Body or Play-Doh
Written By: Vidhi Bhaiya
Edited By: Anna Mohan
CONTENT WARNING: Eating Disorders, Body Image, “thinspiration”
Image courtesy of Vidhi Bhaiya
In the past few years, body trends have varied from size 0, thigh gaps, thigh brows, to a “thick booty”. One person obviously cannot mould their body according to these capricious body trends in one lifetime - but why do we desire to achieve these impossible standards? Edward Tory Higgins, a psychologist coined the term Self Discrepancy Theory. The Self-discrepancy theory suggests that individuals have three self-representations: the actual self, the ideal self, and the ought self. The actual self is who we think we are right now, the ideal self is who we want to become, and the ought self is what we think other people expect out of us. Self-discrepancy is the gap between these self-representations that leads to negative emotions and cognitive dissonance. We as humans try to do everything in our power to try to bridge this inconsistency.
But who defines an ideal self?
How frequently do these ought selves change?
How often can we sculpt, shape, and chisel our bodies to meet the everlasting demands we place on it?
We started off the decade in the 2010s with “Size Zero” turning heads. This was a trend which encouraged weight suppression, which is the discrepancy between an individual’s highest weight and current weight. In research endorsed by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers found a relationship between BMI, weight suppression, and bulimic symptoms (binge eating and purging). Individuals with low BMI and high weight suppression were found to be most susceptible to bulimic symptoms. But looking through the societal lens “Thin was in”, pretty straightforward up till now.
Fast forward to 2 years, suddenly in 2012 “thigh gaps” flooded the internet. A thigh gap is a gap between the thighs of a woman when her knees are touching. Of course, the bigger the gap, the more desirable the woman! Ignoring the fact that a thigh gap is a genetic phenomenon based on bone structure and hip width, hoards of workout videos on youtube emerged encouraging women to achieve this shape. Two women with the same thighs but different hip widths could have different gaps between their thighs. But trends trump biology, so now not just do we need to be skinny, but god forbid my thighs touch each other.
Moving ahead to 3 years post thigh gap, came its brother thigh brow in 2015. The line on the top of your thigh that appears when you sit, kneel, or bend forward is known as a thigh brow. We have the Kardashian Jenner sister to thank for this one. This gained so much popularity that this trend ended up getting an Instagram account just to post thigh brow pictures!! But here is the caveat, the skinnier you are the lesser thigh brow you have. So now, it wasn’t just about being skinny. Expectations and body trends keep changing, as they pile onto one another the more absurd they seem to become. Am I supposed to be skinny, or not? Maybe the next few years will give us a clearer and more direct answer.
In a span of one year in 2016, the slogan “Thick thighs save lives'' was everywhere from pillows to tanks and yoga mats. The table had turned on genetically skinnier women. In just a matter of a year, women were supposed to drastically modify their bodies. In a study done by Rutgers University, it was revealed that people with higher levels of fat in their thighs are less likely to have high blood pressure as compared to people with lower levels of fat in their thighs. So now we had to clean the slate of thinspiration and work on bulking up those thighs! Deceptively, the trend wasn’t quite as “body positive” as it made itself out to be. While it seems more inclusive of different body types at a surface level, it still had the effect of commodifying women's bodies.
It still makes demands, asking women to alter, adjust and shape their bodies according to what is deemed desirable.
In 2019 Slim Thick trend became the father of all these trends, it doesn’t focus on one body part but is an amalgamation of several body parts. According to Urban Dictionary, it means “with big/toned thighs, plump booty, normal-sized hips AND a flat toned stomach.”. Noticeably, the slim-thick trend is just as exclusive as the trends which preceded it, placing demands on what are “okay” places to have body fat and what aren’t. Kim Kardashian has been credited for the popularisation of this trend, though rumours and tabloids suggest she has had ribs removed to achieve this look, she claims it was achieved with the help of just a corset.
The research paper “Courtship, Competition, and the Pursuit of Attractiveness” explored the relationship between young women and their willingness to take attractive enhancement risks. Findings of this study proved that women were more likely to engage in attractive enhancement risks like tanning (known to cause skin cancer) and diet pills (known to have deleterious side effects) after exposure to the attractive same-sex and opposite-sex targets than when not exposed to these primes. They also found that the reason for this correlation was mediated by the suppressed beliefs about the likelihood of incurring negative side effects. Not only do women get subconsciously incentivised to partake in risky activities to achieve “ideal bodies” but also deceive themselves of the amount of risk they put themselves in. Unsurprisingly, the constantly shifting trends and standards that our bodies are held to, seem to align with plastic surgery trends. The road to body neutrality is being able to align our actual self to our ideal self without letting the capricious ought self affect it. The ought self, which is a construct of what others expect out of you, is not backed by science and can end up being deleterious.
While many articles talk about loving yourself and accepting your body, I wanted to bring a new tangent in. Over the past few years, what is an ought self has been exceptionally volatile and capricious, no single person could successfully achieve each trend- nor should they have to. The trends evolved from losing any form of visible fat to ensuring your thighs are estranged, to adding some fat on your hip and upper thigh, to adding more fat on your thighs while ensuring your upper half resembles a skeleton to make a jigsaw of all of the above. This was everything we were supposed to be in just one decade. Only if we were made of clay would this have been a piece of cake? (oops let’s steer clear of cake all together). I want to underscore that if we let these “external” trends dictate our “internal” perceptions of how we look at our bodies, we will always be discontent. The only thing that makes a body trend a “trend” is confidence.