Welcome to Rule 34, a series in which Motherboard’s Samantha Cole lovingly explores the highly specific fetishes that can be found on the web.
Jim was five years old when he had his first dream about women with bright yellow legs.
“Even then, I knew it was way too weird, so I kept it to myself,” Jim told me. “All these years later and I still didn’t feel comfortable about admitting I had weird dreams like that at such a young age. But it turns out… kids are just weird. They have odd dreams and they think crazy things. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
When the dreams didn’t go away as he got older, he created a backstory for them, and when he grew up, he wanted to see if he could turn that backstory into a new fetish, and started r/FedLegs.
Fedleg is a portmanteau of “feeding the girl’s legs,” or painting them bright yellow as punishment for showing them off. Doctor Fedleg, a mad genius bent on saving women from their own immodesty, deploys henchmen to kidnap those who dare to wear short skirts and shorts. The government sanctions this, according to canon. He ties his captors down to a table and forcibly, permanently paints their legs yellow. They’re meant to be humiliated, but some women come out of the process proud of their gilded legs.
In the five years since it started, the FedLegs subreddit has gained 6,500 members, and wherever there’s a list of weirdest Reddit communities, it shows up. People posted pictures of yellow-legged celebrities and models that they happened across online, with captions like “she is a proud Fedleg” and “shiny and fed.” Sometimes, people appeared in the sub after Jim tapped them directly to participate, either friends of his or people in other, leg-fetish-adjacent communities. There’s a fantasy roleplaying aspect to contributing to Fedleg; seeing a group of yellow mannequins in a store and taking a photo to post to Reddit later shows how immersed people get in the story—if not just sharing an obscure inside joke.
While Fedleg still hasn’t infiltrated tube sites like Pornhub or xHamster, there are at least three ManyVids clips in the theme, with in-universe stories of their own. “After he is finished painting he slowly reaches up my thigh and gives me an incredibly intense orgasm,” Lily Lou wrote in the description for her clip, where she’s bound to a table and painted yellow from the viewer’s point of view. “I didn’t know it at the time, but this was him taking away my ability to cum for the rest of my life.”
Rule 34 is the internet maxim that “if it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.” But there’s an often-overlooked Rule 35, too: “If no porn is found at the moment, it will be made.” If humans can get horny for airplanes and aliens, the logic goes, there’s a capacity within us to eroticize just about anything. Usually, Rule 34 works because people use the internet to connect to other people who share the same kink that they thought themselves alone in.
But what if no one shares it yet? Fedlegs is a public experiment in fetish-making: Would it be possible for one person to create out of nothing a shared kink for something as specific as lemon-yellow legs? For a lot of people, the answer was clearly yes.
When Jim ordered a custom video from Lily Lou to watch someone paint her legs yellow—in character, as a trapped woman inside Doctor Fedleg’s lab—she did her research first.
“My first impression was that it was a little strange but the request seemed simple enough,” Lily told me. “I wanted to make sure I thoroughly understood what the fantasy was about before I gave an answer.”
That included a 7,000-word backstory post from Jim two years ago serves as the subreddit’s reference material and Fedleg canon. In it, he describes the world of Charles Fed Ostrog, CEO of “Ostrog Achievements.” Better known as Doctor Fedleg, he’s described as a man whose traumas from an abusive childhood led him to create what he saw as a cure for sexual violence against women: kidnapping them, tying them down and painting their legs permanently yellow. The lore goes:
“His solution was simple… paint; bright yellow paint to be exact; a permanent paint that was sure to catch the eye of anyone who looks at it. These girls desired attention, and he planned on forever giving it to them… At last, Charles decided to focus his attention on a woman’s legs; a very feminine feature that also happens to be the strongest part (muscle-wise) of women. This decision allowed Ostrog to treat his project as Utopian art; forcibly painting the legs of women he saw as inappropriately dressed while making his statement as clear as possible.”
This is all a lot to unpack. If Jean Baudrillard were alive to see this, the cultural philosopher would have something to say about the symbolic “covering” of skin with paint that functionally leaves nothing to the imagination. It’d probably be something along the lines of his assessment of the gold-painted Bond girl in Goldfinger, that it’s “incarnated to an absurd extent the phantasm of the erotic,” and that in our mass culture, “‘body hugging’ tights, girdles, stockings, gloves, dresses and clothes, not to mention sun-tans: the leitmotiv of the ‘second skin’ and the transparent pellicle always come to vitrify the body. The skin itself is defined not as ‘nudity’ but as an erogenous zone, a sensuous medium of contact and exchange, a metabolism of absorption and excretion.”
