As a high school teacher at an urban school, I am often equally amazed at the things my students don’t know as by the things that they do know. I cannot tell you how often I have twelfth graders who have no idea what M.L.A. format is but who can, in just a few key strokes, fix whatever glitch the recent iPhone upgrade is plaguing me. They might not know how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System, but they do know how to override the security blockers on our school’s Internet system.
Although my students and I are relatively close in age (closer than I have often led them to believe), there are many differences that separate us. I remember exactly where I was when I first learned of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, but my students were only in preschool. I didn’t have a cell phone until high school and a smart phone until college. Many of my students’ younger siblings and children already have iPhones and Galaxies. I remember when Britney Spears and Celine Dion were topping the charts instead of performing on the Las Vegas Strip.
Because I grew up in an affluent town in the tri-state area and teach at an urban school that primarily serves students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, there are also numerous cultural differences that separate us. My friends and I shopped at J.Crew in high school, but my students are more likely to frequent Hot Topic or Aeropostale. Headbands were very popular accessories to our uniforms at my all-girls Catholic high school, but I was greeted with a bunch of blank stares when I said that Ophelia and Hamlet’s love was as destructive as Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf’s. I can’t stand 2-Chainz, and there was nearly a mutiny when I tried to play The Avett Brothers once while my kids were writing. (We once had a very productive day when I played whale sounds for them, but I think that’s an unrelated phenomenon.) Of course, we do have plenty in common. For example, we all really freaking love Chipotle, and as a West Coast transplant, I am learning to appreciate the Lakers. (My love of another West Coast exclusive, In ‘n Out, was far easier to acquire.)
When I first read about the “Thigh Gap” on a satirical lifestyle website several months back, I was fairly certain that this trend would thankfully be one that would bypass my young, impressionable female students. This, I assumed, would be one of those things that they wouldn’t know or care about. My students often joke that some of my interests are “Stuff White People Like,” and I hoped the thigh gap would be something that fell into this category, like spray tanning, Vanessa Carlton, or the Patagonia brand. The thigh gap is so trivial for any person to fixate on regardless of age, education level, or income, and my students face far greater challenges in these areas that the thigh gap shouldn’t even be a blip on their radars.
In describing this trend, Glamour magazine explains, “Achieving that gap is a serious obsession, propelled by endless Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. (The term itself yields hundreds of results on Google—Scary!)”
Unfortunately, the thigh gap obsession was not something that escaped the girls at the school where I work. The website I read about it on—and the places where I have encountered it since—all seem to fall into the category of stuff I liked that my students didn’t. In retrospect, perhaps I should have assumed as much given how completely and constantly my students are connected to social media. They are plugged in twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. All of my jokes about how no one looks at their crotch at smiles have done nothing to deter cellphone use during class. I can never bring my lava lamp or Christmas (holiday—excuse me) lights to school because all of the outlets in my classroom have been turned into makeshift charging stations.
The powerful influence of the media in America is undeniable, and what the media says about, consumerism, beauty, and materialism often preempts far more pressing matters in our country today. This means that so little of what’s out there actually escapes the notice of anyone at any time, especially the vulnerable youth of our society.
One day, one of my female students approached me and asked about the thigh-gap, namely, how she could get rid of the unseemly extra weight in her thighs. This girl is very pretty and intelligent and has a lot going for her. She is also an extremely talented athlete who plays varsity sports year-round and has for her entire high school career. Much to her dismay, I had no idea what to tell her.
As a lifelong fitness junkie, I could have told her what weights to lift to firm her arms or how far and how fast she would need to run to burn 600 calories. However, as someone who has run three marathons and now finds herself absolutely addicted to CrossFit, my thighs do touch. More than that, when I begrudgingly go to yoga, my calves touch to such a degree during Crescent Moon that I cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between the title of the pose and the fact that no daylight is getting through the legs of someone built like me. This thought is only confirmed by the fact that my body looks nothing like a crescent moon in this pose. In fact, I am rather proud of my legs. I enjoy being told that they look “jacked.” One time, a friend remarked that I have the legs of a Clydesdale. (I’m still not sure if this is a compliment.) I am hopeful that—God forbid—my house is ever broken into that my legs will be an asset to fighting off an attacker and not another twig broken off and thrown into the fire if that is his plan for destroying the evidence. This is not an unreasonable assumption, by the way. I live in Las Vegas, which has a very high crime rate and has few trees to provide ample kindling for your friendly neighborhood arsonist.
The way I see it, there are two solutions to creating the thigh gap: surgery and starvation. Neither of these sound particularly pleasant to me, and I can really only afford the latter on a teacher’s salary. Upon further investigation, there is ample evidence in popular culture that supports the idea that women who look like women—a.k.a. women whose thighs touch—are more likely to be successful, admired, and memorable than their more waifish counterparts.
For example, Modern Family has skyrocketed Sofia Vergara to superstar status. She is featured on the cover of numerous magazines, and she is even producing a television miniseries this winter. Julie Bowen, who plays Clare on the hit show, remains, by comparison, in relative obscurity. These two women are around the same age, and both are attractive. What’s more, neither of their television characters is necessarily more likeable than the other. Clare is painfully uptight, rigid, and bossy. Gloria is ditzy, and her voice easily rivals Fran Drescher’s on The Nanny on the shrill and annoying scale. However, Sofia Vergara is undoubtedly the more recognizable of the two stars. The media and men everyone call the actress things like sexy, gorgeous, and a bombshell. I’ve never heard these things said about Bowen. Her skeletal frame reminds me of the two men at my all-girls high school: Bones, the skeleton in the biology lab, and Woody, the ball-jointed wooden doll in the art room.
I am not here to accuse Bowen of being a bad role model or say that her body is somehow inferior to Vergara’s. All I’m saying is, at the end of the day, Vergara, who has a feminine build with curves and boobs and butt, is the one who has become the household name. She’s the one doing the interviews for talk shows and magazines, she’s the one producing new shows for ABC, and she’s the one whose personal life has become tabloid fodder. Isn’t, after all, that the emblem of making in in Hollywood?
We remember Sofia Vergara not in spite of the fact that she doesn’t fit into the traditional, rail skinny image of women projected by the media but because she bucks this trend—and does it in some of the most stylish, form-fitting, sexy, and feminine clothes on any red carpet. Tons of other successful celebrities have proven that embracing your body shape and being your own person can lead to great things—Reese Witherspoon, Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Beyonce, Oprah, the Williams sisters, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson to name a few.
Sofia Vergara certainly used her non-thigh gap thighs to climb all the way to the top and to kick down the doors of some studio executives along the way. This is what I want my student to know. Big thighs represent that you have done something difficult. You have trained hard for a purpose, and you have ignited a passion within yourself. You have built your endurance on the field, in the gym, or on the mat, and as a result, you are more able to endure whatever life throws your way after. Overall, having big thighs means that you have something sturdy holding you up when you are standing on your own two feet.