Thigh Anxiety
September 20, 2015 5:28 PM   Subscribe

 
I appreciated this. Thigh anxiety is pretty recent, isn't it? It wasn't many years ago that I realized a thigh gap was a thing I was supposed to have. I was old enough at least to realize the response to that is the hell I will. A healthy weight has got nothing to do with that. Look at how beautiful Gayle and her mother are, in those pictures where they hated their thighs.

As a fourth-grader, I kept a diary. Around that time I got ahold of a pair of cutoff jean shorts. I tried them on, but my mother forbade me to wear them to school. I wrote down how excited I was to have them anyway: I even looked sexy with thunder thighs!

I underlined the words. I was nine. My mother had never spoken those words to me. On reflection, it was probably something I caught from Cathy Guisewite.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:45 PM on September 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


That was a really powerful read. thanks for posting.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 5:51 PM on September 20, 2015


[One comment deleted. Just a little reminder for anybody who needs it: men, this is not the place to offer information about your tastes in women's thighs. Please just keep those comments to yourself.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:52 PM on September 20, 2015 [63 favorites]


Thigh anxiety is pretty recent, isn't it?

Not for me! And I don't think Cathy Guisewaite was responsible - my family "caught" the term thunder thighs from a Robin Williams joke on Mork and Mindy when I was maybe 10 (I grew a set of hips and thighs before I developed any other adult female characteristics, and, my, what a jolly time I did have.)
posted by gingerest at 6:20 PM on September 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Recent indeed. I can remember reading a book (written in the 40s) in which a young woman was ashamed of her thigh gap, and trying to cover it up at the beach with a scarf around her waist.
(We Shook the Family Tree, by Hildegarde Dolson)
posted by librosegretti at 6:23 PM on September 20, 2015


It feels like no matter what a women's body looks like, there's always gonna be something we gotta be ashamed of having, and what that is has been set on a moving target with no discernible course. Kinda hatin' that really.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:55 PM on September 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've hated my legs since birth. Luckily as I age I've cared less about the pudge and cellulite, so there's that.
posted by hockeyfan at 6:57 PM on September 20, 2015


I remember the first time I saw a photograph of myself and thought, "Wow, my thighs don't look bad here!" I was 17, and I finally weighed nothing.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:07 PM on September 20, 2015


I feel like this is one of those things that women are never supposed to say, but I like my thighs. I think they're strong. I don't think that, objectively speaking, I have what society would consider great legs: they're disproportionately short, for one thing. But my thighs propel me through the water when I swim breaststroke. I can walk ten miles on these thighs. They have visible muscles, because they are powerful, and I like that. That's how I want them to look.

There's this particularly pernicious thing about female athletes, which the author once was, where they're supposed to be able to do things that require great strength, but they're supposed to have bodies that don't look muscular. They're supposed to be able to leap in the air and spin around three times and land on their feet, all while looking like some sort of tiny little woodland sprite. And fuck that. I'm not an athlete and never have been, but I want a body like Serena Williams'. I want to take up space. I want a body that looks powerful because it is powerful. I think it's great to have a thigh gap if that's the way your body is shaped, but I can't for the life of me see why it's something to aspire to.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:17 PM on September 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


I liked this part:
I have an image in my head of all the women who have ever had negative thoughts about our thighs coming together; I imagine us shedding our board shorts, shedding our shame, and creating a giant kick line. Not like The Rockettes, where every thigh is the exact shape as the the one next to it—this would be a diverse kick line, with thighs of every size and age and color and ability; dimpled thighs, smooth thighs, muscled thighs, partial thighs, thighs with stretch marks and scars and veins and track marks and bruises and wrinkles and tattoos and other histories, both hard and sweet, written on our skin.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of taking up space, of enjoying my body for the room it occupies in the world. I read an essay a little while ago by a woman who talked about the things she lost when she lost weight, and this was one of them, the sense of taking up space, of feeling like you can't be ignored. It's a kind of pleasure that's hard to cultivate but worthwhile, and thin petite women can do it as well as fat big-thighed people like me.