By covering women’s bare legs in yellow, Doctor Fedleg assigns them a moral value, and only heightens them as fetish objects—and that’s exactly what Jim did in creating the Fedleg Fetish.
“I set out to create a fetish because it seemed like an interesting challenge,” Jim told me. “I hadn’t heard of it being done before and it became a nifty side project, as lame as that sounds.”
If you’re thinking this backstory is sounding a bit fashy, you’re right. Jim said he’s influenced by The Scarlet Letter, but the world is just as reminiscent of Handmaid’s Tale or other dystopia that marks women as second-class under a guise of it being for their own moral good. Dystopia is the operating word here, and something Jim has emphasized publicly in backstory posts: no one should empathize with the mad doctor and his cruel “cure.”
As it gained popularity, Jim decided he’d rather abandon the fetish side of the project he started. It would seem he succeeded in his experiment a little too well.
Fetishes, like much of our own personalities, sexual preferences, and ill-understood kinks, are a finicky thing. Some form in childhood—like many would attest in the blueberry fandom, who saw Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ballooning and blue on the screen and got their first boner. Others develop the fetish as a longtime obsession with something they can’t quite reach.
I asked NYC-based psychotherapist and sex therapist Dulcinea Pitagora if it’s possible to intentionally create a new fetish out of nothing, as Jim seems to have done—and as many Fedleg followers would confirm.
“It depends on how we’re conceptualizing intentionality, but I would say yes, the caveat being that the object that sparks interest exists prior to the fetishizing,” Pitagora said. “In other words, the potential preexists the fetish, and some sort of interest or imprint motivates the formation of the fetish, whether conscious or unconscious. Usually this happens outside of our awareness, but I think it’s very possible to do a sort of self-conditioning or cognitive behavioral shift by focusing more on the object of interest and putting intention into sexualizing it.”
“Every once in a while I see a girl irl with yellow legs and I think damn this one random nutjob on the internet planted an idea in my head that influences how I perceive the world.”
Which is what the fetishists of Fedleg’s world attest to: a seed was already planted, via kinks for leggings or light BDSM, and those bright yellow gams just beckoned them in.
“I’ve had a pantyhose/nylon/stocking fetish for a very long time,” u/BOOOOOOOBIES, a moderator at r/FedLegs, told me. “It’s something that I enjoy with my partner and on my own. There are aspects of the fedleg universe that I enjoy and maybe some new things I’ve come to appreciate as well. I kind of enjoy the fringes of the fetish more than the entire thing.”
Another frequent poster to the subreddit, who requested anonymity, told me that they already had a legs and tights kink, and is into BDSM. “Fedlegs combined everything. And it was creative and new to me and I liked that,” they said. “I’ve tried it a few times in real life now and it was weird but fun.”
Not everyone who posted to r/FedLegs was in it for the kink, however. The backstory, for some, was enough to get them hooked.
“I guess what I get out of it is just being amused. I get amused fairly easily, it’s both a good and a bad thing,” Laura, who found the subreddit through one of those “weirdest Reddit” lists, told me. “I can see the beauty of a lovely woman encased in a set of yellow tights, or even a male ballet dancer. I might even be like ‘wow that’s sexy’ but yellow legs are not a fetish for me, my nipples do not get hard, my pupils do not dilate haha!!”
Lily Lou doesn’t share this fetish, but was pleased with how her foray into Fedleg turned out, regardless. She had to put a GoPro on the person painting for the point-of-view experience, and redid scenes when the camera glitched—which meant she needed to wash and re-paint her legs. “The fact that I could bring this unique fantasy to life, a fantasy that was so personal and had so much time and effort poured into it, I had no choice but to say yes,” she said. “Pretending my legs were getting permanently ‘ruined’ was something I’ve never done before but I’d like to think I did well!”
The reason r/FedLegs turns up on so many lists of weirdest subreddits is because it requires almost no further explanation to enjoy the absurdity of it: It’s a community of people who are into bright yellow legs. When I’ve said that sentence to people in the real world, their reaction has simply been, “Yellow?!” Yes, yellow.
