When Kayla Santilli heard about the current body image trend, bikini bridging, she was horrified. “I think the bikini bridge is so strange,” she says. “How does making a bridge with your hip bones make you look good?” In high school, Santilli was fixated on her appearance. Only now is she learning to overcome her insecurities. Seeing young women like herself unduly influenced by harmful body trends upsets her.
A quick Tumblr or Instagram search shows that “thigh gaps” and “bikini bridges” are the latest body image trends. Social media accounts show women with thinner legs, flatter stomachs, and protruding hip bones as the new beautiful.
Negative body image isn’t uncommon for most young women. According to the 2011 report of Health and Well Being from Statistics Canada, 34 per cent of adolescent girls describe themselves as “too fat”. But it seems now more than ever that women are turning to unhealthy practices to achieve these features.
Santilli, a 21-year-old human resource management student, recalls harbouring insecurities about her own body, and these doubts intensified when she entered an all-arts high school. A competitive dancer, Santilli specialized in dance courses but stopped dancing outside of school.
That’s when she says she developed her negative body image, and began to work out excessively.”My biggest insecurity in those years was my stomach, I became obsessed, exercising every day,” says Santilli. She even purchased an abs exercise video, but admits she didn’t need it.
Janice Morgante is the executive director of the Riverwalk Eating Disorder and Wellness Centre in North York, Toronto. She knows all too well about the body image struggles people face. “We live in an era where our body image is synonymous to self-worth,” she says. “We attribute our happiness to our body image and a human being is much more than their body parts.”
Last year, thigh gaps were a trend on social media. The term refers to the visible gap between a woman’s upper thighs when her knees are touching.
Recently, bikini bridges became the latest body image fad. It started off as a hoax by a user on the website 4chan, who told women that their bikini bottoms shouldn’t touch their pelvises, but instead create ‘bridges’ between their hip bones.
Morgante is not surprised at how viral these trends become. “We are constantly bombarded by images and are told through different outlets that we are supposed to look a certain way,” she says. “It’s one thing to be born with the thigh gap or bikini bridge, but it’s another to physically harm yourself to achieve this look.”
Santilli remembers doing ballet exercises with her classmates and comparing her body to theirs. Her insecurities developed from classmates, and grew in her own mind.
Morgante says body image issues are a mental health issue, adding that we have created an unrealistic perception of what we should look like by comparing ourselves to others who have physical features we find attractive. She says it’s one of the worst things we can do to ourselves. “If we’re always judging and criticizing one another in a negative light, we’ve lost.”
Today, Santilli maintains a healthy lifestyle and loves and accepts her body for what it is, but wishes more girls would do the same. “I think it’s really quite sad,” she says, “that girls today feel they have to go that extreme.”