Extreme Body Images On Instagram Raise Eating Disorder Fears

"Ab crack," "thigh gap," "bikini bridge" — these new body trends get thousands of likes on Instagram. Experts say they are terrible for women's health of mind and body.

Extreme Body Images On Instagram Raise Eating Disorder Fears
Julia Maria Grass

Marilyn Monroe was once the personification of beauty with her cleavage, curves and blond hair. But for women today, that look is passé. Instead, a very different appearance is trendy, namely the “ab crack”. Never heard of it? That’s because the ab crack, or the linea alba as it’s scientifically known, is a tendon that’s only visible in very well-defined abdominal muscles, if at all. More importantly, it’s genetically determined, making it unattainable for most people.

Ever since model Emily Ratajkowski published a picture of her ab crack on Instagram, many girls and women have followed suit, posting photographs of their abdomens. It’s not the first bizarre beauty trend that has taken off on Instagram.

The ab crack follows the “bikini bridge” â€" the bridge that’s formed just above the belly when a person lies flat on their back and their bikini bottom touches their hip bones. Then there’s the “thigh gap” â€" the space between the inner thighs when a person stands upright with their knees touching. There’s also the “collarbone challenge,” which involves young women trying to balance as many coins as possible on their clavicle. The thinner the person, the more prominent the clavicle, the more coins fit on it.

What do these trends have in common? They all hold up extremely thin bodies as a beauty ideal. Being healthy â€" eating well-balanced meals and exercising regularly â€" doesn’t give a woman an ab crack or thigh gap.

"These trends require extreme sport and a drastic reduction of calorie intake. You almost have to starve yourself,” says Ingo Froböse, a sports scientist. To make the ab crack visible, you should not have more than 12% body fat. Slender women have 18% to 20% of fat in their bodies.

Froböse says that the ab crack is a sign that a person is underweight. And getting it might still be impossible for most people as it requires certain genetic code. Some people will never have that dent in their body, no matter what they do.

In order to get the thigh gap, your legs have to be as thin as possible. This is extremely challenging because women naturally store fat in their thighs.

"In order to get the thigh gap, the fat reserves need to be burnt and muscles built slightly. Something that is often seen with extreme runners," says Froböse.

Just like the ab crack, genetics determine if a person can get a thigh gap. So even with an extreme diet and lots of sports, some women would not able to achieve this desired gap. “Depending on the direction of your hip bones, even women of normal weight can have a thigh gap. Knock knees on the other hand make it almost impossible, no matter how much you work out."

Out of all the extreme body trends, Froböse considers the bikini bridge to be the least extreme. While the abdomen needs to be defined and belly fat needs to be reduced, the bridge is “feasible with a healthy diet and workout routine,” he says.

That’s definitely not the case with the “collarbone challenge.” Froböse says that the trend is the most dangerous of the lot. “Prominent clavicles are a characteristic of anorexia. Only extremely thin people can get there because you can’t train bones," he says.

Psychologist Andreas Schnebel, who treats people with eating disorders, watches the Instagram trends with concern. "What’s particularly worrying about it is that due to social networks, these pictures reach girls all over the world, who then try to imitate them. But for most of them, these ideals are unattainable."

Schnebel says that trying to achieve these body goals leads to bulimia and anorexia. “Anorexia usually also comes with mental problems or traumas…but the combination of an extreme diet and an excessive workout routine often triggers the eating disorder,” he says.

Schnebel increasingly sees a connection between Instagram body trends and illness. Whereas in the past, girls suffering from anorexia tried to hide their disorder by wearing loose clothing, now there’s almost an exhibitionistic celebration of their illness, he says.

Perhaps what’s more disturbing is that the disorder, and not the beauty ideal, is being sought after.

The so-called “pro-ana” movement involves a network of people suffering from anorexia and bulimia who celebrate their illness in public and encourage others to follow suit.

While Instagram body trends and the pro-ana phenomenon are not directly linked, “it most certainly does have an effect on the development of eating disorders, if pictures like these are constantly in your face," says Schnebel.

He could be right. A recent study found a direct link between television show "Germany’s Next Topmodel" and the number of eating disorders in viewers.

The internet further perpetuates these trends. “Only 5 to 10% of girls in the real world actually look like their Instagram ideal," Schnebel says. “It makes girls feel ugly because they know it’s impossible for them to reach their ideal shape with their physical shape.”

Although apps like Instagram ban certain hashtags to contain dangerous body trends, stubborn users find ways around them by spelling words differently. Bulimia becomes bulima. Thin is written as thynn.

What can parents do to address this problem? Schnebel does not advise parents to stop their children surfing the internet. Instead, he says, it’s much more important to make children understand that physical appearance isn’t everything.

"In therapy, we repeatedly see girls whose mothers are constantly on a diet and unhappy with their bodies," Schnebel says. He tells parents to talk to their children and explain to them that, "it’s okay if you’re watching that, but please also be aware of how ridiculous it is."

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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