It’s been a bad year for Target.

First the data breach, now GapGate. An online ad was altered so the model — who already had the body fat of an earthworm that’s been baking on the sidewalk all day — appeared to have part of her groinal area clawed out to make her look thinner.

It’s called the “thigh gap,” and it is perfectly natural, if you’re a stork or a skeleton hanging in an anatomy class.

It’s not that they got busted for Photoshopping. They got busted for bad Photoshopping. No one notices if the model’s arms have so little muscle tone she couldn’t pick up a stick of celery with both hands or her teeth’s blinding whiteness makes an Antarctic drift look like a coal miner’s sock.

But this example not only removed part of her leg, it stretched her arms so long she could reach around her left ear and scratch her right one. I actually think it sends a good message to kids: If you’re made out of plastic, you melt under studio lights.

But why? Possible reason: Target has a secret program to promote the thigh gap.

“Here’s the latest on the data breach, boss; looks like it was a couple of kids in Romania who guessed that our corporate password was TEGRAT. We intend to -”

(brushes the report aside) Never mind that. Fill me in on the effort to warp young women’s concept of beauty with manipulated imagery!

“Ah, you mean Project Sparrow? We have a shipment of waifs coming in Tuesday for a photo shoot; the supplier says they’ve been fed nothing but coffee and Altoids for a month.”

Fine. No Photoshopping this time, understood? Just condense the thighs with clear packing tape.

Nah. Some guy in an offshore Photosweatshop, touching up hundreds of images a day, knocked that one off right at closing time. Who’d notice? The entire Internet, that’s who.

As the parent of a teen girl, it’s fodder for discussions about body image. You tell your kid: Anyone who judges you for the lack of a thigh gap is a twittery ninny who knows the career highlights of the Kardashian sisters but can’t tell you who we fought in World War II. Here, let’s check out Marie Curie on Wikipedia. See? Discovered radium. Does it say “despite her scientific accomplishments and pioneering efforts to raise the profile of women in French science, her thighs actually touched. Like, gross.”

Child, you have more important things to worry about. After the thigh gap is old, they will invent the “armpit chasm,” and everyone will expect girls, when they hold their arms at their sides, to have a space between the limbs and the torso.

If the gap hadn’t been so crudely rendered, no one would have noticed the rest of the Photoshop work. A little spot-healer tool on that blemish, slight blur on the skin, clone tool to remove the SATAN FOREVER tattoo, whatever. We understand that these images are fixed and “improved,” because it’s advertising.

Compare the burger you get at a fast-food joint to the ad version: the one in the picture looks 6 inches high, decorated with frilly lettuce, a juicy glistening tomato hanging out, the bun a perfect dome dotted with shiny sesame seeds. The one you buy looks like a horse sat on it.

Compare the trailer to the movie that promised exciting action and thrills to the incoherent rote procession of explosions and fisticuffs. Compare the politician’s campaign promise to be a Strong Voice in Washington for Aardvarks vs. the voting record, where he voted for the Anti-Aardvark Act and said it was a procedural thing. We factor these things in.

ThighGapGate just shows how much we expect advertising images to smooth the truth. Impossibly perfect people we accept, but they’d better do a professional job of lying. Unreality’s fine as long as it’s realistic.

Here’s the peculiar thing: it’s not the only thigh-gap ad still up on the Target sites. There are others. When you go to the page that hosted the ad, it says, “Sorry, we can’t find that product but here are some other items that might interest you.” And right below there’s a “swim bottom” picture with a thigh gap that would be natural if you had somehow taught your thighs to suck in their breath and hold it.

Anyway, let’s learn from this. Let’s reject these false images and insist on truth! Except for columnist photos. The picture on my column is 10 years old. I could ask for a new one with some more Photoshopped hair, but if it went to the guy who did the Target ad you’d wonder when the werewolf started working for the paper.