On Hollister, the “Thigh Gap” and How We Think About Body Image Gina Vaynshteyn

Earlier this week, I wrote about a questionable photo that fashion brand Hollister used to promote their spring line. After a considerable amount of backlash, the company had taken the image down, apologized to their customers about their choice and how it didn’t comply with the overall company motto (they weren’t the first: Target experienced a similar “thigh-gap” scandal just a few weeks ago). When I saw the Hollister photo, I wasn’t sure how to react. The model looked like a typical teenager spending the day at the beach. She looked happy. But when I looked closer, what stood out to me were her legs: they were extremely thin. I then researched other models Hollister has used for past campaigns, and, from this research, determined that, at least until now, the ideal body that sells Hollister products is a very skinny body.

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Before I go on about Hollister and their ideology, I want to apologize. HelloGiggles received a number of negative comments on my story and when I read through them, I think a lot of the opinions were right (not a surprise, HelloGiggles readers are smart and vocal!) The way I presented the issue wasn’t the most tactful, though I never meant to make anyone feel alienated or attacked. I think thin-shaming is just as damaging as fat-shaming. Your body is your body and no one should make you feel badly about it. A size zero body can be just as healthy as a size fourteen body. A thigh gap does not necessarily mean you have anorexia. These generalizations (that I was quick and wrong to lean on) destroy the confidence of men and women every single day, no matter how big, small, old, or young they are.

I have a pretty average body. I usually go with “medium” sizes because I have wide hips and thighs, but a small waist. This is how my body is, and this is how every woman’s body is in my family. I’ve been told to “eat more” and I’ve been told I need to go to the gym. There is no happy medium with medium.

I’m not the only one who feels the pressure to be the “perfect size.” But what IS the perfect size? Is it a size zero? Is it a slightly curvy size five? Is being tall especially attractive, or is it cuter to be shorter? Would a high-waist skirt look good on me, or will people think my ass looks huge? Is a huge ass a good thing or bad thing? I’m 23 and I’m still not completely happy with my body, and I’m not sure why. I’m at a healthy weight, I eat proteins and produce and I exercise. Is it because of the media, or is it because as young girls we are taught by people we know that we need to look a certain way? Did our parents pressure us to eat less? Did bullies call us names and ostracize us on the playground? Body image is a complex subject, and simply saying “all women want to be thin” is not a universal truth, and it’s a brash conclusion.

When I said Hollister was wrong for choosing an extremely thin model, I should have explained myself better. I should have stated that Hollister was wrong for doing this because they’ve ONLY promoted very thin models, not women with diverse body shapes. I’m standing by my opinion that clothing companies should encourage women of all sizes to shop at their store. This means thin women as well as “plus size” women. This particular Hollister model has done nothing wrong, and I feel badly that she was exposed to such negative reactions from Hollister’s customers, the media, and my little article.

I think it’s important to have this conversation, because issues about weight and body image are clearly not going away. I was too hasty to criticize Hollister without explaining myself properly, and that wasn’t cool.  But I know I’ll have more chances to make this right. I’m sure another brand will release a photo soon that will anger the community, and another heated discussion will occur. Thin-shaming and fat-shaming will continue because people feel insecure, or at the very least, misguided. And I hope that, in the face of this, we can teach each other how to be open-minded and positive. That we never call a girl “fat,” nor criticize a woman for her “thigh gap.” We should keep promoting health and happiness, but also become more aware that health and happiness means something different for everyone.

Images via Hollister’s Facebook 

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  1. as someone who commented on your last article i was impressed and happy to read this from you gina, i tried not to be too accusing in my original comment as i got the sense that your intentions were good, just worded not too great maybe. it took courage i’m sure to write this and i thought it was as informative as it was beautifully written. thanks for clearing things up, good move :)

  2. This is why I’m proud to be a loyal American Eagle customer. Their recent campaign of leaving models in their natural skin makes me feel better about buying their products.
    Because of Hollister calling their clerks “models” I’ve never even felt comfortable enough with myself to go into their stores.

