If our handheld devices are indeed a black mirror, I’m worried about TikTok’s newest reflection of our kids. It’s called “looksmaxxing” and in 2.5 billion posts, the teen boys and young men are posting tips on personal grooming that range from the obvious (brush your teeth) to the dangerous (only eat one meal a day). As a woman, and also as a mom to a 17-year-old son, I have particular insight into how this concerning trend has the potential to undermine the physical and mental health of the nation. Think of it as a poisonous Tide Pod challenge that’s slowly seeping into Gen Z.
Now, I grant you this can be read as a reflexive “kids today!” disapproval from a single Gen X mom. (Though counter to expectations, I’m a fan of super-baggy jeans, decorative pimple patches and Ice Spice.) Nonetheless, as a longtime feminist, I’m especially disappointed in what I see as the post-feminist dawn of equality. Since I was a teen, I’ve believed in the equality of the sexes, which in those days meant rejecting the narrow definition of woman-as-sex object. (I rejected the Beauty Myth, the concept that women’s personal and political gains were undermined by unrealistic, profit-driven standards of beauty.) Put plainly, I didn’t want to be what you thought I needed to look like, or act like to be a valuable member of society. I didn’t have to be hot to earn my place in the world; instead, we women could focus on our intellect, energy and ethics. So if I wanted to have hairy legs, a flat chest and close-nibbled nails, that was my choice, and I didn’t have to feel that it made me any less of a person.
But back to this newest trend in superficiality. Let’s take a glance at the looksmaxxing glossary, aka best practices: