#Thighbrow and the Illusion of Body Positivity

On one of my recent procrastination streaks, I was scrolling through the Kardashian’s Instagram accounts (quite far down, admittedly) and found something that intrigued me: #thighbrow, the skin that folds over the top of your leg when you sit or kneel, best highlighted by high-cut bathing suits. Apparently, we now have a potential replacement for the thigh gap phenomenon popularized in 2013.

But #thighbrow has yet to take off like the thigh gap did. #Thighbrow was first brought to my attention through a social media expert’s report in Bento, a German newspaper tailored towards young audiences, despite the relative lack of attention #thighbrow has received from teenagers on Instagram. Bianca Xenia Mayer, a Bento reporter, wrote: “#thighbrow contributes to liberating women from the bikini body terror that continues to dominate front pages of prominent style magazines.” She also insisted that #thighbrow proliferates the diversity of body types in magazines and on social media platforms.

While the latter claim may be true, should the new phenomenon gain more popularity, the former is very questionable to me. #Thighbrow is being circulated in the same way as the thigh gap was, thus meaning that it simply continues the 'bikini body terror' by popularizing a different prescribed 'good' body feature, even though it may be a more common and 'natural' one.

Basic social psychology dictates that belonging to a group—or a hashtag—makes people feel good, especially if you happen to be an adolescent. #Thighbrow pictures motivate young people to post photos of themselves that fit into this category just as much as the thigh gap did. Even though the fetishized type of body is changing, it continues to dictate how young people perceive and value their bodies.

A major problem with #thighgap was that it popularized a body shape that for many people could only be achieved through unhealthy exercise or diet. In this sense, proliferating #thighbrow is favorable because it is unlikely to encourage destructive behaviors to attain an unhealthy body weight. However, the fact that social media places a moral judgment of 'good' or 'bad' on individuals’ bodies remains. The authority over one's body should always remain with the person who owns it and not some collective social media phenomenon.

Of course, this is much easier said than done since adolescents often look to validate their bodies on social media platforms. Given that this desire for validation exists, making young people feel like their body has to fit into a 'trendy group, be it #thighbrow or #thighgap, hinders the development of positive body images. Perception of oneself and one’s body is often a collective activity. If you notice someone appreciating their own body, you are more likely to strive towards accepting your own.  

The purpose of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is to share your life experiences, associate your experiences with those of others, identify with each other over similar experiences, and connect or reconnect with other people to discuss such experiences. I am not saying that this is a bad concept; Social media platforms have had immensely beneficial effects in proliferating awareness of hugely important social awareness movements like the Flint water crisis, to provide a recent example. Having a colossal amount of information literally right beneath our fingertips is technology’s gift to our generation. We cannot only reap its benefits, but must also consistently acknowledge the perils that it bears.

One of these perils is that everyone gets to share their opinion, however mindful or ignorant of their influence they may be. When, for example, Kendall Jenner posts an image of herself highlighting one specific part of her body like the thigh brow, this influences tens of thousands of young girls around the world. It is easy to accuse prominent social media personalities of selfishly taking advantage of their huge fan bases for self-promotional emotional and commercial reasons. However, it is important to remember that posting a picture of oneself of social media can also be an immensely significant act of self-appreciation. For many, posting such a picture on social media is a breakthrough point in having enough confidence in their body to share it with the world. Acknowledging a picture from this angle makes it much harder to condemn it and furthermore to discern whether it was posted out of self-appreciation or a narcissistic craving for attention.

Perhaps it is a combination of both, since in today’s hyper-connected world it has become standard that we can only appreciate ourselves through the endorsement of others.

Laura Haetzel PO '19 intends to major in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry.

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