- A thigh gap is when a person’s inner thighs don’t touch while standing with their feet together.
- For some people, there is no way to get a thigh gap since it largely depends on bone structure.
- Thigh gaps are a dangerous beauty ideal that can cause overexercising, extreme dieting, and anxiety.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
You don’t have to spend much time on the internet to know that it is riddled with unrealistic beauty standards. One trend in particular — the thigh gap — continues to be popular on social media, garnering more than 102,000 posts on Instagram alone. And, while the thigh gap may be idolized in popular culture, you shouldn’t try to get one.
What is a thigh gap?
The “thigh gap” is the space between the thighs when standing upright with the feet together. Essentially, it just means someone’s inner thighs don’t touch or rub against each other.
“[The thigh gap] is not a standard of health, but an aesthetic standard that is often recommended for women. However, it is an unrealistic beauty ideal for many,” says Janet A. Lydecker, PhD, a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine that specializes in obesity, weight, and eating research.
The term began popping up on the internet in 2010, but didn’t become commonplace until 2013. During this time period, pictures of women with thigh gaps — usually models — were shared on social media and blogs. Coined “thinspiration,” the photos were meant to motivate viewers to achieve thinner bodies.
Keep in mind that photos depicting beauty standards, such as the thigh gap, are often strategically posed or digitally altered and rarely reflect what that person actually looks like.
Can you get a thigh gap?
A person’s ability to have a thigh gap largely comes down to their genetic predisposition and bone structure. This means that even naturally slim people won’t necessarily have a thigh gap, or that someone who is curvier may have a thigh gap.
“A thigh gap is most affected by your bone structure, specifically the width of your hips and the position of your hips within your pelvis. It is also affected by genetics, specifically where your body stores fat. Thus, for the most part, there isn’t a lot that you can do to achieve a thigh gap, nor should you try,” says Elizabeth C. Gardner, MD, FAAOS, an orthopedic surgeon at Yale Medicine and assistant professor of orthopedics at the Yale School of Medicine.
Although some people swear you can get a thigh gap by methods or hacks, like targeted fat loss, inner thigh exercises, or excessive dieting, these won’t work for everyone. And over time, they can be dangerous since extreme calorie restriction can cause bone loss and cardiovascular problems.
Additionally, strengthening the inner thigh muscles with “thigh gap exercises” won’t increase space between your thighs, says Gardner. That’s because exercising specific body parts doesn’t translate to fat loss in targeted areas.
The dangers of beauty ideals
Making drastic lifestyle changes, such as excessive dieting or overexercising, to achieve a particular beauty ideal puts both your physical and mental health at risk.
“Unfortunately, there is a strong association between … striving for a thigh gap and disordered eating,” says Gardner.
In fact, a 2019 study among female college students aged 18 to 25 years old found that exposure to unrealistic beauty ideals may cause body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction is associated with unhealthy weight control behaviors, low self-esteem, and symptoms of eating disorders.
Plus, “people who engage in body checking, such as scrutinizing a thigh gap, can have eating disorders as well as anxiety disorders,” says Lydecker. These conditions place people at an increased risk of infertility, hair loss, and a persistent feeling of dread.
A thigh gap, which means not having your inner thighs touch, is an unrealistic beauty standard since not everyone is genetically inclined to have a thigh gap.
Attempting to achieve a thigh gap can cause over-dieting and/or overexercising, which can be detrimental to physical and mental health and may even lead to an eating disorder.
It’s much healthier for both your physical and mental health to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and stay physically active instead of striving for unrealistic beauty ideals.