These photos were banned from Urban Outfitters' UK website. But was it a win in curbing unattainable beauty standards or just plain body shaming?

January 06, 2015

By now, you're used to hearing about models or celebrities being Photoshopped, some to sport the infamous thigh gap. No matter how you spin it, modifying a photo to create a space between a woman's legs is never a good thing for female body image. But what about when it's her natural body shape?

A recent incident with Urban Outfitters' UK website is spurring a conversation about body shaming. On December 31, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the retailer had to remove a photo of a model on the site wearing mesh panties after it received a complaint, The Daily Mail reports.

According to the ASA's ruling, "We considered that the model was very thin, and noted, in particular, that there was a significant gap between the model’s thighs, and that her thighs and knees were a similar width.”

Considering the instances of thigh gaps in the media lately, it seems like an admirable move. Remember Target's swimsuit flop last March? The model in that case was so poorly Photoshopped that part of her crotch was missing. Even Beyoncé has been suspected of Photoshopping her thighs in vacation pics, once on Tumblr and in another shot on Instagram.

Still, as evidenced by the comments on People's Facebook page, people are wondering if there was anything wrong with the Urban Outfitters photo to begin with. One person wrote: "There's absolutely nothing wrong with someone having thigh gap. The problem is photoshopping it onto people who don't." Others, like Salon writer Jenny Kutner, argued that the ASA ruling was basically thin shaming.

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Judging from the image, it doesn't immediately appear that a Photoshop fail was at play, like the erase tool marks and hard edges you'll find in Target's controversial photo. Yes, the model is thin, but Urban Outfitters claims there's nothing unhealthy about her size. The retailer told The Daily Mail, "The model was represented by one of the UK’s most successful and well-respected agencies. We do not believe she was underweight."

While the ASA called out the photo for promoting unhealthy body image, it's actually not unheard of for some women to be built with a natural gap between their thighs.

"Some people's hip bones have a lot of offset," says Joseph John Ciotola, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. That means the bones angle further out from the pelvis in some people than they do in others.

"If a person has wide bone structure and thin thighs, then it is anatomically possible to have a gap," Dr. Ciotola says. "It's not necessarily an air-brushed thing."

That said, genetics play a big part in our body shapes, so it's not realistic to think you can change your body to create a thigh gap either. "Even if someone has a healthy body fat percentage, they will not attain that gap because of bone structure," Dr. Ciotola says.

Considering how thigh gap images can distort perceptions of body shape, the ASA isn't totally in the wrong. But the case provides an important reminder: Thin shaming is body shaming, too.

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