The Big Book of Legs is another lavish Taschen tome from author and editor Dian Hanson. After exploring the historical and eroticized development of breasts and the penis in previous books, she has turned her attention to the female leg. Through much of history, the legs were hidden from sight, and Hanson traces how exposing them became significant after the French Revolution through to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She focuses on the photographic work of Elmer Batters, who, by way of his private foot fetish, developed the traditional leg postures we know today.

Related Gallery: Show Some Leg

Q: Did you history with Leg Show influence how you developed The Big Book of Legs?
The fact that I had done Leg Show, having made my name doing Leg Show, made it the most difficult to do, because I knew all of my old Leg Show fans would be all looking at it carefully and critically judging it, to see if I was living up to their Leg Show expectations. Definitely, my time at Leg Show informed what I did with this book.

Q: This being the third edition in your erotic-body-part series, how is desire for the female leg different from other body parts?
A: Certainly there are personalities that go along with every one of these preferences. And I have long regretted that I didn’t save a little article I found in the newspaper, done I think in the '70s. It was a British study about different parts of the female body and the kind of men that would prefer these different parts. I remember before I worked with Leg Show saying that men who are attracted to the breast tend to be athletic, outgoing. And that the men who are attracted to legs were more introverted, shy but also educated and more intelligent. So that little study certainly proved true.

dianhansoninset.jpgAll those years I was with Leg Show I was doing Juggs at the same time, a breast-oriented magazine. And the fans of Juggs, though certainly not all of them – a large percentage of them were rural men, living in the middle of the United States, living in the South, the Midwest, often writing on little scraps of paper bags and things that they had found. Whereas the Leg Show readers were literate, educated. They were interesting, obsessive. They often had good jobs, like they were corporate heads, lawyers, doctors, things like that.

So clearly there is something to the man who prefers legs rising higher in life than the man who likes such simple and obvious sexual attraction to the breast. The leg is a complicated one, being the leg itself isn’t a sexual object – it’s no more a sexual object than the arm, but when you dress it up. The leg is traditionally dressed up so almost always with the leg comes a kind of clothing fetishism, and the high heel is kind of an indispensable part of the leg attraction. It’s really like a weapon on the end of the leg. It’s fairly common for men who like legs to like some kind of power play.

Q: I know in female wrestling there’s a fascination with moves like head scissors. What do you think of the athleticism and dominance associated with the female thighs and legs?

I had fans when I was doing Leg Show who were very very into skull crushers, the accepted term for that. Strong thighs could be wrapped around the head and could do damage, or could control the man so that he can’t get away – and of course hold him in intimate proximity to the female genitals.

There is a notion, and I think it’s probably fairly well-founded, that fetishism is all about an escape from the genitalia because the genitalia is so freighted with sin. So if you’re attracted to stockings and heels, legs and thighs, these are distractions so you can be aroused – possibly be sexually potent without having to get near the frightening, sinful genitals. So if you think of wrestling and skull crushers, it’s a perfect one because they hold it so near and yet just removed enough that the man’s safe from contamination from the genitalia, yet he’s helpless. Strong thighs can hold him helpless. She could crush his head, she could break his neck, so he’s forced to confront the object of his fear.

Q: How do you see ideas of the early cancan and the flapper’s relative sexual freedom, with the baring of their legs? And the exposing of pin-ups like Betty Grable, in some ways measured for her legs?

I think it’s hard for a lot of modern-day men and women to understand how forbidden the leg once was and that the leg was the pathway to the genitals. But also as we discuss in the book, the leg represented female strength and the possibility of female freedom – very intimidating subjects. The traditional cancan went further than exposing the leg, it went to exposing the genitals. You know those naughty French, taking it all the way to the top.

People didn’t wear concealing underpants until there was real danger of something being shown. As long as women wore long layers of concealing skirts, there was no need for underpants. And underpants were in fact a difficulty, and even what they wore over their haunches and legs was slit in the middle, so you could see everything if you managed to fight your way through there.

The flappers on the other hand were that first generation of women who were wearing shorter skirts and therefore underpants. So not only were they showing their legs, they had a kind of safeguard to allow them to show their legs without exposing their genitalia, because the panty, the original one, was invented at the same time as the skirts went up. It was a Parisian design and it wasn’t elasticized, or knitted or the way underpants are now. It was a loose little garment that buttoned at the waist but did cover the crotch. And so part of that was that freedom. That sense of giddy freedom that women had in showing their legs was connected to advances in underwear.

Q: You’ve mentioned how Betty Grable’s legs were insured and how this sort of practice continues today with some celebrities. What do you think of the business of insuring body parts, like with Jennifer Lopez, then with David Beckham insuring his legs for $70 million.

