Opinion: The 'legging legs' trend is toxic, harmful and serves '2014 vibes' in the worst way - TikTok was right to ban it

Photo composite of 'thigh gap' images against pink background with headlines relating to 'legging legs' and 'thigh gaps'
The very nature of trends is they are cyclical; while it's all well and good for '90s grunge makeup to circle back into the mainstream, toxic body ideals are a different beast entirely. Photo credit: Photo illustration - Newshub; Images - Getty Images, screengrabs, @steph_claire_smith / TiKTok

Warning: This article contains references to eating disorders that may be triggering for some readers.  

OPINION: Many millennials or elder Gen-Z will remember the 'thigh gap' frenzy during the early, uncensored days of social media in the 2010s; a trend that became a cornerstone of hugely detrimental 'thinspiration' or 'pro-ana' (pro-anorexia) online communities.

A thigh gap is essentially a space between the inner thighs when a woman stands upright with their feet touching, which was seen as a desirable bodily feature due to its connotations of thinness or physical fitness.

Despite the gap being an anatomical feature that is only naturally present in women with a certain body shape and bone structure, its internet-fuelled popularity caused some to resort to extreme dieting in the hopes of losing enough weight for the 'gap' to appear. Experts have since noted that attempts to achieve unattainable beauty ideals such as the thigh gap can lead to low self-esteem or eating disorders.

And despite social media and body positivity coming leaps and bounds since the murky waters of 2012, it seems some lessons we never quite learn. Recently, #legginglegs began to circulate on TikTok - a hashtag that first went viral after women shared videos of themselves in the tight pants to show off the gap between their thighs.

While some TikTok tastemakers have hailed this year as the return of 2016-style makeup (think painted-on eyebrows, bold eyeshadow and matte foundation) - and Kylie Jenner took the internet by storm with her return to pink hair (which she debuted with the caption, "heard it's 2014 vibes this year") - #legginglegs is a 2010s trend we do not want, and definitely do not need, in 2024.

It is unfathomable that despite this generation's heightened awareness around mental health, trends like #legginglegs still have space to grow. As proven time and time again, we are not learning from our mistakes; instead, these mistakes are simply being rebranded, wrapped in TikTok-ified packaging, and distributed even more widely than before.

I had an eating disorder in the mid-2010s; it was not a pretty time for social media. Veganism was rife, but for all the wrong reasons. 'Food influencers' would proudly showcase their low-calorie, high-carb-low-fat plant-based meals to the world and proclaim it "#health". Orthorexia, or the obsession with eating 'clean', healthy food, was rampant. People with no relevant qualifications would be hailed as health and wellness gurus while they served their followers misinformation on a silver platter.

The 'size zero' diet culture of the 2000s was still alive and well; it was just hiding behind hashtags and the illusion of health. Let's not smoke cigarettes to suppress our appetites, but let's make a smoothie of bananas and dates and call it a nutritionally balanced meal. Size zero isn't the goal, but let's take 'aesthetic' photos of our thighs and post them to Instagram - touching our knees together to create the illusion of a wider gap.

Sure, facets of this still exist today, but the internet is not what it was 10 years ago. As I'm not an internet culture expert, I can't quantifiably tell you why this is, but people are arguably more aware about mental health and mental illnesses than ever before. This in turn has influenced the content we consume and the way we see the world; newer generations in particular view material through a lens of, "What is wrong with this picture?" rather than simply digesting and dismissing it. Gen-Z have assumed the role of internet watchdog, and in a more censored social media landscape, it's much harder for problematic content or content creators to find a foothold without being deleted, blocked, banned, or of course, cancelled.

With this lens in mind, after decades of women's bodies being commodified, objectified and criticised, people started bucking the trend. #BodyPositivity told us it's okay to be different shapes and sizes. Brands caught on and started hiring models that looked like us, the common people, rather than the typical long-legged, sample-sized goddesses. We started realising the ramifications these 'thigh gap'-esque movements, trends and ideals can have, and warred against them.

But now, maybe we have taken a step backwards. #Legginglegs made it onto TikTok - not just a microcosm of the internet.

Of course, the hashtag has quickly and ferociously been panned by anyone with an ounce of common sense. Popular Australian influencer and model Steph Claire Smith has called it "toxic" and "disappointing", while content creator @ashleyrosehartly said in a video: "I just saw a new trend called 'legging legs' that's circulating on the internet... it's young people critiquing their legs in leggings and saying that the perfect legs for leggings is a giant square thigh gap... here to remind you all that legs are legging legs."  

One person replied to her video: "I have been crying for the past 4 hours because I don't have 'legging legs' and my boyfriend has been trying to comfort me the entire time."

In her take on the topic, therapist Holly Essler branded the trend "disgusting", saying: "Do not let social media tell your body that it is a trend. If you have a body and you have leggings, you have legging legs."  

TikToker @emilyxpearl has also weighed in, saying in her video: "Do we understand what we are doing to the younger generation of women? 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'... the most stupid thing I've ever heard in my life.  

"Do you understand that because of your video telling some little girl that she doesn't have legging legs, she now feels that she can't fit into society?"  

At the time of writing, '#legginglegs' has since been deleted and blocked on TikTok and according to reports, had been replaced with information about eating disorders or disordered eating.  

As I mentioned, I overcame an eating disorder in my late teens - a time when social media was very, very different to what it is today. Although we now have role models in all shapes and sizes - and more awareness around eating disorders than arguably ever before - I can't help but worry.

The very nature of trends is they are cyclical; while it's all well and good for '90s grunge makeup to circle back into the mainstream, toxic body ideals are a different beast entirely. We only have to look at the popularity of BBLs (Brazilian butt lifts) and the Ozempic craze of the last two years to see that despite our progress as a society, women's bodies are still very much a trend and unfortunately, that will likely never change. To see the resurgence of the 'thigh gap' - and to remember the feelings it evoked - has served a very real reminder of the dangers these trends can have.

As Jenner - one of the most influential people in the world with a fanbase of predominantly young women - has declared, it's apparently "2014 vibes this year"; so what 10-year-old trends are set to cycle back into fashion? Pink hair is one thing. Dieting for a gap between your thighs is another.

Lana Andelane is Newshub's lifestyle editor.