  3. Reading some comments below I decided I have to write too.

    Thin-shaming DOES EXIST, I’ve felt it my entire life and I still do. Unlike most people I’ve ever known, I was bullied for being thin. I’ve been called anorexic million times and it really made me want to die.
    It’s really hard to go out and not feel comfy showing my arms or my legs because I can’t stand people gazing at my like I was really disgusting, so I understand well how fat people feel, because its not a matter of how you weight, it’s just a lack of respect for both, thin and fat people.

    I’m also tired of people “giving me advices’”such as ‘sure you don’t eat a thing, your should eat more!’ and most people think it’s something they can do freely and you have to deal with it, but we should never say a fat person ‘stop eating’ because people recongnize it as something hurting and disrespectful. What I wanna say is, that discrimination also exists for thin girl and we all should be very careful with the words we say about other peoples weight, no matter if you can see every single bone or if you could never get to see one of them.

    Weight is not just a physical problem but a psicological thing too.

    PS. Sorry if my English isn’t quite good, I haven’t speak English for a long, long while.

  4. Every business has a target audience. I think it’s fine whether they decide to market thin people, larger-set people, cats, dogs, etc. Ignore the businesses that don’t pertain to you and carry on.

  5. I just want to say that I’m loving the comments as much as the article itself. I don’t have anything coherent to contribute so I’ll leave it at this : this discussion is so needed and very much appreciated x

  6. I completely disagree that thin-shaming is the same as fat-shaming. Fat people live with un-ending prejudice directed towards them every day; this manifests in lowered pay grades, cat-calling, trolling, violence. Lets not forget we’ve dedicated an entire war against fat bodies (war on obesity?) Thin people, on the other hand, are bestowed an inordinate amount of privilege solely because of their body type.
    For those thin people that somehow felt ostracized by this authors posts, welcome to the party. Now take that anger and turn it towards something constructive… the breaking down of societal prejudices. Speak out against fat talk. Speak out against body discrimination. And when you are tempted to think about thin-anger, just remember all the privileges you are bestowed simply because of your body type.

  7. Marketing makes people feel bad about themselves so they can sell a product. “You’re not pretty enough the way you are! Buy our clothes/diet pills/shoes/hair color/makeup products to be better looking because that’s ACTUALLY what is important!”
    We forget that Cyndi Crawford does not actually look like the person in the magazines every day. Businesses thrive on making us feel like we should have to look fantastic 24/7, therefore making us endlessly unhappy the way we are.

  8. Oh dear. I am so sorry that you felt the need to apologize. Where to start, where to start…. I feel that “thin shaming” is as ridiculous a term as “reverse racism”. In the grand scheme of things, on a societal level, it simply doesn’t exist. We first must unpack the idea of privilege. Privilege is basically receiving unearned benefits that you don’t deserve, you did absolutely nothing to receive these benefits except be born. An example of this are college legacies. Your great grandpa and your grandpa and your dad all went to X University and donate a crapload of money so you automatically get in., it’s not merit based. Another example of privilege is male privilege. You can decide not to have children and not have your masculinity questioned. You can ask to speak to the person in charge and it will likely be a male. Vasically it’s your world and everyone else is a squirrel trying to get a nut. Thin people in our culture have privilege because they are thin and that is what our culture values. Thin privilege looks like the person let’s say the fit mama who had that “whats your excuse pic”. A “fit” (normally defined as thin) person is automatically assumed to be smarter, prettier, and diligent. Fat, on the other hand is stereotypical synonymous with lazy, stupid (there are studies that conclude larger persons are less likely to get a raise, be promoted etc etc so its a very real problem with very real consequences) and we are bombarded with the idea that fat is the absolute worst thing in the world to be, on any day, at any time, ever. Let’s not get it twisted. By bluntly pointing out the clear body bias the media has, that negatively impacts 98% of women REGARDLESS of body type (because these messages that are sent basically say you will never be good enough) you are in no way shaming thin people.. It has absolutely nothing to do with them. They are simply the privileged and they are benefiting from a system that denigrates 98% of the female population. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor should they be made fun of but please let’s not pretend that making putting eating disorders and models in the same sentence is unrealistic or shaming….eating disorders in the modeling field are a given. Disordered eating is the norm. Designers have history of using 13 and 14 year old models when their target market is 25 – 35 years of age. They create a false picture…PURPOSEFULLY. Supermodel Cameron Russell speaks on this “pretty privilege” much more eloquently in her Ted Talk than I ever could. I sincerely suggest anyone who gives credence to thin shaming being an actual thing, Google her talk and take a listen.