The effect of so many axes of oppression is to make you feel like you are being squashed down, like you should make yourself so small as to be invisible, and don't raise your voice, lest you inconvenience someone and forget your place in the order of things. And the most powerful way I've found to work against this is to start with your body. You are real and messy and warm because you matter. Would you tell a dog or a child to make themselves smaller? Would you tell someone you love that their physicality is a thing to be ashamed of? Enjoy your thighs, for real. If you've never felt the sunlight on them, you are missing out.
posted by thetortoise at 10:20 PM on September 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I will never forget the first time that I heard of the thigh gap. It was in 1979 and I was in 7th grade. I was walking to track practice with 4 girls who had come from a different elementary school than I did (my junior high class consisted of 4 elementary schools that merged into one JH. These girls came from well off backgrounds and were kind of aliens to me). One girl stopped and said let me check your thigh gap, explained what it was and how important it was. I passed the test...but thought to myself, "wtf is this new landscape that I have landed in and THIS is what matters?".

I don't remember much from 7th grade but I remember this and that is fucked up.
posted by futz at 10:22 PM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


You know how when you sit down or squat, your upper legs/thighs get wider than when you're standing up? It is so normal and natural for every body that I can't even adequately describe it. I was a pretty skinny kid and I remember when I first noticed this normal body phenomenon. Except instead of seeing it as a normal way the body changes in different positions it was the first time that I remember thinking that I was fat. Because my upper legs got wider when I crouched or sat. And in my very young mind wide=fat. It was my first distinct memory I have of real self-consciouness from thinking I was fat. When i was sitting I would try to cover my lap with a coat or something. I was maybe five or six.

It wasn't until high school (early 90s) that I learned about the coke bottle rule for thigh gaps. My friend could do it but I never could, no matter how thin I was. My body is just not built like that.

So many more stories of body shame! Like in third grade when I was wearing a turtleneck and a classmate said they could see the outline of my boobs (and really, I wasn't any more well-developed than your average third grade girl) through my shirt. Filled with deep shame, I never wore a turtleneck again.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:39 PM on September 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's a good piece and quite relatable in many ways.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:27 AM on September 21, 2015


It's only in the last few years that I've thought of my body parts as fit for purpose: arms that can lift heavy things; legs that can walk all day; hips that carried children on them; broad feet for a firm foundation and good balance. How can I feel regret?

And yet. "It feels like no matter what a women's body looks like, there's always gonna be something we gotta be ashamed of having, and what that is has been set on a moving target with no discernible course." Yes, yes, yes, Annika Cicada. The distance between knowing that my particular body is fit for its purpose--supporting the way I move in the world--and the carefully calculated and airbrushed and ever-shifting version of beauty that comes from corporations with goods to sell--is shame-making. Refusing to buy into that shame is both difficult and priceless.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:04 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


It feels like no matter what a women's body looks like, there's always gonna be something we gotta be ashamed of having, and what that is has been set on a moving target with no discernible course. Kinda hatin' that really.

Over the past quarter century I have been lucky enough to have several strong women as friends and romantic partners. And no matter how amazing each one of them was, I think each would be able to name five things she disliked her appearance more easily than one thing she was happy with.

It is terrible how this culture gets women to think about themselves.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:05 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I liked the article a lot. She captured both how objectively inaccurate her feelings were, along with how overpoweringly strong (and constantly externally reinforced) they were. Several times she connected her feelings to past family trauma (including amputations), which I thought interesting.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:21 AM on September 21, 2015


My first husband’s best friend visited after my second baby was born when I was twenty-five, and told me I was looking good—real good, he said, eyes sweeping up and down—I just needed to work on my thighs, he said.


"Abyss of fury" was not the emotional state I planned to start my week in. As a woman who has been on the receiving end of "you would be so beautiful if you lost weight" comments from countless well-meaning but sexist strangers, I wish I could travel in time and...calmly talk some sense into that man.
posted by Tarumba at 5:54 AM on September 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


It is terrible how this culture gets women to think about themselves.

I like to name the problem, so: It's terrible how men encourage women to think about themselves, and how women learn to proliferate those same attitudes because we are rewarded for doing so.

As someone who learned that she should hate her body when she was a small child but didn't actually start hating it until she was in her 30s, every part of this essay touched me deeply, especially when she talks about the days when she felt her legs were her freedom and her friends. Growing up, my body used to feel like home to me, but I feel such an intense sense of shame about it now that it sends me reeling a dozen times a day. I avoid mirrors, I don't let people take photos of me, and I won't get undressed in anything but perfect pitch dark, even if I'm alone. It's impossible to describe what it feels like to hate the very root of your whole self so much to someone who didn't grow up under the thumb of that programming -- men will always try to minimize your concerns by reminding you that hey, some of us like [insert your most-hated, most-widely-seen-as-flaw trait], so what's the problem?

