‘Legging Legs’ Are Gen Z’s Version Of Thigh Gaps & Millennials Are Calling That Shit Out

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses disordered eating.

It’s no surprise that yet another unrealistic beauty standard has wormed its way onto TikTok, but this one is interesting (read: terrifying) because it’s actually an older, more sinister trend that’s come back in disguise. Yes, I’m talking about “legging legs”.

If you’re wondering what on earth “legging legs” are, that’s a great question, and one that has a concerning answer.

The term first became popular in late 2023, with young girls expressing their frustration at seeing other women who have legs that they feel look “perfect” in leggings.

The comment sections of these videos are upsetting: mostly young women picking apart their legs and discussing how unattractive or wrong they feel because their “calves are too thick” or their legs are “too round”. Other girls have described their legs as having “no shape” or being “strange”. At some point, I even saw the term “thunder thighs” used to describe someone’s legs not being suitable for leggings.

Video after video has since been made about “legging legs”, with the term spreading rapidly.

This toxic beauty standard is literally contagious.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that when these young people on TikTok say “perfect” regarding legs, they actually mean “skinny”. In what felt like a deep shock to me when I started seeing these videos, the term “thigh gap” also re-appeared on my feed for the first time since I was in high school.

If you just had a flashback to the slums of Tumblr in the early 2010s, then you’ll know how concerning this renewed obsession with thigh gaps is — and its relation to pro-ana circles, diet culture and “thinspiration”. These were communities on social media in the 2010s that glorified skinniness of the extreme, to the point where mental illness and deeply emaciated bodies were seen as “goals”. It was truly a horrific space.

Older Gen Z and Millennial women have since taken to the app to call out how toxic “legging legs” is as a trend, because we were right there in the trenches when this same beauty standard circulated online more than a decade ago under a different name.

Aussie darling and fitness influencer Steph Claire Smith slammed the trend as “disappointing” and “toxic”.

“I remember being obsessed with having a thigh gap. I remember it driving me insane, being angry at my genetics basically and losing anything that I had on my legs just to have a friggin’ gap because social media told me that that was what was attractive,” she said.

“And now there is a trend: legging legs.”

Smith told PEDESTRIAN.TV that she felt both angry and deeply saddened by the trend, because it shows that not only are we still being fed the same horrific ideas about our bodies decades later, but that a new, younger generation of girls are falling victim to these ideals.

“When is this ever going to end? When are we going to stop treating our bodies like fashion trends?” she told PTV.

“This particular trend, from what I know of it, is basically just a new name for the thigh gap, which was an obsession and a trend that I absolutely found myself pretty stuck in. It’s just a disguise.

“Put a pair of leggings on and then you’ve got legging legs — I just I don’t think your legs need to look a certain way to feel good wearing leggings.

“It just makes me feel really sad it [might] stop anyone from wearing leggings because I mean, more often than not, they’re the most comfortable and popular option when it comes to movement. So it’s just a huge barrier to exercise, too.”

Experts have expressed their concern with the trend too, because videos like these can lead to some pretty awful self-perceptions.

“These appearance-based trends on social media can be extremely dangerous as they portray a very narrow ideal of beauty and suggest that the perfect body exists, while also enforcing the belief that your appearance or body is what makes you worthy,” Butterfly Foundation’s head of comms and engagement Melissa Wilton told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“With Butterfly’s recent Body Kind Youth Survey highlighting that almost 50% of 12-18 year olds surveyed [said] social media made them feel dissatisfied with their body, it’s vital that we combat this rhetoric and encourage people to see themselves as a whole being, rather than just their appearance and body size.”

TikTok has reportedly now banned the trend, but it appears Australians can still search for and view these harmful videos.

What do I do if I start getting “legging legs” videos on my feed?

How are you supposed to challenge rhetoric like this when it’s not only everywhere, but the TikTok algorithm has been known to push toxic skinny culture into young people’s feeds? It’s hard, but taking control of your social media feeds helps.

“Developing social media literacy skills is key to making social media a positive space for users, reducing the risk of developing or exacerbating an eating disorder or body image issue and improving resilience and wellbeing,” Wilton said.

“The power is in your hands – you can block or report distressing content and accounts, take regular breaks from scrolling (Instagram has a tool to set time limits to remind you to take a break), and fill feeds with positivity by following accounts that align with your own passions, hobbies, or interests outside of the realm of body appearance.”

Steph Claire Smith suggested people also take advantage of the “uninterested” option on the TikTok app. If you hold the screen, you will be shown an option where you can let the app know that you don’t want to see videos like the one you’ve been shown.

Of course, sometimes it’s your friends and loved ones that post harmful content, especially if they themselves are young, insecure teenage girls. In that case, Wilton and Smith both suggested muting instead of unfollowing these accounts so you can still escape the toxicity.

At the end of the day, it’s near impossible to fully keep toxic beauty standards off your feed — so just remember that these trends, they’re not real. They’re a manifestation of insecurities that have been sold to us for decades. But we can absolutely challenge them.

And you can wear whatever you damn well please.