The “thigh gap” craze. Instagram is full of it. Twitter is awash with images of starving girls killing themselves in pursuit of the latest body aspiration: the ability to be able to stand with your feet together and have legs so thin that the thighs don’t touch. Of course for some girls this is their natural body shape and it poses no problems at all; they are still beautiful, healthy ladies. But what is this isn’t a safe and natural size for you and you have to resort to starvation to achieve it?

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“Too fat” according to social media: Vogue model Robyn Lawley

The news this week reported on how Vogue model Robyn Lawley was condemned by social media for the absence of the coveted “thigh gap”, something that is not only unnatural without a certain hip measurement (and naturally some girls do), but left her subjected to a tirade of abusive labels such as “pig” and “too fat” and how she has decried this vicious attack on her image. But this is no new concept, just a rapidly growing one. It has been thriving on social media Tumblr for a few years and has spread quickly to various other social media platforms; sites students are exposed to every day on their laptops and phones.

Is it any wonder that according to findings by the Social Issues Research Centre, as many as 80% of women are unhappy with their bodies? Men were found to be much more likely to be “either pleased with what they see or indifferent”, though there has been an increase in cases of men with body image issues in recent years, with eating disorders are becoming far more common among males, due surely in part to the projected ideals splashed across men’s fitness magazines and increased pressure on from the media (for example,there has been a great increase in health and beauty products targeted for male consumers in the last few years, proving it is no longer just women who are expected to follow high-maintenance regimes to strive for an unattainable ideal).

An example of just how image-obsessed a nation we have become became depressingly apparent during the recent royal wedding when I was dismayed to find myself bombarded by a sudden influx of magazines and tabloids which appeared more interested in Pippa Middleton’s bum than the actual ceremony. Suddenly the magazines were filled with diet and fitness tips on “how to look like Pippa Middleton”. What should have been a day of enjoying her sister’s wedding turned into Pippa being inadvertently thrust into the spotlight by a nation obsessively scrutinising her body. Never mind Kate Middleton’s charity work, we all wanted to stop and glorify her sister’s backside.

Now it’s all about the thigh gap. Starvation is apparently power, the skeletal body a success. What kind of “role models” are young people being told to look up to? With all the dangerous complications an eating disorder brings, it horrifies me that we are being made to admire women who in the pursuit of “perfection” suffer osteoporosis, loss of hair, lack of menstruation and permanent cold.

 Doesn’t sound so perfect all of a sudden, does it?

Unless we focus on real qualities and the real talents and achievements that inspire us, we are letting the media brainwash us into thinking the only key to happiness is to eat leaves and tweet pictures of our legs as the muscles eat themselves away.  It’s enough to make anyone weep into their Special K.

As part of the ongoing B-eat campaign to raise awareness of eating disorders and the recent attention surrounding the thigh gap issue, I wanted to counteract this with bringing to light some real role models with positive and inspiring qualities every smart, free-thinking young person can aspire to. I asked students in Swansea Uni about who they would choose as their positive role model. The results were mixed, but encouraging to see:

 “My role model is Nigella Lawson, she taught me how to cook and how to not be scared to be slightly bigger. I’ve always had a rubbish metabolism and for a while it really got to me but then everyone talked about how beautiful and curvy Nigella looked and I realised that all you need is a smile and confidence to actually be beautiful. She has inspired me to try all sorts of new food and her recipes are really easy—and cheap!— so I still use them to this day.”—Tori Ilana Evans, part-time Disabilities Officer at Swansea Uni Students Union

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Nigella Lawson

“I love Jennifer Lawrence. I think she’s yet to be tainted by the pressures of the media and actually goes out of her way to talk about food and doesn’t avoid body issue questions in interviews. I also think she’s an amazing actress and admire her portrayal of mental disorders in Silverlining Playbook.”—Danielle Morgan, 3rd year BA English Literature

Kate Nash

“I’d probably have to go with Carol Ann Duffy, she is my favourite poet and her work inspires me to write. She is also the first female poet laureate and if that doesn’t make her a role model I don’t know what does!”—Ashleigh Sullivan, 3rd year BA English Literature

“Kate Nash, because she challenges gender stereotypes in music.”—Rhian Evans, 3rd year BA History

Finally, I’ll add my own to the list: Wales’ own comedy genius Ruth Jones, whose sharp observations, wit and refreshing comedy always fill me with admiration and have spurred me to have the confidence to try the script-writing module in my MA. Not to mention she’s a fabulous actress and unafraid to be herself.That, to me, is true beauty.  I’m also a massive fan of the talented Keira Knightley, who is constantly attacked with labels such as “anorexic” and “boyish”, proving that even naturally thin girls are not free from abuse. How about we focus on the fact she is a talented actress?  (Co-editor Zoe Alford votes Miranda Hart, pointing out quite rightly that she made galloping officially cool).

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The fabulously witty Miranda Hart

So how many of these are coveted for the circumference of their thighs? What these role models all have in common is the ability to live out their passions and inspire others to do the same. As smart young people, we don’t need to be duped by the media’s idea of the embodiment of “success”. We do not have to be brainwashed into abusing our precious bodies for an unattainable and, frankly, sick ideal to satisfy a warped concept of “perfection”. Perfection doesn’t exist. The illusion of perfection we are presented with is just a symptom of a sick, image-obsessed and airbrushed world. Be proud to be YOU. Surround yourself with REAL role models whether that’s a chef, a singer, a sportsperson or even a strong family member who has a positive influence on your life.

People are remembered for their intelligence, bravery and kindness. It’s time to focus on something other than image…the key to success does not lie in how slim or curvy you are.

And no one ever made history for their salad-eating skills

by Natalie Ann Holborow

Who is YOUR role model? Who do you believe embodies positive qualities we can aspire to as young people? We’d love to hear your comments at The Siren!

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