But there are obvious parallels between what happens in r/Fedlegs, and the manipulation of women’s images without their consent all over the internet. Deepfake porn started its spread in a subreddit where people Photoshopped celebrities’ faces onto women’s bodies in sex scenes. Builders of AI algorithms that create “new” faces use huge datasets of women’s likenesses to do so—without their permission. Cum tribute groups jerk off onto women’s images and post the results. Many of the photos on Fedleg are posted and Photoshopped with yellow legs, without permission. Photoshopping someone’s legs yellow is nowhere near as invasive, sexually violating or societally harmful as something like a nonconsensual nude, but each of these communities that rely on manipulating images of women’s bodies without their consent.
When the Fedleg fandom takes it upon themselves to brush bare legs yellow to participate in the community, in a way, they become their own versions of the villainous Doctor.
The darker side of this fetish is also partially why Jim almost shut the whole subreddit down completely last month. He wanted to build the storyline of the world Fedleg operates in, he wrote in an announcement thread—just at a distance from the sexual aspects. He’s currently leading an effort to compile more stories within the universe that look at Fedleg’s world from other people’s points of view. Jim sent me a sample of the unpublished compilation, and the stories are mostly about struggle within the system—and a culture of body-shaming and abusive of women—that allows Fedleg to flourish.
“I don’t want this universe to be associated with the fetish community anymore. I mean, it’s the internet so regardless, EVERYTHING has a porno version of it… but at the end of the day, I think this story has the power to help people if used as the right type of platform,” he wrote in the announcement.
“I would feel terrible if anyone legitimately got hurt and I’ve never actually believed in the morals presented in the Universe,” Jim told me about the decision. “That was another reason it was so fun to write; it was opposite of my real life persona, a chance to experience ‘life’ as a villain and explore a darker side.”
People replied with genuine mournfulness. One person accused him of trying to monopolize Fedlegs his own gain. Several said the news made them sad, and hoped he’d instead pass the subreddit to someone else or create a safe-for-work version. “I love this sub,” another commented. “Every once in a while I see a girl irl with yellow legs and I think damn this one random nutjob on the internet planted an idea in my head that influences how I perceive the world.”
After that brief outcry, Jim changed his mind again, and announced he’d allow it to stay up. But the subreddit hasn’t been the same since. There have been a few posts in the last week, but most of the recent photo-posts are mostly from a month or more ago. People have wandered away, perhaps back to r/leggings.
“After all, I and a few others have the fetish now, even though it seems like he doesn’t want it to be a fetish anymore”
The community is what kept this weird little corner of the internet going for so long, and in general, a sense of community is what keeps people together who have fetishes that the wider world doesn’t accept or appreciate.
“Being honest and open with a fetish is what helps to tie a bond between fellow enthusiasts. Sharing what excites you and how you feel when in certain situations is important. Kink can tie us together,” u/BOOOOOOOBIES said. “By building a community around fetishes, it can help to normalize behaviours and establish norms. What’s been interesting to see is the content that has been created by people who want to please others and by people who want to try something new to please themselves. It’s spurred exploration.”
“I AM forever changed by this subreddit,” Laura said. “I will never not say FEDLEGS when confronted with yellow legs. And get amused all over again. Jim’s aim was to please, entertain and possibly titillate and I would say he achieved his objective with me.”
Whether the Fedlegs community keeps going or fizzles away forever, Jim’s not letting the storyline stop there. Now, he’s working with a few other collaborators on an anthology of short stories that take place in the Fedleg Universe.
But the fetish side of the project will always be a part of the history of the universe, Jim told me, even if he’s not a part of it anymore. “What if Doctor Fedleg’s World, which was already dealing with themes of dominance and inequality, was given as a platform for women and the LGBTQ community to express their feelings, fears, and voice in a safe environment?” he said. “A fictional universe that was by all accounts insane, but glazed with reality.”
“Jim certainly succeeded” in his goal to formulate a new fetish, another Fedleg member told me. “After all, I and a few others have the fetish now, even though it seems like he doesn’t want it to be a fetish anymore.”
Starting with legs was a springboard. It’s not like Jim invoked Rule 35 to fetishize something as innocuous as inanimate objects. He didn’t start posting, say, plain yellow dining chairs. Painted women’s legs were just close enough to already-established eroticism, barely but blatantly tweaked away from the norm, to catch on as something new. Examining how Fedleg started is a look at how nascent kink communities begin by using the internet in a cycle of support, enthusiasm, shared in-jokes and stories—a pair of yellow legs stalking out of the primordial soup of sexuality online.