so unattainable for most girls and most women."

The thigh gap is defined as the space between your inner thighs when you stand with your feet together. And if that doesn't sound like enough of a nightmare, parents are also dealing with another unhealthy body trend known as the "bikini bridge."

This body trend is the when bathing suit bottoms are held up by protruding hip bones, rather than the abdomen when lying down.

Bombarded by media -- social and commercial -- fashion magazines, supermodels and pop stars, many girls have a hard time accepting their own bodies.

For many parents, raising a teen girl who is healthy in her own skin is a challenge. But if faced with this challenge, Silverman says to keep one question in mind: "Are you trying to get your child to be healthy or are you trying to get your child to be thin?"

How do you guide your daughter?

Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, local parenting expert and writer Meghan Leahy offers advice and perspective on parenting -- especially when it comes to body image issues.


I settled in to watch the Grammy's with my three young girls nestled around me. I had no intention of allowing them to watch the entire telecast -- maybe the first act would be Katy Perry or Taylor Swift.

Before I knew it, there was Beyoncé, beautiful as ever, wearing almost no clothing.

My 6-year-old gasped, "Mom, she's wearing a bathing suit!"

My 10-year-old exclaimed, "No, silly, it's like underwear, but underwear you can dance in … Like Lady Gaga."

I fumbled for the remote control and quickly clicked "off" as Beyoncé slid around a chair. My girls were glued to the screen.

Sigh.

Listen, I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and let's not pretend that those were chaste years.

They weren't. There was way more side boob flashing around on "Three's Company" than on today's "American Hustle."

The ‘90s had Madonna in her skivvies, grinding beds while holding crucifixes, as well as George Michael crooning, "I Want Your Sex."

And then millennium gave us those gross, thong-showing jeans (thank you, Britney Spears) that left nothing to the imagination.

So, why is 2014 any different? Why are we more worried about our children when it comes to bodies and body image?

For one thing, and with only a couple of exceptions, your parents knew what you were seeing and doing, back in the day. Children could not sit in front of devices and consume pictures and messages all day.

The availability of images, blogs, website, apps and social media outlets inundate our children's brains, and they become addicted -- yes, addicted -- to watching their favorite stars, musicians and celebrities.

And since parents either don't, or can't, keep track of which images are being consumed, no one is talking to our girls (or boys) about body image, photo- shopping, anorexia, bulimia, drug use, binge drinking, prescription drug abuse, etc.

Our young girls see skinny, rich, beautiful, and do not understand that it is not healthy, and more to the point, that those images are not what they seem.

What is a parent to do? Here are some tips to prevent and approach body image issues:

  1. Monitor websites and social media. This means: Know where your children are going and what they are seeing. Don't stalk or spy; be open about your intentions and set the boundary -- strongly.

  2. Limit the use of technology. This is simple and hard to do, but do not allow your child to endlessly surf. Choose hours and minutes and stick to it.

  3. Do not buy or keep magazines that promote superficial beauty and unhealthy body images. If an Us Weekly is always sitting around, your young girl will pick it up and read it. Keep it out of the house.

  4. Stay aware of the shows that your young girl is watching. Some of the shows are OK, but many are pretty awful when it comes to girls and body image. There is a fairly strong message of: The funny and smart girls are slightly fat and not as pretty, whereas the leading roles are generally blond, skinny and gorgeous.

  5. Do not make an issue of food or talk to young girls about "getting chubby," or "let's try to lose the baby fat." This sets a dangerous precedent of dieting and sends a strong message that the young girl should be uncomfortable in her body. Meals should be served family style, be healthy, and all sweets and fats should be enjoyed sparingly.

  6. Most importantly, do not diet or exercise in a manic way, say unkind things about your body, or say unkind words about anybody else's body.

    While our culture still trades on women's looks to sell everything from beer to cars, while there is Victoria's Secret underwear made for 10-year olds, while women are still objectified and made to feel that they should fit one standard (skinny or skinnier), the most important message a young child receives is from her own parent.

    The attachment a girl has with her mother will help guide her into self-acceptance, self-love, self-confidence and a positive self-image. These are not ideas that the mother gives the child. These positive aspects are a result of a healthy relationship of total acceptance.

    As the adults, it is our responsibility to model what healthy looks, feels, sounds and tastes like. Do not expect schools or our larger culture to take this on … It is in our hands.

Editor's Note: Using common sense, the latest science, and a healthy dose of humor, Meghan Leahy supports parents in their quest to establish positive connections with their children. A mother of three young children and a certified parent coach, Meghan teaches parenting techniques to both individuals and groups in the Washington D.C. area, as well as all over the country. She is the parenting expert for Discovery Fit and Health.com, as well as a frequent contributor to The Washington Post parenting blog "On Parenting." Follow Megan on Twitter.

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