First there was the “thigh gap,” and now it’s all about the “bikini bridge.” Or, wait, just kidding! It turns out this selfie trend was started as an Internet prank by bored users of 4chan, an image-based message board. But unfortunately (and understandably — the “thigh gap” that results when legs are so thin they don’t touch above the knees is a real trend, after all) the joke was lost on many.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “bikini bridge” describes what happens when, according to Urban Dictionary, “bikini bottoms are suspended between the two hip bones, causing a space between the bikini and the lower abdomen.” There are now Tumblrs and Instagrams dedicated to either showcasing the bikini bridge or denouncing it, and #bikinibridge and #bikinibridge2014 have been tweeted more than 3,000 times in the last four days alone. (So way to go, 4chan user. Your experiment to introduce yet another unrealistic goal to make women everywhere feel dissatisfied with their bodies worked!)
When negative messages like this go viral, it’s important to remember there are different ways to approach body image, and many women are doing it without self-loathing or an obsession with “skinny.” Here’s what five of those women — the ones on a mission to change the conversation around body image — told us via email what they wish someone had told them a long time ago.
1. Jen Sinkler, Former Rugby Player and Fitness Writer
“As women, we are expected to downplay our strengths. Instead of just saying ‘thank you,’ we will say, ‘Oh no, this old thing/you’re just being nice/it’s just luck/etc.’ It’s part of the social script we are given at an early age, and you know what? It’s total bullshit.
I understand that it flies in the face of societal norms, but what if we suddenly, completely stopped following the script? Will that really make us jerks in the other person’s eyes, or would everyone involved feel better? Because here’s the thing: We are super smart, we are great at solving problems, we did kill that presentation, we do have great hair, and this skirt does make our legs look fantastic, so… ‘thank you.’ Just ‘thank you.'”
2. Jill Coleman, Fitness Coach and Nutrition Consultant
“Thinness has nothing to do with our ability to be happy and live out our dreams. It’s time to quantify self-worth in a different way. How about being an amazing mother? Or an educated individual pursuing a kick-ass professional life while also making a difference in the lives of others? How about the fact that we are caring friends, daughters, and sisters? These attributes, in my opinion, say so much more about the quality and character of a person than their weight, dress size, or if there’s space between their hip bones when they lie down in a bikini.
It’s not about having to get thinner or leaner, it’s about getting your mind right. Mental fitness and physical fitness work together. When we have the perspective that we are okay right now, as is, we’re not less but more motivated to do the things necessary to actually get results. It’s called ‘active acceptance’ in positive psychology research. Just because we practice acceptance in the moment doesn’t mean we will give up and give in. In fact, self-compassion spurs us to action.”
3. Lauren Fleshman, Elite Runner
Lauren Fleshman Quote
Photo: Oiselle
“I learned a long time ago that the last thing any woman should be thinking about is being ‘skinny’ or ‘thin.’ To me, those words imply weakness, fragility, the inability to stand firm in a storm. If you want to change your body, aim for ‘athletic.’ An athletic body is healthy, strong, and built to thrive. An athletic body can take many shapes.
I’ve also learned that it is far easier to make a change from a place of self-love than from self-loathing. Think about what you want your body to do for you, rather than what you want to remove from it. Honor your body; don’t talk shit about it. And any external media that makes you feel bad about your body — it’s your responsibility to weed that garden. Unfollow that Twitter feed. Unsubscribe to that magazine. Stop watching that stupid TV show. Don’t even waste your breath bitching about how destructive it is. Instead, create, seek out, and share the sources that are doing it right.”
4. Julie Skaarup, Psychotherapist and Registered Yoga Teacher
“When I was in college, I was a figure study model, which means I modeled nude for art classes. I thought I would just do it once, to dare myself to do something out of my comfort zone. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for my body image. I was getting compliments on my toes, my natural coloring and skin tone, the way the light made a shadow under my lower lip; things I would have never noticed or appreciated about myself. I got to see myself through an artist’s eye, and what I saw was beautiful.
I think it is important for teenage girls to realize that you cannot diet yourself into a different appearance. There is a difference between the size you are and the shape you are. You have a little control over the shape (bulking up muscles, losing fat), but you can never change your size. Your bones are what they are, and some pelvises just weren’t built to fit a size zero.”
5. Joy Bauer, MS, RD, Nutrition & Health Expert for NBC’s Today Show and NY Times Bestselling Author
Joy Bauer Quote
Photo: Joy Bauer
“Don’t waste time feeling bad about what you are NOT. Life is way too short and exciting. Focus on your assets and uniqueness, while eating healthy and exercising regularly. I promise, everything will fall into place. Literally.”
Do images of fit women help you stay inspired to reach your goals? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch with the author at @liveandlerner.