Whenever we’re released from campus for break, I turn into a social media monster. I don’t blog because it allows me to disdain bloggers, but I constantly refresh Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If I follow you, I’m sorry that I know as much about your life as I do. Normally, this is just a distraction from the to-do list I’ve given myself for that break – a to-do list that I will inevitably fail to come close to completing. But last Thanksgiving, something caught my attention. It was the term “thigh gap.” Apparently, thigh gap is a social media trend where teenage girls – yes, every ill in society is manifested in the beast known as the teenage girl – post photos of themselves in which they stand feet and knees together and back upright and their upper thighs miraculously do not touch one another. According to various medical opinions as reported by ABC News in March 2013, a thigh gap is almost impossible to achieve with normal female muscle mass and without widely spaced hips. A thigh gap is, however, considered desirable by those underling teenage girls.
But most importantly, a thigh gap isn’t desirable just because flesh with a space between in it is inherently sexy. Instead, a thigh gap is a shorthand for skinny – and by extension, a shorthand for beautiful. And I think that’s what really pissed me off. You see, as I write this, I’m alternating between checking boxes on law school applications and Googling thigh gap Tumblrs, and the Internet is thereby relentlessly tossing a contradiction in my face. On the one hand, I’m begging the admissions gods at some of the top universities in the country to pick me (choose me!) for my brain, for the time I’ve clocked in Schow counting down the hours ’til my next Tunnel City break. But in my next breath, I’m evaluating my worth in the distance between my thighs, between two body parts that are medically supposed to touch.
I’m sure there’s some sort of relevant guy equivalent to this phenomenon, but it strikes me as a particularly female problem that we struggle with how to evaluate our worth: Is it through our brains and achievements or through our bodies and beauty? Is it through our standardized test scores or through that evil little number on the scale? Is it appropriate to let either define us? I think what bothers me in particular is that the women at Williams are so good at both. There are some ridiculously beautiful women here, and I don’t think it’s wrong to appreciate their beauty. But part of what makes the women at Williams beautiful is that they’d never rely on their ability to bat their eyelashes or walk without their thighs touching to get them anywhere in life. Some of the prettiest people I know here are the presidents and founders of clubs, have dedicated themselves as Junior Advisors, have led teams to regional and national championships, have quite frankly outflanked me in classes. And I would be insulted if anyone ever dared to define them by whether they had a thigh gap.
It’s not just that the thigh gap is ridiculous; it’s that it can reduce the most amazing people to which I’ve ever been exposed to a couple of centimeters separating two instruments used for walking. We’re so desperate to define ourselves, to attach ourselves to some sort of label that gives us a definitive context, and at Williams, this often takes the form of conforming. For girls at Williams, conforming has an appearance. It’s typically blonde, elegantly slender and clad in Patagonia and Lululemon. This aesthetic conformity is yet another paradox, really. Despite how similar we manage to appear at Williams, none of the girls I’ve just described are the same. They have different passions, they have different families, and they came to the College for different reasons. They’re interesting in a way that their appearance could persuade you into believing they are not. Maybe we need that exterior similarity in order to let our freak flags fly when people really get to know us, but I don’t think we do.
I think we need to figure out how to be confident without our Barbour jackets and our thigh gaps. I think it’s time that we stop letting ourselves be reduced. Don’t give others heuristics by which to judge you, and don’t use heuristics to judge others. We make reductions when we introduce our friends as “the girl who runs Log Lunch” or “the lacrosse goalie,” and even though these are all accomplishments, they minimize who each person truly is. Just as you can’t capture how much of a rock star your friend who tutors at the Math Science Resource Center, plays Ultimate Frisbee, edits The Williams Record and double majors and double concentrates is in one sentence, don’t try to capture a girl’s true worth in whether her thighs gap. Let yourself be more than the words others use to define you, and definitely let yourself be more than two centimeters of absent body fat.
Nicole Smith ’14 is a political science major from Midland, Mich. She lives in Prospect.