What are 'legging legs?' What to know about the banned viral TikTok trend

See why the viral "leggings legs" TikTok trend has been met with backlash.

February 2, 2024, 2:00 PM

We often turn to TikTok for the latest trends, but a recent trending topic recently came under fire -- and received a ban from TikTok itself -- due to concerns it encouraged negative body images and may promote behaviors associated with eating disorders.

The term "legging legs" and its related hashtag started bubbling up on the social media platform late last year and routinely featured videos of young women with slender physiques showing off their lean legs -- or what many called "perfect legging legs."

Many users began calling out the trend for glorifying a specific body type in a way that felt very reminiscent of social media's previous obsession with "thigh gaps," the small space some people have between the tops of their thighs when they stand with their feet together.

"Call me crazy, but leggings legs are just a glorified version of the 2014 thigh gap," TikTok creator notsophiesilva said in part in a video that's now been viewed more than 1 million times.

She continued, "Let's not go back there. If you want to wear leggings, wear leggings. Your legs look beautiful in them no matter what. Leggings are leggings and legs are legs, we don't need to have a certain 'leggings legs.'"

Many commenters echoed her thoughts disapproving of the trend. Others chimed in across the platform about the negative body image and insecurities being provoked by it.

The viral hashtag has since been deleted by the platform, and the search term "legging legs" now redirects to resources for those struggling with eating disorders.

TikTok has not yet responded to ABC News' request for comment on the trend.

PHOTO: Two sportswomen wearing leggings during workout on stairs.
Two sportswomen wearing leggings during workout on stairs.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

A 2023 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, and shared on the National Library of Medicine website, found that excessive or obsessive social media use "may be a risk factor for body image dissatisfaction and associated eating disorders."

Another study published in the same journal in March 2021 showed that "widespread use of social media in teenagers and young adults could increase body dissatisfaction as well as their drive for thinness, therefore rendering them more vulnerable to eating disorders."

Similar studies and analyses have found a possible link between social media use -- particularly exposure to "pro-eating disorder content" and trends like "fitspiration" and thigh gaps -- and increased risk of eating disorders or unhealthy behaviors, especially among those with "pre-existing body image concerns."

Additionally, ABC News previously reported that the negative influence of some social media content is largely owed to the amount of social comparisons that often come with engagement on the platforms, according to Andrea Vazzana, a child psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders in children, adolescents and adults at NYU Langone Health.

According to Vazzana, there has been an increase in younger individuals -- specifically tweens as young as 9 and 10 years old -- suffering from eating disorders.

"This may be correlational data, but we're seeing people joining social media platforms at an earlier age as well," she told ABC News in March last year.

While social media platforms can't always preempt the rise of certain unhealthy trends, several of them have taken steps to combat content that promotes eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

In 2021, TikTok added new features to its short-form video hosting service to help raise awareness around eating disorders and offer help.

"Starting this week, when a user searches for #edrecovery #proana or other phrases related to eating disorders, we'll provide access to the BEAT Helpline where they can find help, support, and information about treatment options. We'll also provide tips we developed with eating disorders experts on how to identify negative self-talk, think about one's own positive attributes and strengths, or support a friend who may be struggling," the company stated in a blog post at the time.

Last year, YouTube also put new policies in place that prohibit content that features "imitable behavior" for "at-risk viewers," such as videos that show people restricting calories. YouTube also set age restrictions on any content discussing disordered eating, offering users mental health resources alongside those videos.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, also provides users with resources to cope with eating disorders or body dissatisfaction.

"While we don't allow content that promotes or encourages self-harm and eating disorders, we do allow people to share their own experiences and journeys around self-image and body acceptance. We know that these stories can prompt important conversations and provide community support, but can also be triggering for some. To address this, when someone tries to search for or share self-harm related content, we currently blur potentially triggering images and point people to helpful resources," the company wrote in a 2021 blog post, adding that it had also introduced "new resources specific to body image issues" to help intervene early, before search results for such topics are ever shown.

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or NationalEatingDisorders.org.

ABC News' Melanie Schmitz contributed to this report.

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