When thigh gaps attack: Target's Photoshop fail goes viral

thigh gap

Attack of the thigh gap! Yesterday, an observant blogger called out some pretty egregious Photoshop shenanigans on Target’s website; we fear the thigh gap on this particular swimsuit model will not rest until it consumes her entire body. 

By Tuesday morning, other, bigger sites like Jezebel and the New York Daily News had piled on. (We reached out to Target for a comment but did not immediately hear back.) And by Tuesday afternoon, the retailer had removed the images from its website. Speedy work, Internet.

“I love how quickly it got called out,” says Pamela Rutledge, a psychologist and director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “Social norms are enforced by community, and that’s true in a club, in a church, or society wide; and now society, because of the Internet, is very broad. And there’s a lot of sensitivity for stuff like this.” 

In our TODAY/AOL Body Image survey, released last month, we found that the majority of the teen girls we surveyed said they wished that Photoshopping would stop entirely. Because those images that girls see in the media have a real impact on the way they feel about themselves; 80 percent of the teenage girls we surveyed said they compare themselves to the images they see of celebrities, and many of those girls said those images made them feel worse about their own appearances. On Jezebel, writer Rebecca Rose took particular issue with the fact that this is an item in the juniors' department:

“The worst, most horrible part of this (aside from the horrible Photoshopping skills of whatever poor graphic design intern got assigned to do this) is that this product is for their junior's line. This is what is being marketed and pushed on young girls—this absurd image of a crotch that absolutely does not and cannot happen naturally. This what young girls have to look at and try to reconcile with their own, normally shaped bodies.”

Clearly, the reason this image from Target has gotten so much attention online in the last 24 hours is because it's pretty obvious that something's amiss here. “It’s so clearly been altered,” Rutledge said. “They removed, actually, part of her body — part of her crotch, not just part of her legs.” She says she’s seen some online commenters say things like, “What did you use, Paint?” (Good one, online commenters.) And, actually, one of the first comments on the blog that spotted this in the first place is from someone who suspects that this might be an actual goof-up:

“You know, as a designer, the more I look at the mistake, the more it looks like an actual accident.”

“I think that there is a presumption in the public that all of these egregious Photoshop photos – like Faith Hill, Jessica Alba, there’s a short list of the ones we’ve all seen— that somehow, that stopped it. And that’s not true,” Rutledge says. Of Target, she says, “They got caught. And people really need to do exactly what they’re doing here, which is raise hell when they see it. And the best way to do that is the way it’s been done. It starts on a couple of blogs, or on Twitter, and it spreads around.

“And, equally important, when someone points this out, is to say, ‘Let’s spread this around so that it does stop,’” she says.

And anyway, even the, shall we say, “traditional” thigh gap is not an achievable look for many girls and women, experts say; it’s just not how many female bodies were built. “We want people to be healthy, we want people to be the best they can be,” Rutledge says. “We don’t want to set people up against an unachievable image. Men, women, anybody.”