SITTING on the bus on the way to a school football match, aged 14, I remember comparing my legs with those of the girl sitting next to me.
“My thighs touch, but yours don’t,” she pointed out.
InstagramHayley Madigan says the dangerous ‘leggings legs’ trend on TikTok is damaging a generation of young girls[/caption]
Getty‘Leggings legs’ is a Gen Z term for the thigh gap (pictured Kendall Jenner)[/caption]
I’d never noticed that about my legs before. But it soon became a discussion in the changing room and a group of us were standing with our feet together just to see who had a gap between their thighs and who didn’t.
Looking back, it definitely had a negative impact on me. I didn’t really think about what my body looked like at that age, but it put pressure on us — it was body-shaming.
Why was it a good thing that I had a thigh gap and a bad thing if I didn’t?
I thought we’d left that kind of toxic body image culture behind. But now, years later, it’s reared its ugly head again with a new trend — this time called “legging legs”.
It is basically a Gen Z term for the thigh gap and refers to the type of legs that supposedly look the best in leggings.
The hashtag #legginglegs has gained more than 33million views on TikTok, with young girls proudly showing off their so-called legging legs.
You would think that by now we would have all learned a thing or two — but clearly we have not.
From the age of 16, I always thought I had to be as thin as I could be.
I was obsessed with magazines and seeing pictures of the stunning female models inside. I would compare myself constantly, because that was the beauty standard.
Women like Kate Moss, who became a poster girl for the thigh gap, were our idols.
I’m 5ft 5in so was never going to be a 6ft stick-thin model. But even as a young teenager, diets were pushed in our faces countless times.
It felt normal to be on a diet, as it seemed everyone was doing one — either low-carb, keto or carb-cycling. I tried all of these myself.
My dad once made a comment that eating too many crisps could give you cellulite, and that one remark triggered me. At 17, I didn’t eat crisps for six months.
Legging legs are an extremely toxic trend. If you have legs and you own leggings, everyone has legging legs. Yet these young, impressionable girls think they can’t wear leggings unless they look a certain way.
It’s unfortunate that we’re now going back to the early 2000s and reliving it all over again.
Comparing my legs with my school friends’ affected me when I was 14, so I can’t imagine how horrendous it must be now for girls growing up in this age of social media.
ShutterstockYoung, impressionable girls think they can’t wear leggings unless they look a certain way[/caption]
GettyLike the thigh gap trend, legging legs are a beauty standard that the vast majority of women can’t attain (pictured Emily Ratajkowski)[/caption]
Because of the algorithm on Tik-Tok, once I’d viewed one video about legging legs, it pushed countless more videos at me. It’s extremely hard to escape.
This is a dangerous phenomenon — as has been proven by recent statistics. A survey from the Mental teenagers said snaps on social media had caused them to worry about body image.Foundation reported that 40 per cent of
And 35 per cent claimed they had stopped eating at some point, or restricted their diets, due to worrying about their bodies.
I’ve seen first-hand the negative impact social media can have on young people.
As a PE teacher in a secondary school from 2014 to 2017, there were times I could see some of the girls in my class not wanting to get changed and never wanting to show their legs.
I went into a school recently to teach a workout class, and out of the 80 girls in Year 10, only 40 turned up.
The other half said they were too self-conscious to do a workout with me.
We asked the ones who did take part if social media had a negative effect on their mental health. Shockingly, every single one of them put their hand up.
Like the thigh gap trend, legging legs are a beauty standard that the vast majority of women can’t attain, and it’s awful to see it plastered all over social media.
We all come in different shapes and sizes. Some women can’t physically achieve a thigh gap — it’s how they’re built.
A lot of athletes will not have a thigh gap because they have really great quads. It doesn’t mean they’re not healthy or attractive.
The average UK dress size is 16, so legging legs are a ridiculous trend, because it only fits one size of person — one who has small hips.
It’s important to share the realities on social media, which is why I post empowering images as much as I can.
For example, I like to show women that you can pose in different lights and at different angles and make yourself look like two different people.
tiktokA worrying trend sees young girls showing their thigh gap on TikTok[/caption]
There can be just ten seconds between two images and yet they will look completely different. Young girls are bombarded by posed, heavily edited images on social media all the time. It’s a constant stream of “perfection” and this is not realistic.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s taken me a while to get to where I am today and it has certainly been a journey.
I’ve had unhealthy eating behaviours before. I’ve also been a personal trainer since I was 21 and, when I started out, I felt that I had to look a certain way to get clients — lean, with a six-pack.
I then competed as a bodybuilder for three years, which led to disordered eating because you had to be very restricted in your diet to lose body fat.
I was doing 90 minutes’ cardio in the morning, then an hour of weights in the evening, while eating 800 calories a day and avoiding carbs. I was like a zombie and was suffering from brain fog.
Then during Covid, because I couldn’t go to the gym or live my normal life as a personal trainer, I began putting on weight, gaining around 17lbs.
I thought: “That’s OK, that’s normal. I’m just happy to be alive.” Because I couldn’t go to the gym, I couldn’t control the controllable any more, and that massively helped me.
It allowed me to enjoy my body just as it was. Even when I was competing, I still had cellulite. So I began talking about it on social media. I wanted to show that even at my smallest, at around 7st 7lb, I still had cellulite and stretch marks — and that it’s normal.
Cellulite occurs in 80 to 90 per cent of females and I get so many women messaging me to thank me for allowing them to feel more confident and “normal”.
And it’s not just younger women. I have followers in their forties, too.
That generation of women also went through one of the toughest times when it came to beauty standards, as they had super-skinny models like Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd, and it was all about low-carb diets.
In 2020, I started a trend on Instagram with my followers called “wear the shorts”.
It inspired women to go out in their shorts, no matter what their body shape was, whether it was for a walk or a workout.
It was amazing to see so many women sharing the hashtag and their body-positive images. That’s the kind of trend I’d like to see more of on social media.
I don’t think the legging legs trend has a leg to stand on.
A lot of us who went through the thigh gap trend are not falling for it this time.
We’ve had enough — and we’re wearing leggings, no matter what size our legs are.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, the charity Beat offers support. You can contact it via the helpline on 0808 801 0677, or online at beateatingdisorders.org.uk.
You can follow Hayley on Instagram @hayleymadiganfitness
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