There was a time, a few years ago, when I was still studying and I went on a night out with a group of girls I didn’t know very well. During a joint trip to the girls' toilets, we were lined up in front of the mirrors, fixing make-up and hair, and one of the girls suggested that we measured our thigh gaps.
That moment has stayed with me. I can remember exactly what I was wearing, exactly what song was on (Rihanna) and the exact feeling of shock, confusion and inadequacy. Unlike the other girls I was with, I did not have a significant thigh gap. I went home early that night.
Girls measuring themselves is not a new phenomenon. If it’s not how natural our highlights are, it’s how good a friend we are or how many books we’ve read. More recently, how many Instagram/Twitter/Facebook followers we have. But, more often than not, it’s our bodies. Since the first time that we picked up a Barbie doll, or clapped eyes on Cindy Crawford, we have been pinching, prodding, starving and purging ourselves.
In the last few years, social media has played host to new and disturbing ways in which to measure ourselves. First was the thigh-gap phenomenon, then came the collarbone challenge, the underboob challenge and the belly-button challenge – can you reach around your back and touch your belly button? Yes? Congratulations, you are thin.
Since the first time that we picked up a Barbie doll, or clapped eyes on Cindy Crawford, we have been pinching and prodding ourselves
This week, another has emerged: the A4 waist challenge. Starting in China, the challenge is to hold a piece of A4 paper in front of your middle and hopefully have your waist disappear behind it. A piece of A4 paper measures just 8.27in – 21cm – not even a ruler. Millions of women have posted pictured of themselves on Chinese social-media platform Weibo using the hashtag #A4waist. The trend has also spread to Instagram.
While there has been an encouraging amount of retaliation posts using hashtags such as #stopA4waist and #immorethanmywaist, the scale and severity of the trend is undeniable. It’s no coincidence that the majority of the pictures that have been posted are of girls in their teens and early twenties – an age when we are vulnerable and mouldable. An age when we are precious and optimistic, and should not be feeling crappy about the size of our waists, or the gap in our thighs or how much our collarbone sticks out.
In this social-media age, thinness has turned into a public competition. It’s depressing, it’s destructive and, while I cannot offer the solution, I can hope to God it stops.