Body Image Forum Analyzes Social Media Impact On Teen Girls

thigh-gap

If you type in the hashtags #anorexia, #bulimia or #eatingdisorders on Instagram, you will literally see millions of posts. If you try to click on the top search result, a warning will come up asking if you want help learning more about the harmful effects of eating disorders. What’s also bad about these hashtags is that there are more results for the above words than there are for #anorexiarecovery and #bulimiarecovery.

What did it take for Instagram to have to implement the warning on its app? The rise of dangerous body trends which have been sweeping the globe across all social media platforms. The thigh gap and bikini bridge trends are something that pretty much every young woman has heard about. They involve girls (mostly) posting photos of their legs displaying that “enviable” gap between the upper thighs. The bikini bridge shows girls lying down with the top of the bikini suspended off their stomach like a bridge, emphasizing a flat stomach.

These trends have angered a lot of people, including plus size supermodel Robyn Lawley who damned the dangerous movement.

“Women have enough pressure as it is without the added burden of achieving a ‘thigh gap.’ The last thing I would want for my future daughter would be to starve herself because she thought a ‘thigh gap’ was necessary to be deemed attractive. We have the power to change perceptions about body image—and we have the power to stop harmful trends like this.”

While we definitely need celebrities and people in the spotlight to spread empowering messages, it will take that metaphorical village to truly make a change. Over in Robyn’s native land of Australia, a Sydney city council team are tackling these social media trends by creating a forum dedicated to helping teen girls and parents reach a balance when it comes to body image and the media they consume.

The suburb of Ku-ring-gai are running the forum hosted by psychologist Agatha Niezabitowski who is passionate about helping girls understand the difference between reality and perceived reality that is perpetuated on social media. She wants to send a very clear message about how closely eating disorders are tied in with these awful trends.

“If you notice who you’re following is sending you unhealthy images such as an inadequate meal or constantly snapping their bikini bridge or thigh gap, just ­unfollow them and follow a more healthy idol.” This is where celebrities can be very effective, as they have a responsibility to promote positive messages. They are automatically put on a pedestal whether they like it or not, as it is just part and parcel of being famous. Many, however, just don’t care enough, and this is why everyday women are rising to the challenge.

Bikini-Bridge-Facebook

17 year-old Esther Shim who attended the forum said she doesn’t want to be judged by her social media presence as it shouldn’t be an indicator of her worth.

“Society places a lot of pressure on people to look a particular way, and I think girls need to believe in ­themselves,” she said, sounding wise beyond her years.

An important forum like this emphasizes how many different types of people in society can play an active role in combating harmful practices for young men and women. While social media is a very powerful platform promoting negativity, we as users can take control back and promote empowering messages to combat the opposite.

As for those “healthy idols” Dr. Agatha Niezabitowski mentioned, nowadays we can look to the communities around us to find inspiring women who want to make a difference. Just recently we have seen how the members of the Harvard Women’s Rugby Team are taking a stand against unhealthy body image trends. They participated in a photo shoot and posted them along with an essay on the Harvard Political Review, called ‘An Exercise in Body Image’.

Their story went viral around the world because it struck a chord with people desperately crying out for something different that the usual dialog we see in the media when it comes to beauty and body image (that we have to look like someone else and have a certain body shape to be “perfect” or “successful”.)

86% of female students surveyed reported the existence of an eating disorder by age 20, and eating disorders claim more lives than any other mental illness in the United States. The main culprit may be what author and speaker Courtney Martin calls the “frightening normalcy of hating your body.” Our society lacks a significant space for body positivity,” the article starts.

harvard-rugby-team

“Mainstream culture normalizes the flawless bodies that dominate every kind of mass media, sending girls the message that only slender, tall bodies are beautiful. At home, girls are taught to cross their legs in public and take up as little physical space as possible. They are taught that being beautiful is much more valuable than being smart and strong (trying weighing Kim Kardashian’s net worth against that of Condoleezza Rice). Magazines preach the gospel of constant diet and exercise to achieve “bikini bodies” that are meant to lounge poolside and be gazed upon.”

Any of this sound familiar? How many articles do we read about “achieving that bikini body for summer”?

They talk about these unhealthy messages being everywhere bombarding us, even in the grocery store checkout line.

“Women are bombarded with the idea that the purpose of exercise is to attain a fit body, rather than to improve athletically.”

What they wanted to achieve with this project was to show that being athletic and fit is a very different image to what the media projects.

harvard-rugby-team

 

They used the sport of rugby to illustrate a very universal truth when it comes to body diversity.

“Rugby has no ideal body type. The ten separate rugby positions provide every kind of physique the opportunity to play a role on the field—tall, short, broad-shouldered, curvy, thick-legged, tiny. Each girl uses her unique strengths to make a significant contribution to the team. Every body type is celebrated and appreciated. There is no such thing as an ideal rugby body.”

The images they shared show members of the team with words written on them with a Sharpie, which were actual compliments given to them from another team member. The girls wanted to show where real acceptance comes from and how being part of a supportive network is far more valuable than any external force.

“Words cannot adequately describe the liberating feeling that being a part of a team with such body positivity provides. Imagine the relief of taking a breath of fresh air after being drowned for so long in the pressure that society places on women to fit some unrealistic mold.”

Do you see any thigh gaps below? More importantly, do you see any of the girls in these photos caring whether they do or not? Yet they are strong, confident athletic women. Hmm, who would’ve thought those lofty goals could be reached sans bikini bridge and thigh gaps! (Well, we did).

harvard-rugby-team

“Although it is extremely difficult to maintain a constant state of positive self-image in our culture, every time a woman celebrates the beauty of her own body or of another woman she is making a political statement. She is saying that she refuses to accept the messages spread by mainstream culture, and she is refusing to accept that her body is only valuable as a visual object.”

You can take a look at all their photos in this link, but the message is loud and clear: don’t follow the trend! Trends only become popular because people refuse to think for themselves, in the case of trends like the thigh gap and bikini bridge.

How about we use our voices, like the Harvard Rugby team, and the Ku-rin-gai council members to show that we will not tolerate any more harmful messages. Our worth does not come from external measures and we refuse to be valued based on just our appearances. That’s called objectification, because objects don’t have souls, humans do.

We hope these stories will help you focus on finding a balance in life to empower you.

harvard-rugby-team

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Hey, Squat Master looks like me! 🙂 And she’s not ugly, she doesn’t have a freakish midsection, she wouldn’t be an embarrassing girlfriend…
    …Man, what terrible thoughts I had today. Typing them makes me realize how ridiculous they were.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.