The Good, The Bad, The Thighs

March 23, 2022
My name is Sara Gottfried, and I am a social worker and an author. I recently published my memoir, “Full: A Memoir of Overcoming an Eating Disorder.” “Full: A Memoir of Overcoming an Eating Disorder “is the story of how I battled and overcame an eating disorder that started at age 16. This memoir is a raw and honest depiction of what it looks like to struggle with this illness and divulges the details few openly discuss. My purpose for sharing my story is to inspire and help others find hope and their own inner strength to conquer their battle with disordered eating. I am proud to say that at age 25, I lead a healthy and plentiful life. I live in the Boston area and work as a social worker in an elementary school. My life is full – what once was full of an eating disorder, is now full of good, and I want to share that.

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It is 10:20p.m. on a Saturday evening. My boyfriend is in New Hampshire skiing, and I am sitting on my couch, my mind going in a million directions (what else is new?!). I’m flipping between The Dropout on Hulu and Love is Blind on Netflix (the two shows could not be farther from opposite). I feel compelled to write. On my way home from work one day, the title of this article came into my mind, but I hadn’t felt the urge to open up my computer and sit down. Well, that is until now.

“Do these jeans make my thighs look big?”

Gosh, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I have asked this question. This question feels like the ketchup to my mustard, the peanut butter to my jelly, the macaroni to my cheese, as I look in the mirror.

In some ways, the mirror has become both my best friend and my own worst enemy. What is it about needing to have the “perfect” figure? What is even the “perfect” figure? How attainable is the unattainable?

Why do my thighs have so much control over my view of myself? How have I let my thighs define my own internal view of myself? How do my thighs define me as a person?

Well, the answer is complicated.

When my disorder started, the thigh gap trend was tattooed everywhere. It was plastered on Instagram through models and highly recognized celebrities. It was confirmed on mannequins through every store window. And, it was talked about in the hallways at school.

And for those of you who may not know about this trend, or should I say have had the privilege of not knowing, let me explain. It is the “space between the thighs when standing upright with the feet together… it just means someone’s inner thighs don’t touch or rub against each other” (Delgado, 2021). This isn’t to say that some people naturally have a gap between their thighs. Medical professionals share that genetic predisposition and the natural structure of people’s bones can impact the space between their thighs. For some, that means a natural thigh gap. For others, that means no gap at all.

But for those of us who have been fed lies about what pretty is, what perfect means, and how to have the “best” body, it feels almost necessary. It feeds into the idea that thin equates to better/prettier/healthier/sexier. It continues to create an unattainable standard that so many try to attain.

But, this “aesthetic” is far from any measure of health.

So why do we fall ill to the pressures and the unattainable as we flip through social media, knowing that the images we see have been significantly altered, photo cropped, edited, and lightened? We yearn to achieve what we know deep down is unhealthy. But it feels as though the potential gains far outweigh all that we will actually lose.

Why did I want to achieve the thigh gap? Why did I want to manipulate my own body to achieve something that actually made me sicker? I was looking for something. When everything else in my life felt out of my control, I wanted something I could control. Something I could work for and own. No one could intervene. No one could stop me. No one could take my thigh gap away from me. And, at the time, I ate up (no pun intended) the compliments I received for attaining what seemed like the unattainable for the vast majority. For a few short moments, I felt on top of the world. I felt pretty, healthy, cool, and amazing. I felt a sense of power in the fact that I could “get” what so many wanted.

Fast forward to now (almost six years late). I don’t have a thigh gap. Or maybe I do. I don’t really know. My body looks different depending on what I am wearing. Jeans, dresses, skirts, and pants all look different on my body. No two outfits look the same on my body.

My thighs are my thighs. They allow me to take spin classes. They allow me to walk around the school I work at several times a day. They help me stand tall and strong on my own two feet. They give me power when I hike mountains and have dance parties with my boyfriend.

But, if I’m being honest, despite all of the amazing things my thighs do (and as I write this, I am realizing how much my thighs actually do for me), I have many moments where I’m quite embarrassed and insecure. On days when the mirror is not my friend, I find myself saying, “Do these jeans make my thighs look big?” And there are times when I say this and I begin to spiral. The thoughts in my mind take over. I think about a commercial I saw on TV with some quick fix. Or I think what’s another trip to the gym. There are times my thoughts take over and I consider all of the possibilities I have to alter my body.

But then I remember how much I lost from my disorder. How many parts of the true “Sara” went into hibernation mode because I was too sick to live. Too sick to survive. And if gaining weight equated to me gaining my life back, then it was well worth it.

I am stronger than I was six years ago. I am resilient. Just like the mirror, me and my thighs have a love-hate relationship. I would love to have only a love relationship with my thighs, but I think it will take time. As I work through my recovery, I hope to come to a neutral place with my thighs.

For now, I end with this: “This is my body. This is my home. I am learning to accept myself.”

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