independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Liz Kearney: Thigh's the limit for women who fret about those bingo wings and cankles

Many women want arms like Michelle Obama’s – just one example of the way in which fixations can develop on individual parts of the body

THIGH gaps: have you got them? Do you want them? If you're young and you're female, the chances are you probably do.

Women are now in pursuit of a new set of perfect pins: legs that don't touch above the knees. It's the latest fad to sweep the internet, and if you google it, you'll see thousands of images of thighs which would not look out of place in a concentration camp.

The experts say that a thigh gap is anatomically impossible for most adult women without being underweight.

Nonetheless, squads of online 'experts' are queuing up to tell us how to achieve them. Squats, running, cardio: can all be employed to get those fatty femurs fit.

Or you could just stop eating altogether. That ought to do it.

A couple of years ago, it was Michelle Obama's arms. We all wanted them, few of us had them, and so we had ample opportunity to beat ourselves up over bingo wings and flabby biceps.

We've also enjoyed recent fixations on shoulders, backs, calves, feet, and hands. There is no part of our bodies that we do not let ourselves fret about, and the real tragedy of this peculiar form of insanity is that women have only themselves to blame.

Have you ever heard a man say, 'Check out the clavicle on that?' No, because they're too busy focusing on the overall package.

Meanwhile, we women are busy nitpicking and tormenting ourselves over obscure, hardly visible physical details. And when we're not tormenting ourselves, we're tormenting each other.

I've lost count of the number of conversations I've had that go something like this: "Did you see Mary the other night? She looked brilliant. Great dress, and her new boyfriend's hot. Seriously, though, what's with the cankles?"

Cankles? You don't know what cankles are? It's when your ankles lack proper definition and are too much like your calves, dummy.

You'd never worried about your cankles before? You should, you know, you really should, if you want to Be A Woman. And then go find yourself some ankle exercises and get doing them.

Yesterday, my doorbell rang unexpectedly and when I answered it, there was a trio of religious fanatics on the doorstep. They had only one question for me: Did I know how much Jesus loved me?

I didn't know, but I didn't give them a chance to tell me. I was anxious for them to leave as soon as possible, mainly because they were God-botherers, but also, because I had not yet brushed my hair.

Only when I'd closed the door did I realise how ridiculous it was: they were totally unembarrassed about calling, uninvited, to a stranger's door to ask about her relationship with Jesus, but I was red-faced because I was a little less than perfectly groomed. Okay, a lot less, but you get the point.

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which gives us occasion to think about another type of gap: the gap between healthy eating and moderate exercise routines, which are all A Good Thing, and starving yourself, purging, and excessive exercise routines, which are all A Bad Thing.

The troubling thing is, the gap between the two isn't as wide as we might like to think.

The 'thinspiration' websites visited by anorexics looking for advice on how to starve themselves out of existence contain many images which would not look out of a place in a glossy fashion magazine.

Similarly, there are exercise routines described on those websites which sound not unlike something you'd read about in a health and fitness magazine.

So how are we supposed to know the difference?

The other day I interviewed a teenager who has fought a long battle with anorexia, which she has now won.

She told me that having gone from wanting to look like the emaciated teens on the 'thinspo' sites she was once addicted to, now she just wants to look like Beyonce.

This was a pleasing thought: Beyonce is the very picture of a healthy, fit female, whose thighs look reassuringly close together.

But, but, but. Beyonce herself has admitted onstage that she "ate lettuce" to shed the 60 pounds necessary to embark on a gruelling tour after giving birth to her first baby.

OK, so she must have been exaggerating slightly, but she's well known for sticking to strict diets, including a mainly liquid diet she followed when trying to lose 20 pounds for her role in 'Dreamgirls'.

She's also fit as a fiddle – she needs to be to be able to perform like she does – but her exercise regime might be considered excessive if you or I were to embark on it. Not to mention exhausting. So is it really so great to want to look like Beyonce, if it means eating lettuce and spending several hours a day in the gym?

If we keep focusing on the gap – the one between our thighs, the one between how we look and how celebrities look, or the one between reality and so-called perfection – one day, we might just tumble head first into it. It's time we gave ourselves a break.

LIFE & LIVING: Teens with eating disorders, PAGE 38 & 39

Irish Independent

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