    • You are right, there is no such thing as reverse-racism my dear. It is simply racism, whether you are black, white, asian, hispanic or another ethnicity. But body-shaming is a very real thing. The fact that you think that all people across the are not included in that is maybe because you haven’t seen it first-hand. I have beautiful skinny friend who eats more for lunch than I can eat all day and her knees look exactly like that girl’s in the Hollister picture. She is constantly slammed for her appearance. Can’t we just love who we are regardless of the color of our skin or our sexual or orientation or size? Stop the shaming people please.

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  10. What a lot of people don’t realize is the facts how marketing works. If you want to promote your product, you want it to look pretty and appealing..nobody in marketing is interested in reality, because fantasies sell not reality (I’m not defending it…just stating the facts). If you want to sell a swimsuit, you want to put it on a beautiful woman, because when a woman will look at it, she will subconsciously think, she will look the same (or similar) if she’ll wear it…that’s why the manikins have “perfect” bodies as well…you will imagine yourself looking the same in the clothes and that is what they want. Adverts with “normal” and “average” looking people in general will probably sell less, because you see normal and average people all around you the whole day…it’s just simple as that. If your self confidence is ok, you won’t feel threated or under pressure by a mere advertisement (it works the same with men, and perfect man models for our products and clothes, but we aren’t so easily touched by it I guess)

  11. What a lot of people don’t realize is the facts how marketing works. If you want to promote your product, you want it to look pretty and appealing..nobody in marketing is interested in reality, because fantasies sell not reality (I’m not defending it…just stating the facts). If you want to sell a swimsuit, you want to put it on a beautiful woman, because when a woman will look at it, she will subconsciously think, she will look the same (or similar) if she’ll wear it…that’s why the manikins have “perfect” bodies as well…you will imagine yourself looking the same in the clothes and that is what they want. Adverts with “normal” and “average” looking people in general will probably sell less, because you see normal and average people all around you the whole day…it’s just simple as that. If your self confidence is ok, you won’t feel threatened or under pressure by a mere advertisement (it works the same with men, and perfect man models for our products and clothes, but we aren’t so easily touched by it I guess)

  12. I agree with some of the women on here. The problem is they change their sizes. I was a size 4 in early high school, and once tried on a size 9 there that was too small. Yes, there are stores that are specifically for heavier women, but that’s only because it’s so hard for them to find clothing that fits. If all stores carried all sizes, or a wider range of them, then there wouldn’t be a reason for there to be stores targeting thinner or heavier women. The DEBS stores are perfect examples; they carry clothing anywhere from a xs to a size 20. More stores need to be like that.

  13. It was big of you to write this, I love your articles by the way. And I completely agree with you, we should fight the media that sells us only one appearance and makes us feel bad about every little detail of ourselves.

    And I have the same type of body you have. Is it also hard for you to find jeans that fit? Geez…

    • Thanks, Pamela! And YES –jeans are the worst. I literally only have one or two pairs that fit. Where do you go to get yours?