To that end, many men are quite happy to say outright, "Don't worry, I think women with [trait generally considered to be unattractive] are sexy," like some dude apparently did here, and the lack of empathy in this response is staggering to me. Do they think we're supposed to be impressed or grateful or something? Because all this says to me is that whoever is saying it either doesn't really think women are human in the first place, or they truly can't conceive of how spouting off with an attitude of "Wait! Let me tell you whether my boner likes it!" directly contributes to the cultural understanding that women are literally objects intended for male observation, use, and consumption.
posted by divined by radio at 7:31 AM on September 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


You know how when you sit down or squat, your upper legs/thighs get wider than when you're standing up? It is so normal and natural for every body that I can't even adequately describe it. I was a pretty skinny kid and I remember when I first noticed this normal body phenomenon. Except instead of seeing it as a normal way the body changes in different positions it was the first time that I remember thinking that I was fat. Because my upper legs got wider when I crouched or sat. And in my very young mind wide=fat. It was my first distinct memory I have of real self-consciouness from thinking I was fat. When i was sitting I would try to cover my lap with a coat or something. I was maybe five or six.

Oh man, this. I remember knowing that it was "normal" and yet not quite being able to ignore that my friends' thighs didn't do that. (15 years later, one of those friends admitted she never, ever let her thighs actually quite touch the seat! Not even as an adult. Because she'd felt just as self-conscious as I had. Both of us then wracked our brains for the source of this pernicious nonsense but could not dig it up.) I do remember it as being, like, the dawn of a realization that puberty was a thing and it was NOT a thing that was going to go well for me.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:11 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think I ever heard the phrase "thigh gap" until the last year or two, and Google seems to support the notion that it's become more of a "thing" in the past few years. Is the thigh gap something that women have always thought/known about, but just hadn't caught on as a larger pop culture thing?
posted by tonycpsu at 9:25 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a fine, powerful essay and I hope it gets a lot of traction and helps women stop buying into that shit. Thanks for posting it!

That said—and I hope no one takes this as any sort of attempt to diminish the essay or sidetrack the conversation, because it's not, I just can't bear to let bullshit about language go uncorrected—the following paragraph should have been omitted:
The thigh bone, or femur, is the longest bone in the human body. It finds its root in Latin—the outer thigh was known as the femar, the inner thigh the femen. The Latin word femina springs from the same root. The Romans considered thighs inherently female. Femina is also intimately connected with the Greek word phemi, meaning a woman’s ability to speak with grace.
That's all nonsense. There is no word femar, femen is just a rare alternate form of femur, the etymology of femur is unknown, and Latin femina (from Indo-European *dhē(i)- 'to suck') has nothing to do with Greek phemi (from Indo-European *bhā- 'to speak'), which simply means 'I speak,' not "a woman’s ability to speak with grace." I don't know why people feel compelled to dabble in stuff like this when they know nothing about it and it's irrelevant to the point they're making, but I wish they'd stop.
posted by languagehat at 9:34 AM on September 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think the phrase "thigh gap" is new, and the cultural obsession with it is new, but thinking that your thighs shouldn't touch is not new.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:46 AM on September 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've known about the concept of thighs not rubbing together since high school (early 90s) even if the term thigh gap wasn't used.

Anyway, I don't remember which of these experiences was first but they all were formative to my hatred of my legs:

- The boy who told me (high school or jr high?) that girls should be able to hold a pencil in the horizontal crease between their butt and thighs while standing straight.

- The first time I heard the term "thunder thighs"

- When I saw a picture of myself post-puberty, sitting on the couch with my thighs all spreading out and realized I was "fat" (I was not fat, my thighs were spreading out because I was sitting.)

- When I first noticed stretch marks on my thighs from aforementioned puberty. Similarly, when I first realized I had cellulite.

- When someone called my mom's ample hips/thighs "saddlebags" and realizing I had them too and oooooohhhh how I hate those pockets of fat right at the outside tops of my thighs, too low and saggy to be conventionally attractive curvy hips. To this day I have a hard time using the word "saddlebag" in any context, and since I do long distance cycling that is actually relevant to my life.

- I saw a female comedian in my early teens on TV who had a joke about how she has the opposite of an eating disorder, because instead of looking in a mirror and seeing herself as fat, she looks in a mirror and sees herself as skinny. I learned IN THAT MOMENT that I couldn't trust what I thought about my body.

