The "looksmaxxing" community is a group of mostly young men sharing tactics to improve their attractiveness.
Techniques like "mewing" are intended to change one's jawline have been going viral on social media.
After trying the "soft" version of these techniques for a week, I feel the trend is inherently cruel and harmful.
Several years ago, I stumbled upon a Reddit post encouraging men to chew gum for 16 hours a day. They weren't recommending it to address mouth or teeth issues — the post called the act "mewing" and claimed chewing gum, among other oral and tongue exercises, would help people sharpen their jawlines. I laughed at the idea and quickly forgot about it.
Over the last couple of months, however, mewing has once again popped up as part of "looksmaxxing," a viral trend in which primarily young men — many of whom identify with the incel movement — share exercises and tactics designed to make themselves more conventionally attractive. I was intrigued to try looksmaxxing because the once-small subculture now had so many devoted adherents — and because the flashy "transformation" videos seemed almost too good to be true."
While the so-called self-improvement trend has existed for years, it's recently taken over mainstream TikTok, with the "looksmaxxing" hashtag amassing over three billion views.
I decided to try "softmaxxing" for a week to induct myself into the subculture without harming myself by going too far. "Softmaxxing" is a subsect — an overall less intense and lower-commitment version of looksmaxxing. While looksmaxxing is a total lifestyle shift, and one primarily targeting young men, softmaxxing asks for more gradual and natural changes (like eating and hygiene habits) and is not as gender-specific.
I've never been very concerned with my own body image, so it was startling to dive into this world of people who see flaws in every nook, cranny, and angle of their faces.
By the end of the week, I felt like looksmaxxing and its subcultures were a scam designed to reel in young, insecure people. And I can say with more authority than ever that the trend harms its members and operates in a veil of total delusion.
"Softmaxxing:" How I became a baby mewer for a week
Becoming a looksmaxxer is a bit like learning a new language: There's an entire universe of lingo. "Hunter eyes," or almond-shaped eyes, supposedly make people look like they're searching for prey (they also look kind of evil) and are apparently preferable to other eye shapes. The "canthal tilt" — whether a person's eye position is upward or downward — is considered a key signifier of attractiveness. They might try "face pulling," or pulling and pushing up the cheek and nose areas, to improve their maxilla, or upper jawline.
As part of my softmaxxing process, and from resources I found about basic looksmaxxing techniques, I included the following regimens: To supposedly improve my jawline, I spent one-to-two hours every day mewing— or for as long as I could bear — and holding my tongue at the roof of my mouth. As recommended by the community, I also began eating healthier, buying a quality conditioner, going on more runs (about 3-5 miles every other day), and sleeping more sufficiently (getting at least 8 hours every day). I found it kind of hilarious and ironic that these suggestions are what most healthy people do on their own.
I also tried face pulling the first day for about 15 minutes, but I stopped after not feeling much effect.
I avoided potentially dangerous and extreme techniques, like "bonesmashing," which began as a troll on an incel forum urging people to obliterate their jawlines with a hammer so they could reshape their features. (There is no evidence to suggest that it's been widely adopted by looksmaxxers, so it seems to be a fake trend).
Getting lost in the looksmaxxer labyrinth
At first, mewing for long periods felt uncomfortable; my tongue naturally dropped into its standard resting position. It felt like a baby bird or a ball of mushy paper was caught in my throat. The discomfort felt similar to having to pee badly: the more you think about it, the worse it gets. I tried to distract myself by reading more about looksmaxxing and diving deep into the community's posts.
If your TikTok algorithm is tuned to looksmaxxology, you'll be flooded with clips of before-and-after mewing transformations, screenshots of Roblox avatars with the perfect hunter eyes, and channels where anonymous creators recommend different tips to "maximize" every feature of the face, from eyelashes to lips to the sclera. It's often difficult to separate genuine suggestions from ironic memes mocking the community. Is "starvemaxxing," or intensively restricting your diet, a real trend or a satire of the larger trend?
I couldn't tell. And the result was a deluge of both alarming and inane self-help content.
As the days passed, I tried to integrate more looksmaxxer habits, like listening to popular looksmaxxer playlists to enhance my experience. One Spotify playlist with 60,000 likes was full of eclectic and chart-topping bangers, from Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" to a sped-up version of The Neighbourhood's "Sweater Weather."
After four days of ferocious tongue exercises, I found it easier to mew — a strange experience. I looked in the mirror, and I couldn't tell if my jawline was more chiseled or if I was simply convincing myself it was.
By the end of the week, I felt I was falling deeper into delusion
While looksmaxxing can arguably be positive — helping people feel better about themselves and live healthier — there's an obvious dark and unhealthy aspect to the subculture. The deeper I descended, the more cruelties and insecurities I began to notice.
I tried spending time on a looksmaxxer forum to see if I could glean advice from the pros, but all I found was a community of terminally online men obsessed with asking people to rate their faces. They seemed preoccupied with minute details of the body that most people don't even consider, and followed what I felt was an unreasonable grading system for hotness. There's a whole microgenre of content where people compile "brutal foggs," or photos of two people where one is judged hotter than the other. And if looksmaxxers think someone is too ugly to be saved by the tips, they tell them to "ropemaxx."
The "ratings" section of the forum was the most depressing thing I observed. Some posters who identified themselves as teens wrote they felt like their lives would be over unless they got a list of cosmetic surgeries. Other anonymous users responded with vitriol and insults, saying those people needed "skull transplants." While this sort of abusive community exists everywhere online, it seems particularly toxic and supercharged among young men.
I also came across shocking and even more dangerous tips in these forums. The most dedicated "hardmaxxers" who said they couldn't afford surgery pushed techniques like mewing by chewing on a firm bottle cap, or a seemingly nonsense "Hunter's Eye" workout that involves rotating one's eyeballs and looking fiercely in every direction.
Looksmaxxing can make you more insecure
The morning after I thought my mewing had worked, I realized it was just the lighting in the bathroom casting my jawline to look sharper than it normally did. By the end of the week, I couldn't discern any changes.
The generic tips to sleep and eat better did improve my overall health and self-image. My hair felt clean and nourished, and I had more energy than ever.
For everything else I adopted and observed about the subgenre, it felt degrading.
Looksmaxxers likely flock to these forums because they're unhappy and alone — and looksmaxxing is a community they can belong to, however unhealthy their standards are. I found myself feeling sympathetic to the young men who feel like they need to perform these ridiculous rituals to love themselves.
But I feel more confident than ever to say that the trend is toxic and steeped in pseudoscience. For example, the idea of mewing was invented by a British doctor who coined the fringe theory "orthotropics," and whose work has been denounced by the professional orthodontic community.
While I'd consider myself someone who has a good relationship with my body, the experiment made me briefly consider that it might be fun to have the "desired" traits, like hunter's eyes or a perfect jawline. But I quickly realized that the pursuit of these objectives is its own kind of self-hating hell. If the trend taught me anything, it's that I have a much healthier relationship with myself than many people seem to.
Instead of teaching people to accept themselves, looksmaxxers and softlooksmaxxers rank each other based on harsh and arbitrary standards, teaching each other never to be satisfied by their natural appearances. To make matters worse, studies by mental health experts suggest that, compared to women, men are less likely to seek therapy or treatments for issues pertaining to their self-image or low self-esteem.
Jawlines, canthal tilts, and eye shapes: it's a never-ending pursuit, a mew-athon race to the bottom.
Read the original article on Business Insider