On Sunday February 2, a 4chan user devised a plan to create a viral hoax based off of the “bikini bridge,” (that tiny gap that appears between a slender woman’s stomach and her bikini when she lies down on a beach), and the plan was to make the bridge go as viral as quickly as possible. How? By leveraging social media and certain public platforms such as CNN iReports and the Buzzfeed Community page.
The hoax team faked celebrity photos and tweets of the bridge, too. Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, and Harry Styles were all used.
After generating some positive buzz, the team deliberately created backlash, hating on the bikini bridge as much as they had adored and promoted it. This was meant to cause even more stir and to make it seem like a spirited debate was going on. We’ll probably never know for certain why they did this. To have fun? To cause pain? To analyze and perfect the process of making something “go viral”? We do now know, however, one important fact: that we are wildly susceptible to fads that reduce and objectify women’s bodies.
Within the first 24 hours, “bikini bridge” was tweeted 2000 times. That’s not a whole lot compared to truly viral stories, but it demonstrated just how much catching power it has. Four days later, as of today, Wednesday, February 05, it has been tweeted several thousand more times by users both with and without “bikini bridge” names, with more and more photos of bikini bridges going up by the minute.
Twitter screenshot, February 05.
Twitter screenshot, February 05.
It is my opinion that this fad will die. It may endure in the minds of women and men here and there over the long-term, but Buzzfeed did an excellent job exposing and debunking the whole fiasco. Its legs have been cut off too early for it to generate momentum. Nonetheless its three-day success was alarmingly catching. This demonstrates to us one important fact:
The American psyche is primed for objectifying memes.
Consider all of the ways the female body has been reduced to a simple measurement or body part in recent years. T & A. Side-boob. Under-boob. Apple-bottom. Muffin top. Camel toe. Thigh gap. I could probably invent some of my own (I dare not, in case they end up being as catchy as “bikini bridge”), and they would be accepted as a normal part of the way our culture handles women. No one was surprised by the bikini bridge before the Buzzfeed and other debunkers came to our rescue. It was just another one of a steady stream of objectifying memes to float through our culture. Those who could leverage the idea to make themselves feel superior or to degrade women did so. Those who could not or chose not to posted vociferous rebuttals. None of us said, “wait, this doesn’t make sense.” Of course it makes sense. Picking apart a woman’s appearance is just what we do.
Do we do the same thing for men? To some extent. We look for biceps. Six packs. But muscles are healthy aspects of a physique that can be cultivated. Thigh gaps and bikini bridges must often be starved into, or are genetic components of a woman’s body that cannot be changed. And men are not degraded or considered unworthy for failing to live up to a certain standard. How often are male musicians torn apart for the shape of their deltoids or abdominals while on stage? Consider the recent performances of Bruno Mars at the Superbowl and Beyonce at the Grammys. Was Mars’s physique the most talked about aspect of his stellar performance? Not so far as I can tell. Was Beyonce’s? Arguably yes. Beyonce is a perfect example here because not only was she highly scrutinized and objectified for her form in general, but also because many critics raved about how her outfit showed that she finally achieved a thigh gap. Really? The thigh gap? 10 minutes of passionate gyrating and soaring vocals with husband Jay-Z and that’s what’s earns the title for your article?
The bikini bridge did not surprise us because reducing women to objectifiable parts does not surprise us.
While the bikini bridge was not surprising to us, it was in the end nonetheless easy for many pundits and critics to reject. I think this is largely because the idea is more “ridiculous” to us than the norms to which we are accustomed, such as the thigh gap. In this way, the “bikini bridge” demonstrates that we are blind—and egregiously so—to the objectification that takes place on a daily basis. The thigh gap is everywhere. And, yes, there are many vociferous voices that hate it, and those who decry the bikini bridge as the thigh gaps partner in crime. But there are so many who love it, too, whether externally or in secret. I am certain without a doubt that even as so many people decry the bikini bridge, or even the thigh gap itself, they embrace the thigh gap as a standard of beauty, and quite possibly yearn for it even as they know it is wrong to do so.
It is my firm opinion that the thigh gap emerged as a cultural meme only after several decades of gradual conditioning. When I was eleven years old—this was in the 90s—I stood in front of a full length mirror on a daily basis and lined my feet up to tape I had put on the ground. I did so in order to try and figure out how much weight I had to lose to obtain a gap. There was no thigh gap meme in the 90s. There was only every magazine I had ever looked at, every runway show I watched, every celebrity with tiny legs I envied throughout my adolescence.
The thigh gap meme is so powerful because it stands on the back of an objectifying standard of beauty that has long since been ingrained in our consciousness. This is why the bikini bridge will fail. While it might be trendy to talk about and flaunt the bridge, the bridge has not been plastered all over magazines, movies, and the media for years. We don’t spend all day looking horizontally down women’s bodies at the beach. The bridge won’t be able to grab ground (or, it probably will not) because it does not have any ground to really grab on to. This is fortunate because it enables us to easily do away with it. This also unfortunate, however, because it means that other objectifying memes—ones that focus on hips, breasts, thighs, and the like as they appear on a day-to-day basis—will continue to stand firmly in the center of our conception of womanhood while we naively objectify away.
The bikini bridge is a passing fancy. But objectification in America is not. How do we overcome such entrenched misery? The answer is far from clear. But I suspect it has something to do with teaching women and girls the true meaning of these objectifying memes, and I suspect it has something to do with using our belief in the dignity and wholeness of every human being to empower and support them in their defiance.