You know, it’s my understanding that Lloyd's of London has never had to pay off on any of these policies, so clearly it’s a publicity stunt. It’s meant to make people talk and make people pay attention to that body part, and to raise its value in their estimation. It was very effective with Betty Grable and it’s amazing no one has come up with a new stunt since.

Q: There have been various devotions to female legs. Do you think male legs and feet have had any erotic, fetish attention?

Well, I love male legs, and as a woman who’s worked out with weights and been in gyms for 26 years I believe men have far better legs actually than women do. They tend to have better calf development. They have a lot more shape in their legs and so I’m very attracted to a good pair of male legs. I’m sure there are gay men who are attracted to good legs. We hear about "the swimmer’s body," and part of that is a sort of sleekly developed leg.

But I also know women do not tend to be fetishists. They don’t select a non-sexual part of the body and throw all of their eroticism into this body part, so I don’t think there are many women who are pursuing men simply for their legs. When women fetishize, I hate to say, it’s generally about something that indicates wealth.

Q: What do you think of the development of leg photography over time, with Elmer Batters being deemed Leg Man No. 1?

Elmer Batters was a pioneer in this area, but he was a sneaky pioneer. He was pioneering an art form that wasn’t really his interest so that he could take photos of his genuine interest, which was the feet. It’s ironic he’s considered Leg Man No. 1 because once he got past the point when he was trying to sell photographs to magazines (when he was just publishing his own material, had given up on the commercial world), he didn’t pay much attention to legs. It was just all the feet, you know, aiming them straight at the camera. The legs were often kind of grotesquely foreshortened so that he could show the feet.

So the commercial leg magazines all began on this kind of lie, the lie that Elmer was foisting on them: that the leg was very important. And yet many men followed it and Elmer did do beautiful leg photography. There was no other leg photographer in that period in the 1960s, when the leg magazines were at their height, were most popular,  who ever met up with Elmer’s abilities, his standards.

Q: It’s interesting – what do you think about how he approached his photographic posing that popped out to you, in terms of making the leg attractive?
He introduced the concept of the S-curve. He would go in there and take the foot in his hands and shape it so that it made this curve, with the heel being the top part of the S and going down through an extremely curved arch down to the ball of the foot and then the toes curling back in the other direction, to form this S. He considered this a sublime shape. And so taking this, then he endeavoured to make the rest of the leg match it, essentially become a macrocosm of the foot. So that what you want to do is make the calf curve as much as possible, make the knee as small as possible, make the thigh look as full as possible.

It’s completely opposite what they do in fashion photography, where the leg is supposed to be a sort of stick, where it’s supposed to be as long and as thin as possible. A good leg, and you’ll see this in the leg book with the photos I chose, has fat and musculature and will be extremely curvaceous. Elmer just followed this with everything he did. He followed it right up to the buttocks; the buttocks are part of the leg as well, it’s what animates the leg. You just want maximum curves and he always made sure he did not have a static leg.

Q: What do you mean when you’ve said the real cult of leg photography ended in 1968? Do you feel that leg consideration and imagery have been overtaken by porn?
In 1968 it became legal in the United States to show pussy. And once the genitals were right out there the commercial industry just didn’t care – they just fell over each other to get out explicit magazines. You know, men have been wanting to see this forever and then they could see it. And even though there were people who were attracted to legs and buttocks and other things, just the exhilaration of being able to see this forbidden body part outweighed all of those interests. So photographers like Elmer Batters, they suddenly couldn’t get magazines published. There were still a few magazines that continued on until the early '70s with leg titles, but the leg was taking a back seat to the vulval spreads.bi

Q: With the growth of porn there’s the language of foot jobs and pantyhose bondage. Do you think it’s moving away from the ethos of the photography you’re considering from the past, with its heights in the '60s?

Sexual photography is in a very very low state at this time because the men’s magazines are going extinct. Leg Show is in fact nearly down to nothing and will probably be bankrupt in a couple of months. None of the magazines have any money so they can’t pay a good photographer to do any work anymore. There seems to be very little interest in this kind of softcore glamour material. And even if there is interest, there’s not enough of it to sell the magazines, to make them profitable.

The people who are interested in it can’t find new material. The Internet does not require any great artistic skill to fill with imagery. I know these people are still there. There are fewer of them as time goes on because women are not wearing stockings anymore.

big_book_of_legs_cover.jpgTHE BIG BOOK OF LEGS
Dian Hanson
372 pages

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Read Dian's talk about The Big Book of Breasts
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3 Comments | Add a Comment
Nice to read your writing on legs. At one time before the internet, I bought Juggs and Leg Show magazines. Legs and breasts are sexual and exciting for men.
THE BIG BOOK OF LEGS looks really interesting.
Love the gallery. Great tribute to vintage erotic photography!
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