by Shavon L. McKinstry

This post contains content that may be triggering to people with eating disorders. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, self-harm, or other mental health issues, please call or chat online with the National Eating Disorder Association (calls US only) at 1–800–931–2237, or Befrienders Worldwide to find an international hotline.

The first time I ever heard about the thigh gap was when I was 15. I was checking one of my favorite blogs, Postsecret, when I came across a submission that I never quite forgot: A black and white photo of a thin girl in her underwear with words typed over her legs. “I’m terrified that my thighs will touch together one day.”

I was conscious of my body and weight already, but this was something  I had never considered. The thigh gap. A new standard of thinness and beauty for me and others to obsess over. The fear of legs touching. The desire for negative space.

That was 2009. Today, in 2013, the thigh gap is becoming more popular than ever. Entire blogs are dedicated to worshipping the anatomies of girls with impossibly thin legs. Tumblr has a Fuck Yeah Thigh Gap, a “The Wonder That is the Thigh Gap,” and innumerable pro-anorexia posts and blogs tagged with “thigh gap.” Even on wikiHow, a site that lets anyone create detailed instructions on how to do and make nearly anything, someone has written a guide on how to achieve the elusive thigh gap with a dangerously restrictive diet and excessive exercise.

Here’s the problem, among many others: the thigh gap, as a unit of perfection, beauty, and fitness, does not exist–at least, not the way all these blogs act like it does.

Simply put, your weight does not determine whether your thighs touch or not. The natural width of your pelvis is the deciding factor, according to pediatric orthopedist Laura Tosi. This is no different than the shade of your skin, the size of your feet, your dimples, your birthmarks–they’re all features determined by your genetics that you can’t naturally change. You can’t have a thigh gap if your pelvis isn’t wide enough.

A recent post from a Tumblr used this gif to expose how easy it is to fake this  “look.” The girl in the picture, who is thin, does not have a natural thigh gap. She braces her legs and pushes her pelvis back to create the look of one. A thigh gap can be faked just as much as a fuller bust with a padded bra, or a bigger butt with a pair of padded jeans or underwear.

This new craze hurts girls. It’s another gateway to unhealthy body-image, and so specific that it even allows girls who are already starving to be thin to find more things to be dissatisfied about themselves with. It adds to the culture of judging women’s bodies to fit impossible standards of beauty, to jump through more psychological hoops.

Four years ago, I didn’t know what a thigh gap was. I wasn’t blithely unconcerned about my body image, I was (and sometimes still am) always aware of the size of my stomach, my cellulite, my double chin. These are all simply different concerns in the same vein as thighs that don’t touch: society tells us that if we have or don’t have these things, we aren’t being women the way they want us to be women. We’re doing it wrong.

Here’s the PSA of the day: there’s no wrong way to be a woman. There’s no wrong way to look. There’s no wrong way to be you. What the nameless, faceless mass that is society wants you to look like should have no bearing on your day-to-day life. A counter-campaign has been taken up against the thigh gap fad. Tumblr blogs like Fuck Yeah Touching Thighs post pictures of women of all body types without a thigh gap. The backlash against the thigh gap isn’t meant as a punishment for people who already have them, but rather a means to normalize “other” bodies, not just the rare ones that are deemed “okay” or “beautiful” by society at large. People, whether they be strangers, enemies, friends, relatives, should not be able to make you feel bad about your body. These blogs are helping to move to a more positive view of body image to stop the shaming of bodies that don’t fit these specific images. They take away the power of the thigh gap and those who use it as a standard of beauty, something we should all be working towards.