      Gina Vaynshteyn | 3/21/2014 11:03 am
      • The only jeans that fit me are Eddie Bauer. I highly recommend them. I get the curvy but they have slightly curvy and straight. I love them!

  14. This is thinking for myself. And it is wrong to call something a size “6″ when it is in fact a size two on purpose because they don’t want, and let re-emphasize, not only do they not want overweight women wearing their clothes they don’t want average size 6-8 women wearing their clothes because they consider that too large for their products. And since when was Hollister ever considered ‘high fashion’? It’s part of a company same as ‘Abercrombie’ that likes to strut nearly naked teens on their advertising to sell their super thin t-shirts for $80.00. This is bigger than fashion, it’s about societal norms and pressures. You can say think for yourself, but everyone, EVERYONE is influenced by society. Even rejecting societal norms is still being influenced by them.
    Sure, be healthy, encourage healthy life styles. Be the weight you want if it’s healthy. And I agree shaming someone for being thin is equally as bad. And I don’t shame the models in the add. Their beautiful thin women. We all have different body types. I’m shaming a company for perpetuated unrealistic norms.

    • I agree that Hollister’s sizes are bizarrely skewed to run very very small. My niece just turned 10 years old. Aside from the fact that she is an elementary school kid, she is also an exceptionally skinny elementary school kid. She weighs as much as my 6 year old, and she is very much all knees and elbows. Just to be silly, she tried on a skirt that was my toddler’s size 2T, and it fit her! So, keeping all of that info in mind, she wears a size women’s XS from Hollister and has several of their tops, which all fit her perfectly. I was folding some of her laundry once and saw one of her Hollister shirts; realizing her top was a woman’s XS, I held it up to my 2 year old daughter’s top, and it was the same width through the midsection. Just let that all sink in…a women’s XS top from Hollister is only as wide as a piece of clothing cut to fit a toddler.

      Bottom line, there’s NOTHING wrong with being skinny, and attacking skinny women is not productive and misses the point of the criticism of Hollister. The problem is that the company intentionally scales down all their sizes so that what would be a medium women’s top anywhere else is an XL. Remember, this company is owned by A&F, and their CEO openly and famously said he didn’t want any fat people ruining his brand cred. They also don’t want any non-skinny employees either. Legally you’re not supposed to discriminate against someone because of their weight, but they get around it by requiring employees to wear their clothing (which doesn’t come in anything larger than what would fit a size 8). Being thin is perfectly fine, but it’s irresponsible (in my opinion) to support a business that intentionally tries to make people feel shitty for having normally sized bodies.

  15. Just because you can’t fit into Hollister, doesn’t mean it is wrong they are marketing to skinny / fit girls. The stores marketed only to plus sizes, too!

    Also, “Your body is your body and no one should make you feel badly about it.”

    Well hate to burst your bubble, but sometimes it takes “tough love” to get ideas into people’s heads. If you’re really fat and people tell you to eat less and exercise more, that could be because they care about you and don’t want you to die at an early age due to your poor health choices. Same goes for being too skinny, if you’re anorexic then your friends better give you shit and help encourage you to put on some pounds. Not everyone is perfect, but enough of this over-sensitive, don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, because everyone is ok just the way they are bullshit. That isn’t true. If you’re a fatass, then do something about it. Too thin, then do something about it.

    • You missed the point completely brosef. I’m a fit person and I have never seen a model that looked like me in advertisement. So just to tack on thin/fit. You gotta stop the BS. Those two are NOT synonymous. There is nothing wrong with being skinny, nothing. But I am so sick of this damn thigh gap nonsense. Like I said, I’m fit and since middle school my muscular thighs have touched. I have calves that are firm and won’t fit into most boots. Baby doll tees were the bane of my existence in middle and high school because I was busty and my arms were too buff.

      But you’re also a man so I would not expect you to full grasp the situation. I mean you could, doesn’t society want you to be 6’5 Mediterranean with blue yes and rippling tawny muscles? Ya catch my drift?

