(Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
By Annie Johnson, USA Today College
Young women struggling with body image and weight loss concerns have a new issue to grapple with - the "thigh gap."
The term refers to the space between a woman's thighs when they stand with their feet touching. And it's gaining popularity among college age women.
In comparison to its predecessor - the skinny arm - the thigh gap represents a dangerously elusive goal.
Some health officials say it may be impossible for many women to achieve.
"Most women's hip bones are too close together to allow their thighs to not touch," says Dr. Joanne Clinch, clinical director of Student Health Services at Wake Forest University. "Just like you cannot change your height, you cannot alter your hip structure."
Some women, based on genetics, do have hip bone structure that puts their thigh bones farther apart, which creates more space between their thighs. This is seen in exceptionally skinny models, which are often the idols of "thinspiration" culture online.
The prevalence of thinspiration blogs is what drove Kelly Kulty, a junior at Fordham University, to extreme weight loss techniques in high school. These blogs inspired her to start on the "ABC diet" - which restricts caloric intake to 500 calories a day or less.
"The thigh gap goal is more prevalent than people think," says Kulty, whose anorexia led to binge eating, as well. Although Kulty overcame her eating disorder by her senior year, she says she sees girls who suffer from the same thoughts she once did.
"It's sickening that beautiful 18 year-old girls with nice curves are comparing themselves to 13 year-olds that are nothing but skin and bones," Kulty says.
"It can be a struggle for these patients to change their relationship with their body," Clinch says. "Part of treatment includes counseling about self-acceptance, challenging unrealistic expectations and helping patients to see their body as others see them."
Many organizations are fighting on this thigh gap trend on college campuses across the country.
This week marks Tri Delta's Fat Talk Free Week, an international, five-day body activism campaign to draw attention to body image issues and the damaging impact of the "thin ideal."
Acacia Montemayor, a senior at the University of California-Davis and a body image ambassador for Tri Delta, recently wrote about the thigh gap trend.
"The thigh gap is another gateway that society is utilizing to influence an unhealthy body image into the minds of young women," Montemayor wrote. She cites Beyonce as an example of beauty whose thighs touch.
Montemayor suggested that young women put too much stock in online media.
"By relinquishing the power social media has over our day-to-day lives we will become one step closer to a blissful life full of acceptance and gratitude," Montemayor wrote.