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Lucy Mangan: "The thigh gap: has it really come to this?"

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"OK. That’s it. Everybody: pick up your canned goods, portable water purification systems and any ammo you have lying around. You’re all coming down to the bunker with me. Modern Life, she just became, as Mam’zelle in The Twins At St Clare’s used to say, insupportable.

What has finally pushed me over the edge? Well, ironically – nothing. Specifically, the nothing that is between laydeez’ legs. No, not that nothing. Which isn’t nothing anyway, it’s definitely something, just not as obvious as male somethings and so in this patriarchally ordered world they get defined as nothing. But that’s really another subject for another time and another place – possibly an impassioned A-level essay I should have got out of my system 20 years ago, BUT ANYWAY…

The nothing I am talking about is the thigh gap. A spate of abuse with which the inexpressibly beautiful plus-size model Robyn Lawley was greeted when she posted a picture of herself in a corset on Facebook, showing legs that met in the middle and all the way up, has brought the phrase and the concept to public attention. A diamond-shaped space between the thighs immediately below your knicker gusset where flesh usually goes is de rigueur for models these days and increasingly, it has emerged in the wake of Lawley’s castigation, for what we might term normal women too.

Has it really come to this? Feminist writers, academics and those who care for and treat those with eating disorders have long viewed contemporary beauty standards and the tyranny of modern dieting as methods for weakening women individually and en masse by redirecting their resources, their self-discipline, their anger and anxieties away from external entities and onto themselves instead. When you’re faint from lack of hunger, when you know you won’t be taken seriously at work or desired in bed unless you have made yourself look a certain way, then you’re hardly going to have energy left to cause much trouble in the wider world. A nifty trick if you can pull it off and it seems that somehow it has been. The prizing of a thigh gap is essentially the prizing of someone prepared to starve herself into literal as well as metaphorical invisibility.

The prizing of a thigh gap is the prizing of someone who’s starving herself

In a way, it’s good news. When something so patently extreme, so obviously absurd comes along, it prompts us all to look again at the madness that envelops us. Whenever a new marker for our and society’s expectations comes along, it encourages us to look again at the old ones.

The thigh gap is physically impossible for some women to achieve. And it’s a reminder that this is true for so much of what we have come to think of as normal, or at least possible. Perfect skin is a gift from God, genes or gentle attention from the airbrush. I sometimes wonder why my skin looks so disgustingly dull until I remember that most of the people I see (not meet, but see on TV, billboards at the station, ads strewn across my magazines and internet) are shiny. Not glowing with good health, but actually shiny, rendered so by technology. It is literally impossible to emulate them in real life.

Then there are the inconsistencies within a single body. Tall, slim, athletically built women, for example, tend not to have voluptuous breasts. That so many actresses, celebrities and others in the public eye do is a result of surgery (violent, invasive surgery) or digital trickery – manipulation of one kind or another, not nature. We forget, because it’s everywhere.

Oh, and tall, slim, athletically built women aren’t that common either – you just get that impression, accompanied by the vague feeling if you are under 5ft 10in and/or over nine stone three that you are permanently failing in some way, because they are so overrepresented among those who are held up for worship.

I feel I’m peering through that diamond-shaped void at a world gone mad (especially when I spy a Twitter account set up in the name of Cara delevingne’s intercrural void. Part of me wants to investigate what makes hers special enough to prompt this honour and part of me devoutly does not). At least my own thighs are sturdy enough to make it all the way down the ladder to the bunker. Join me, do. And bring some chocolate as well. We have important adiposal work to do.”

Image credit: Robyn Lawley, Rex Features

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