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Why calling out thigh gaps in ads hurts more than it helps

I love Pinterest, but I had never even heard of a thigh gap before discovering the website in 2011. I’m pretty well-versed on social trends and current events, so if I didn’t know about it chances are most other women hadn’t heard about this somewhat-mythical body feature either.

Now? Ask any random person and it’s likely she’ll tell you more about the space — or lack of space — between her thighs.

My 10-year-old niece knows what thigh gaps are. Yep, that’s scary.

The whole explosion isn’t because Urban Outfitters decided to photoshop a thigh gap into a woman modeling a pair of panties. It’s because someone searches it out and creates a campaign against it that inevitably goes viral. Websites and news organizations cover the controversy ad nauseam and eventually everyone who pays even a little bit of attention finds out about it, including those impressionable people who correlate super-thin thighs with beauty.

Now, I’m not letting companies like UO off the hook, though. The “edgy” company has never been accused of making sound decisions (remember the blood-spattered Kent State sweatshirt?) and someone there needs to get their Photoshop privileges revoked, stat. But in reality, the number of people who’d actually stumble across the product shot is tiny compared to the thousands, or even millions, of people who are now exposed to it thanks to all of the conversation around it.

The focus needs to shift away from outrage over a company’s lack of airbrushing skills to the importance of showing that hey, all bodies are different — and they’re all beautiful. Some people have thigh gaps naturally so does that mean we need to be upset over their influence on others? No. We need to celebrate that all bodies are different and beautiful. Some people have thigh gaps, others don’t… just like some people are tall and others aren’t. We can’t control our height, just as we really can’t always control how our bodies are shaped.

Easier said than done, I know. But we know we’re moving in the right direction when even Vogue embraces body acceptance.

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