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So-called 'thighgap' sites fill the gap between darker 'pro-ana' sites and the rest of the web, normalizing harmful behaviour and making it harder for sufferers to see their problems clearly and get help. But some young women are fighting back.

Keep Calm and Thighgap On.

The ‘keep calm and…’ meme has shown itself incredibly popular in the last few years.  It’s gotten itself attached to all kinds of products, from pies to makeup. 

Keep Calm and Pretend To Eat.

It’s attached itself to all kinds of lifestyles and pastimes, some of them as far away form its stiff-upper-lip wartime origins as it’s possible to imagine – in fact, that juxtaposition and that old-world charm is part of its appeal.

Keep Calm and Don’t Eat til They Take You to The Hospital.

But it’s also the slogan of choice for a truly disturbing series of sites that show up how the freedom from social as well as legal controls that the internet offers can be actively dangerous.

The slogans above were taken from so-called ‘thinspiration’ sites, sites that offer their visitors pro-anorexia propaganda. 

They’re basically online support groups for people whose anorexia is active, who are busily starving themselves to death. 

To the extent that they package addictive metal illness as a lifestyle choice they show how communities that form online can work to normalize behaviours that are stigmatized by society as a whole.  Sometimes that’s a good thing – online forums for survivors of assault or abuse are doing great work and groups formed to support, for instance, gay and lesbian people living in strongly anti-gay communities no doubt save lives.  But online, any activity or proclivity can be normalized.  And for every online addiction or mental health forum, there’s a site working to normalise the most extreme opinion, like the Jihadi sites terrorists set up or their (so-called) Aryan equivalents where ‘white pride’ believers can come together. 

Then there’s Thinspiration

Thinspiration sites have their mirror in support groups for people recovering from anorexia, like the Team Recovery YouTube Channel, where users encourage each other to eat and draw a clear line between their illnesses and themselves.  Anyone who’s heard much from recovering alcoholics and drug addicts will have no trouble recognizing phrases like, ‘I am not anorexia,’ or in hearing people define their illness as something outside of themselves that they perceive as an insidious and deceitful enemy. 

One of Team Recovery’s three founders is a young woman called Rachel Cowey, who came up with the idea for the channel while in recovery from her own anorexia.  Aged just 19, Rachel’s anorexia has left her with serious health problems including malnutrition-induced osteoporosis.  It’s also left her with a sense of mission to support fellow survivors and to raise a voice in opposition to the welter of content online that celebrates starvation as an achievement and anorexia as a lifestyle choice.

Look for hashtags like #thinspiration and #thinspo and you’ll find Tumblrs, Twitter feeds and more glorifying extreme thinness. 

‘Thighgap’ is the key visual indicator; a ‘thighgap’ is a visible gap between a person’s thighs when she (and it overwhelmingly is she) stands with her feet together. 

Try it. 

You don’t have one, right?  Me either.

In fact a vanishingly small percentage of people who are a health weight do.  It’s the far end of the genetic bell curve, not an abberation but certainly very unusual.  The liklihood is that anyone who does have one is unhealthily thin.

And they have plenty of thinspiration to choose from if they want a hand getting that way.  In the two years between 2006 and 2008, the number of such sites increased by 470% - and that trend accelerated. offers a thighgap workout under the slogan ‘bye-bye thunder thighs,’ while in 2013 a Harley Street clinic claimed it had seen a 240% increase in the number of young women asking for a controversial liposuction-like treatment on their thighs. 

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