I never believed that Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships. According to the ancient Greek poet Homer, and myths that predated him, there was once a woman so beautiful that she caused a war, and even the gods, petty beings who couldn’t help themselves, picked sides in the battle.
Absurd. Plain hyperbole. I couldn’t fathom that many people willing to get into a boat, let alone 1,000 of them, willing to lose a life over a body part they have no claim to.
That is, until I saw Milo Ventimiglia, his thighs, and the reaction to them.
The This Is Us actor was photographed in Los Angeles leaving the gym in shorts that lived true to their name. They clung right below Ventimiglia’s T-shirt, leaving his thighs, the size of rotisserie chickens, exposed. His lack of inseam length turned his flying leg buttresses into something that felt even more dangerous, because we aren’t used to seeing men’s thighs in their full top-to-bottom, hip-to-kneecap glory.
“Good morning to Milo Ventimiglia only” the internet declared. At least one person asked Ventimiglia to give them sweet release from this mortal coil, to crush them like “a soda can between your thighs challenge.” The New York Post called Ventimiglia’s thigh and shorts combo “dangerous” while People dubbed his legs “impressive.”
Ancient Greeks sailed to fight for a woman; Americans would let Milo’s thighs pulverize their skulls.
Ventimiglia’s legs unearthed a horny vision for Thigh Guy Summer, in which guys with great thighs would show them off and offer them up for public appreciation. It may have also emboldened men who have been squatting and dead-lifting this entire pandemic to go shorter in their shorts this summer.
Granted, I am in no way a scientist, but I fully believe the pandemic has made a whole lot of us extremely horny on main. Some of this thirst, especially longing to have a head smashed like a walnut in between a celebrity’s thighs, is due to being inside and going longer than usual without the touch of another human. Not having a “real” summer to celebrate last year also factors in, as we want to do everything and make this summer the best one ever.
But men’s thighs and legs as an object of adoration is actually a long time coming, something that’s become a mainstream cultural fixation. And I’m not complaining.
Who wears short shorts? Men do.
Though he is the current prime example, Ventimiglia isn’t the alpha nor the omega of quads. The admiration includes but isn’t limited to Winston Duke, whose thighs in Us and Black Panther are considered a religious experience; K-pop star Wonho’s turgid flanks; Detroit Red Wings’ player Dylan Larkin’s “hockey butt and thighs” commercial; and Orlando’s thick blooms. Closely related was fervor over actor Chris Meloni’s cakes, coinciding with the thirst over Ventimiglia’s thighs the very same week.
The admiration of thighs is high, and leg days are never skipped.
Bobby McMullen, a trainer based out of the Virginia and DC area, explains that workouts for men’s legs have been on the upswing for years, and that fellow gym-goers can spot a slacker. “Wearing sweats to the gym was a scandal,” he says, as their presence implied there might be something to hide, a neglected bottom half. (This is not to be confused with the scandal that is men wearing gray sweatpants, which hide nothing at all.)
“Legs are probably my top inbound request for private sessions and on-demand videos,” McMullen told me. “We’ve even tailored our live Zoom classes to have ‘ass’ and ‘legs’ in the titles so people know they can expect it.”
Trainers at Barry’s have observed the same effect. The company divides workouts by body parts and assigns them days of the week. Arms and abs are targeted on Mondays. Legs are on Tuesdays, and so on and so forth. Traditionally, Thursday was an ab day, but the company swapped it to incorporate one more lower body day, “Abs and Ass,” in 2019.
“Deadlifts and squats are the new biceps curls and ab exercises,” Erick Wilson, a chief instructor at Barry’s, told me.
Wilson explained that the glamorization of a specific body part has happened in the past with biceps and abs. I don’t have to flex my brain too hard to recall the hoopla and pop culture mythos around Brad Pitt’s almost supernatural v-shaped abs from Fight Club or how Gerard Butler carved his midsection in 300 with a grueling workout.
Today, that’s just expanded. Legs are the natural progression, especially when fitness pros like Wilson and McMullen post their deadlifts, squats, and clean and jerks on social media.
“Their popularity has increased and — aesthetically speaking — many people are focusing their efforts on growing their legs and butt over defining their abs,” Wilson told me, adding some sage words of advice: that we shouldn’t neglect other body parts in the attempt to grow some gams.
“Let’s not steer away from the fact that having good form in a squat and a deadlift requires strong core engagement, which is working your abs,” he said.
To some degree, the men’s thigh craze also benefits from the simple logistics of fashion. Showing off abs usually means having to take a shirt off. Teasing thigh gains are easier and much more acceptable than going shirtless, since you can just go for shorter shorts.
And some men have figured this out.
“With respect to the 5-inch inseam, we’ve seen interest in that just grow year over year,” John Jannuzzi, the senior brand director at Bonobos told me. Bonobos offers shorts in a 5-, 7-, 9-, and 11-inch inseam. Granted, men’s heights and legs vary, but 11 inches will often dip at or below the knee, 9 inches will hit right around the knee, and 7 inches will hit near the bottom of the thigh. The 5-inch inseam grazes around mid-thigh.
Because of the popularity of its shorter inseams, Bonobos has started to cater to that demand. Its newest item, the Rec Short, is a 5-inch, nylon thigh-grazer that promises to be comfortable for swimming, hiking, bike rides, and gym sessions while also showing off the work the wearer has been putting into their quads.
Moments like Ventimiglia’s thighs or Winston Duke’s in his movies, “they pop off on the internet,” Jannuzzi said, explaining why he thought the interest in thighs was so vocal and so, so fervent. He also credited pop cultural touchstones like the fashion on Mad Men, especially Don Draper’s shorter swimsuits, as well as gym culture and the movements within it, as shifting men’s ideas about their own bodies in respect to masculinity and fashion.
“If it’s happening at Bonobos, I think you can definitely say it’s part of a cultural shift,” Jannuzzi told me, explaining that Bonobos customers tend to be more “straightforward” than experimental when it comes to trends.
To Jannuzzi’s point, I’ve seen the shorter, 5-inch inseam length at upstart athletic apparel companies like Ten Thousand and Vuori too. Chubbies, the chaotic, bro-y rival to Bonobos, offers a 4-inch inseam on its casual shorts. Seeing the proliferation of shorter shorts is a little bit of a shock to men of a certain age who partook in the ’90s and ’00s trend of board shorts that hit our calves.
In all this talk of looks and desire, though, it probably needs to be said that perhaps the biggest draw to bigger legs is that they’re anything but a vanity muscle.
“To be honest, in a zombie apocalypse, I want the legs, not the abs,” Jannuzzi said. Part of his ultimate goal to become a centaur is no doubt aesthetic, but a lot of it is utilitarian. It’s intuitive to want to be stronger in case you need to carry someone feebler than you, to outrun a walker or move a couch. If given a choice, someone with tree trunks is more helpful when you’re trying to carry a sectional up the stairs than someone with great abs.
“If you need help, always look for someone who has big legs,” he told me.
This summer, they should be easy to spot.