      And it’s not about just doing something to change yourself. Stop using people’s ailments to put them down or give them ‘tough love’ it makes you sound like a complete jackass.

      • Thank you! I totally concur. I have the same issues with boots, and baby doll tee OMG were a nightmare for me as well for the same reason. Thank you for posting that reply and setting them straight :)

      • Thank You! Totally concur and could not have said it better. I have the same problem with my legs and baby dolls were the bane of my existence for the exact same reason.

    • Skinny does not automatically equal anorexic. Skinny is a body-type, anorexic is a mental illness which manifests in control of diet which results in under-nourished and emaciated.

      Also, having been a very skinny person growing up, it isn’t always a case of eating more. I ate huge amounts of food as well as those protein milkshake things and I was still skinny, in fact the model on the Hollister ad was probably about what I looked like.

      Tough love is just a code word for “rude”.

  16. This is ridiculous how are those models very thin! None of those model look sick or too thin. People need to realise that the reason fashion uses slimmer models is to show off their clothes not the woman inside them, these models are essentially coat hangers. people really need to stop comparing themselves to these people and think fr themselves instead of using the over used media phrase “I feel pressured’ It rubbish! Please think for yourselves.

  17. WEll said. I’ve had a problem with Hollister since I was in jr. high. I agree they should promote all body sizes and not make non size zeros feel alienated. I remember noticing in the 8th grade that Hollister made their sizes smaller on purpose. I know all clothing stores have slightly different sizing and I may vary one siz.e. But Hollister…..oh no. In the 8th grade I had to wear at least two or three sizes larger than what I was in the store across from them. And I remember feeling angry with my body, not with the company at first. This is not okay. I was so young. And that’s the problem with Hollister. Also, they call everyone that works there ‘models’.
    Clothes are suppose to make us feel cute, great, confident. When we slip on a new pair of jeans we want to feel our best, not like we need to change. Also. I can’t see anything when I go in there. Turn on some lights please.

    end of rant.

    • I do not understand this whole thigh gap thing.
      I’m a heavier gal, and I already have to ‘worry’ about not being able to wear certain things in stores I like to shop at.
      Now I have to worry about my thighs touching. Which they do.
      Even thin people have to worry about that.

      The adds always point out some new flaw. I remember when upper arm flab was all the rage.

      Always something. I think this is done on purpose. Because you can really only wear Hollister if you are thin, and they market their clothing to be this way. Remember the LuluLemon scandal?

      It IS done on purpose. The message being sent in the fashion industry is this: You CAN wear these clothes, this jewelry, this perfume, this handbag, these shoes, but unless you look like this (see above pictures), it isn’t really going to be acceptable. So, go deal with yourself. You will never be as elegant, as beautiful, as sexy, hot, elegant, as the people in our glossy spreads.

      Hollister reps even made a statement basically saying they are elitist. So I really don’t buy into the whole, thin models are just being used to show off clothing. It is not innocently, ignorantly done. There is a message.

      They could just as easily use models of varying shapes and sizes to show off their clothing. The fact that they, Hollister, and many other fashion ‘powerhouses’ don’t should be a red flag.

  18. I agree that we should not criticize thin body types; but it’s when beautiful models of average to thin size are carved up with Photoshop to portray these ridiculous images (like the Target ads) that I find appalling.

  19. Thank you so much for clarifying your stance, Gina. I think you’re right: we shouldn’t be shaming body types. We should be shaming the companies/brands who tell us one that body type is more desirable than another. As you’ve pointed out, advertisers (well, all of us, actually) need to be more inclusive than exclusive.

  20. The original article was definitely not tactful in the assessment of the Hollister model’s body. I’m SO THANKFUL that HelloGiggles has posted an apology for those comments while standing by the statement that companies should use models of all shapes and sizes, not just thin ones! Right on the button.

    Thank you, from someone who struggles to keep weight on!

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