Photoshop is no longer the only way to fake a thigh gap. This April, the FDA signed off on CoolSculpting, which sounds like a graphics editing program from Abode, but is actually a non-surgical procedure that promises to spot-reduce your inner and outer thighs by 20 to 25 percent in three months.
Though Coolscupting, which is owned by the medical technology company Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc., has been around since September 2010—when it was first FDA-approved to minimize the flank (a.k.a., muffin top)—it has gained popularity in the last four years, especially after getting the FDA okay for the abdomen (belly pooch) in May 2012. Now with thighs on the list, CoolSculpting is officially the only cold-based fat reduction procedure that has passed the FDA's clinical trials. In fact, 86 percent of the patients in those trials claimed to see a visible reduction in their thigh fat 16 weeks after receiving the treatment.
Developed by Harvard scientists, CoolSculpting requires a doctor (dermatologist, plastic surgeon, or medical aesthetic physician) to administer an applicator (which comes in different sizes for varying body shapes) on the areas the patient wishes to shrink. Using controlled cooling, they expose the fat cells directly beneath the skin to extremely cold temperatures without harming the epidermis. This process naturally kills fat cells over the course of a two-hour session (additional appointments are needed to cover each thigh completely). The dead fat cells are attacked by white blood cells, which convert them to triglycerides that get metabolized by your liver and excreted as waste through urine or feces, explains cosmetic dermatologic surgeon Ariel Ostad, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, who performs this procedure.
Ostad assures it’s as easy and painless as it sounds. With no incisions or anesthesia needed, the only issues CoolSculpting patients need to worry about are some possible light bruises (though unlikely), the big time commitment (you'll need to schedule at least two treatments), and being a little poorer. Outer thighs alone will cost you between $1,500 and $2,000, so add inner thighs and you could be out up to $4,000.
The surgery isn't a quick fix for the overweight or obese, Ostad says. “CoolSculpting is best for people who are in good shape, already exercising, and just have some resistant, stubborn areas in their thigh area.” Because the cold temps only penetrate an inch to an inch and a half under the skin, it doesn't really target visceral fat, which is more internal, below muscles and wrapped around organs, he explains. Other people who aren't ideal candidates are those who tend to break out into hives when cold.
It's tempting to save and sign up for CoolSculpting. But there's something important to consider first: Before Photoshop changed society's perception of the female body, would you have ever notice this so-called thigh gap, let alone coveted it? Make no mistake, this is a 100 percent fabricated look—seamlessly edited to perfection on screens, in print and now in doctor's offices.
“When you look at the anatomy of most women, their thighs generally touch—that's normal,” says board-certified bariatric physician Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D., co-founder of bistroMD, a national weight-loss company. “But when you look at super models who are six feet tall and 110 pounds, their legs are going to have a gap between them based on their size and body type. That's not the height and weight of the average American female who is healthy and athletic.”
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Body image has always been, and may always be, a tricky subject for women. Even if you're in the best shape of your life, you might secretly desire to lose another five pounds. Being critical of ourselves sometimes feels like it's embedded in our DNA. But still, that doesn't mean you should act on this impulse and go to extreme measures (which CoolScupting is) to fit an ideal that is truly unnatural. “If you have a healthy, muscular build because you're fit and active, you might not have a thigh gap. But that doesn't mean you should alter yourself to get one,” Cederquist says.
What do you think about how CoolSculpting is making thigh gaps more accessible to women who would otherwise never have one? Let us know what you think in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!