Let's not build a bikini bridge

BIKINI BRIDGE: One of the images from the original 2009 Tumblr.
BIKINI BRIDGE: One of the images from the original 2009 Tumblr.

It seems it's a case of New Year, new body insecurity with the Bikini Bridge emerging as the latest thinspiration craze after the Thigh Gap and Hot Dog Legs of 2013.

Social media sites have exploded with Bikini Bridge selfies, which is described by Urban Dictionary as when "bikini bottoms are suspended between the two hip bones, causing a space between the bikini and the lower abdomen".

Rumour has it that the current Bikini Bridge trend began as a hoax by the image-sharing site 4chan, and while that may be behind the rise in recent media interest, it is actually a term that's been used among teenagers for a number of years already, with a Tumblr created in its 'honour' in 2009 now featuring 112 pages of images. 

Regardless of how and why it started, its impact is very real, one which Louise Adams, a clinical psychologist specialising in eating disorders and body image refers to as a "tsunami of negative images".

"Thanks to social media, it's easy for something like this to become a trend so quickly and it's just another example of the objectification of women and their bodies," she says.

The role of social media in this is unavoidable. While we're no strangers to the airbrushing in mainstream media, aside from the occasional Miranda Kerr incident, what we see on social media remains mostly untouched.

"Social media creates competitiveness between other women. We know this largely effects younger women and this is exactly who is using these sites. This is a generation who have grown up with social media and at the same time, eating disorder figures have doubled. We can't point the finger squarely at social media, but it's hard to ignore the enormous increase alongside its popularity," Adams says.

Like many 16 year olds, Jessica Bell spends most of her spare time online. A regular blogger and user of Facebook, SnapChat, Tumblr and Instagram, Jessica says it's impossible to ignore the emphasis on body shape online.

"Every 10 minutes, I'll have a photo come through on Instagram with someone's Hot Dog Legs," she laughs. "It's sad though because it makes you feel that if you don't look like that there's something wrong with you. I have friends who won't eat lunch at school because they say they want to have a Thigh Gap or a Bikini Bridge." She adds that protruding collarbones are emerging as the latest "thinspo" for her friends.

Every day in her clinic, Adams sees women even younger than Jessica hold up unattainable body shapes such as the Bikini Bridge as being the goal they wish to achieve, even going so far as posting photos of models on their fridge for "thinspiration".

So why, despite an influx of plus-size models and make-up-free faces in mainstream media are eating disorder rates skyrocketing?

"I think the balance is starting to shift but predominately most of the body image positivity is half-hearted. A magazine with one positive body image article will mostly fill the rest of their magazine with models. I see so many people in my clinic make big improvements and then go out into the world where there are so many damaging messages," Adams says.

Social media is an inescapable part of most of our lives but Adams says that you don't have to go as far as deactivating your account to shelter yourself from such self-esteem-crushing images.

"I advise my clients to buffer and protect themselves from images like this. While you can't control what's out there, you can block certain advertisers from appearing on your site and unfollow people who are engaging this sort of behaviour," she says.

Adams also advises to refocus on positive role models such as Jennifer Lawrence and seek inspiration from sites such as Beauty Redefined, which, on the topic of the Thigh Gap, advised their readers to "recognise it, reject it, and know your value and beauty is not defined by the space between your thighs".

For the sake of a generation where young girls like Jessica Bell's friends sit down to watch Victoria's Secret shows for body inspiration, let's hope the message gets through.

Sydney Morning Herald