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Sep 2 2013
As digital "thinspiration" fuels our culture's body obsession, the church can offer help.

The latest teen body obsession, pictured repeatedly on blogs, Pinterest, and Tumbr pages, focuses in on the shape of a woman's legs, and more specifically, the space between her thighs. Their headlines champion the thigh gap as sought-after and aspirational ("Three ways to get a thigh gap," "Models share secrets of how to achieve the thigh gap," "Thigh gap workouts").

It's the latest shape for online thinspiration. For years, thinspo messages have abounded on the Internet, using motivational phrases, photos, extreme dieting, and sometimes drastic measures to urge girls to achieve thin enough legs to leave a space between their thighs.

In some ways, it's the same as always. Through the ages, girls and women have felt the pressure to fit certain body types. But now, as the thigh gap shows us, that pressure gets illustrated and spelled out for them in an onslaught of images on social media. The subliminal message becomes explicit as young women look at pictures and headlines that prompt, encourage, and demand they look a certain way.

While the media does not cause eating disorders, our thin-obsessed culture injects various diet tricks into young minds. And when used as an emotional coping skill by young girls, dieting can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors and eating disorders.

Eating disorders are not a fad, phase, or lifestyle choice. Even the "trendy" thigh gap isn't new. I stood in an arena cheering on my college basketball team years ago when I noticed it. Noticed the friction. My thighs were touching. How was this happening, how was I growing so big and so fat? By this time, I had already been flirting with dieting and over-exercising, after someone pointed out my "freshman 15."

I was determined to lose it. I would do whatever it took to achieve that perfect look, which I imagined included a space between my two thighs. I couldn't foresee the devastating behaviors this thinking led to, a habit of dieting and exercising instead of dealing with my emotions. I constantly surrendered to my negative body image and verbal assaults.

And all the while I was a Christian. I went to church, prayed to God, and even asked God to remove what turned into a life threatening eating disorder. I remember not being able to focus on the sermon because my mind was consumed with counting calories and maintaining my thigh gap. I wanted to be good enough for God through my outside behavior and good enough for the world through my outside body, but I was ignoring the real person inside.

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