TikTok blocked 'legging legs,' but the trend won't die. Women speak out about the repackaged beauty standard.

@emilyxpearl via TikTok, @realvaleradj via TikTok, @reynacohan via TikTok

Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and disordered eating. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.

In late January, TikTok creators were quick to share their thoughts after learning that a new term had been trending on the video-sharing platform. The trending term “legging legs” refers to a new beauty standard in which an individual possesses the “ideal” legs — that is, skinny and with a noticeable space between the inner thighs when their feet are together.

The term has reignited a conversation about toxic beauty standards and the implications they have for women of varying ages. In fact, TikTok has even blocked the term on the platform. Many creators have since taken to the app to voice their outrage and fear for young girls who may come across the term.

“Do we understand that there are 15-year-old girls that wear leggings every single day that now feel that they cannot wear leggings because they don’t have ‘legging legs’?” Emily Pearl (@emilyxpearl) says in a video posted on Jan. 25.

TikTok didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News about its decision to block the term.

Leggings grew in popularity during COVID-19 pandemic

As fashion took a turn for the more comfortable during the coronavirus pandemic, athleisure grew exponentially in popularity, as many opted for leggings as they worked from home. In 2020, page views for the sustainable activewear brand Girlfriend Collective, which is a popular brand among Gen Z and young millennial consumers, was up by 244% year over year, according to the Independent. Similarly, athletic apparel brand Alo Yoga, which lists Gen Z-ers and Gen Alphas as being among their target demographics, has seen a substantial increase in revenue. The Los Angeles-headquartered brand was estimated to be worth $210.8 billion in 2022 (and reportedly likely to grow to $384.8 billion in 2032), growth that outlet Retail Brew notes was at least partially influenced by the pandemic, which prompted people to “rethink” their dress codes.

Rachel Goldberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy in Los Angeles, spoke to Yahoo News about the seemingly inescapable, cyclical nature of body image ideals and the role that social media plays in furthering their reach.

“While this has always been the case, the advent and prevalence of social media have accelerated both the spread and the often quick decline of these trends. Previously, such ideals were primarily influenced by magazines or popular TV shows. Nowadays, however, they are not only pervasive on social media platforms, but also actively propagated to those most susceptible through targeted algorithms in their feeds,” she explained.

Upon learning that “legging legs” was trending online, Valera Djordjevic (@realvaleradj), 21, addressed the term’s toxicity in a TikTok video she shared with her 313,000 followers. “Being a woman is LITERALLY. IMPOSSIBLE,” she wrote alongside a clip of her wearing a pair of black leggings. “Like if you have legs and leggings u have leggings legs?!”

Djordjevic told Yahoo News that the term reminded her of how uncomfortable she felt wearing leggings when she was younger.

“Growing up I’ve often felt insecure about my legs. I’ve always had larger legs in comparison to most of my girlfriends and would compare myself to them,” she said. “I would also get called out by teachers and adults for wearing the same things my skinnier friends were wearing just because I was curvier, so naturally I wanted to fit in and have skinny, socially accepted legs.”

Even at 21, Djordjevic admitted that she still often compares her body to those of other women she sees online. Knowing that she, herself, struggles with body image, Djordjevic said she’s concerned about how younger girls will interpret and perhaps even internalize the term and what it stands for.

“I have a 12-year-old sister who has told me all the insecurities she has and how she compares her body to her friends and girls she looks up to online, and it kills me as an older sister to see her pick herself apart at such a young age,” she added.

A repackaging of the ‘thigh gap’ and ‘heroin chic’ aesthetic

While the term itself may be new, the standards informing it are anything but. Sophie Silva (@notsophiesilva), 21, a college student in Los Angeles, noted that it’s essentially a 2024 repackaging of an equally toxic 2013 body ideal: the once coveted “thigh gap.”

“Call me crazy, but legging legs is just a glorified version of the 2014 Tumblr thigh gap that literally annihilated the mental health of every single young woman who was in middle school at the time,” Silva says in her video. “So let’s not do that again.”

The deliberately unkempt “indie sleaze” aesthetic of the early 2010s — a repackaging and modernization of the Kate Moss-popularized “heroin chic” look of the ’90s — has been criticized for promoting the thigh gap. Legging legs, like the Tumblr-popularized thigh gap, arguably perpetuates the same negative messaging about one’s body: It must be skinny to be socially acceptable.

“When I first stumbled across this trend, I felt a strange sense of familiarity. ... The thigh gap trend on Tumblr marked the beginning of my years-long struggle with a restrictive eating disorder,” Silva told Yahoo News. “The virality of terms like ‘legging legs’ underscores the ongoing challenge of balancing the positive aspects of social media ... with the need to be vigilant against the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and body image pressures.”

Goldberg spoke to Silva’s point, adding that the popularization of legging legs can invite an “unwelcome consciousness” for individuals who have been wearing leggings comfortably, out of fear that doing so may now “invite judgment.”

“Eating disorders, distorted body images and unhealthy fitness habits are increasingly prevalent, and trends like legging legs contribute to these issues,” Goldberg told Yahoo News. “They add to the burden of those [who are] already self-critical, leading to a harmful cycle of obsessive body checking and unhealthy behaviors.”

‘Many of us are still dealing with it’

Reyna Cohan (@reynacohan), 33, felt a similar sense of déjà vu as someone who lived through the era of the coveted thigh gap during its Tumblr reign. In her own video, Cohan advocates for the end of the legging legs trend as “a millennial woman who spent a lot of time on some really scary parts of Tumblr.” She told Yahoo News that she’d become excited to wear leggings as an adult because she finally had something that was “fashionable” and fit comfortably.

“Everyone is allowed and should be allowed to be young, make their mistakes and learn their lessons, but this type of thing isn’t a lesson to be learned. It can be a trauma that follows you into adulthood,” she said, referring to toxic trends that young TikTokers sometimes choose to engage in. “I think so many people my age and older felt so freaked out because they didn’t want younger people to go through what we did because so many of us are still dealing with it.”

When it comes to the protection of one’s mental health, Goldberg recommends that TikTok users consider limiting their exposure to videos about legging legs and remember that all bodies are different. Ultimately, however, professional help should not be overlooked.

“Remind yourself that not all body types can or should achieve a thigh gap and that being fit and healthy often means having muscles that naturally fill that space,” she said. “If the obsession with body image or a broader trend of unhealthy comparisons leads to harmful behaviors, seeking professional help is strongly advised.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders at 866-662-1235. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the Alliance’s website to learn more about the possible warning signs of eating disorders and disordered eating.