Thank you so much for this article. It is so great. I will say that getting tattoos on my thigh has been kind of life-changing in this respect. Yes part of it is it hides the dimples of cellulite and camouflages the stretch marks, but it's also that now I have something really awesome and badass on my legs that I sometimes want to show off and that is a very different feeling from thinking I should hide them to spare others the sight.
posted by misskaz at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


That part, where the doctor gives her shit about her thighs? and then, the picture? It's one of the few excuses I can think of to slap someone straight in the mouth. Not that I'm advocating violence. Because that would be wrong.
posted by valkane at 10:14 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was very scrawny through childhood and my late teens. I don't think I really filled out until I was 20 or 21. I was so so embarrassed of my too skinny thighs. I hated my thigh gap and wished I could be curvy and have some meat on my bones. Now I have human looking thighs instead of bones with skin attached and I love them and my legs are my absolute favorite part of my body.

My best friend played volleyball and her specialty was the back row so she had very muscular thighs from squatting so much. She got the "thunder thighs" comments a lot. I never saw her wear shorts in public until we were out of high school and she wasn't playing anymore and lost the muscle mass she had.

I learned IN THAT MOMENT that I couldn't trust what I thought about my body.

This! I don't know if you meant that as a positive or negative thing but I see it as a positive. I firmly believe that everyone is their own harshest critic and most people aren't going to notice the little things that a person hates about themself.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:42 AM on September 21, 2015


This! I don't know if you meant that as a positive or negative thing but I see it as a positive.

Cannot speak for the author of the comment but I interpreted it as a negative, and it mirrors my own fear that while I looked in the mirror this morning and thought, "ok, that's fine," in truth I am walking about as the unknowing object of mockery and revulsion.

This feeling was not helped by the many times in my youth that it turned out to be quite true.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2015


Yes I can see that too. I definitely felt that when I was younger as well.

I retract my firm belief when it comes to school. Kids/teenagers probably do notice all the things you're insecure about and talk about it among themselves behind your back. Kids/teenagers are terrible people.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:17 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sorry, I meant that in the negative way. I was just floating through life as a kid not really caring much what my body looked like, thinking I looked fine when I looked in the mirror. Then I heard that stand-up routine and instantly thought that I probably looked terrible in real life and I just didn't realize it.
posted by misskaz at 12:58 PM on September 21, 2015


>I like to name the problem, so: It's terrible how men encourage women to think about themselves, and how women learn to proliferate those same attitudes because we are rewarded for doing so.

Thank you.

It makes me sad that this article needed to be written, but relieved that I'm not alone. I will never forget one childhood sleepover (at age 10 or so) where all the other guests played with the host's costumes, but I couldn't fit many of them because my legs weren't slender enough. I will never forget the way the host's mother cheerily talked about how beautiful models were who had a thigh gap, and oh how wonderful the other girls were because they had them. I will never fucking forget the pity with which she looked at me when she saw that I lacked said thigh gap. Ever. If I had to pinpoint the place where I first began to feel shame and disgust about my own body, it would probably be that moment right there.
posted by Ashen at 1:09 PM on September 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


My thighs have always been the least-objectively-beautiful part of my body. They are as thick as many people's waists. They have cellulite and stretch marks. My quads jut out so far that they form a shelf. And yet, my thighs helped me win basketball championships, shotput and discus matches, and fencing bouts. They helped me deadlift a car when I needed to.

My ability to have a thigh gap is inversely proportionate to my ability to get shit done. Thanks, but I'd rather be powerful than look "good."
posted by culfinglin at 2:00 PM on September 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Something that impacted me in a big, big way was a commercial that ran in the early 70's or so. It was an ad for hair color and it said "[You can't change X, you can't change Y,] you can't change the size of your thighs, but now you can change the color of your hair." I remember being devastated by that. All the dieting, all the exercise nothing was going to give me the thin thighs that I craved. It fit right in with all of the nonsense floating about in Cosmo and other mags about how if you had "big thighs" you should not do any exercise because that would make them bigger. Rather you should diet and then when your thighs were slim you should exercise.

All of the worry and loathing and anger over that body part. To tell the truth, I wish I had my high school thighs back because they were strong (I was a backpacker/hiker and could hike 30 miles a day) and they were smooth. My 58 year old thighs are just fine, thank you very much, even beautiful in some light, but they aren't as strong as they used to be.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:09 PM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


« Older Put a cork in it.   |   Bae of Pigs Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments