"Looksmaxxing" Is Trending on TikTok, and as a Mom of a Teen Boy, I'm Concerned

looksmaxxing parents opinion: male model Jordan Barrett
Gareth Cattermole/amfAR / Getty Images

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.

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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:

  • mewing—a process in which you train your tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth, changing the shape of your face to look more sculpted
  • starvemaxxing—as one commenter explains it, “glamorized anorexia”
  • mogging—standing next to a less attractive person in order to appear superior
  • hunter eyes—almond shaped eyes, said to resemble the way a hunter looks at prey, which you can train yourself to mimic by hold your eyelids half-closed
  • edgemaxxing—to withhold climaxing, repeatedly, in order to boost testosterone levels to improve your appearance
  • positive canthal tilt—eye corners that point upward in a feline, snatched appearance

Is this what we have gained from equality? The right for everyone, regardless of gender, to decide that self-respect is an outside job, doubling down on concepts of lookism borrowed from, and equaling in savagery, the ladies? (Breaking facial bones to have them grow back stronger, in this community, is called bonesmashing.) The concept of looksmaxxing seems to me to be a bizarro Gift of the Magi. In that classic short story, a loving couple each sold something precious to them, in order to buy a gift for their partner. The ironic twist at the end? The man sold his watch to buy the woman hair combs, but she’d sold her hair to buy him a fob for the watch he no longer owned. In looksmaxxing, the fetishization of young men’s personal appearance is done in service of accruing sexual agency and personal self-regard…but haven’t women already found that to be a fool’s errand?

Perhaps I’m being too judgy here. After all, I don’t criticize women who decide to get their noses shorn off, ears pinned back, boobs lifted and thighs sucked free of fat. Psychiatrists are prescribing weight-loss drugs. So why shouldn’t I support these boys and young men for fixating on their eyelids and jawlines? For one thing, these guys are so, so young. (Teens are at an age when reading some books and doing community service will help their social appeal more than sucking in their cheeks ever will.) I told my own son that at his age, the hygiene elements of looksmaxxing are worth listening to (sure, he could stand to floss on occasion). However, anything to do with disordered eating is a dangerous practice, no matter how you slice it. And, while I didn’t overtly discuss this with my child, I’m pretty sure that withholding orgasm isn’t going to make you look any manlier, all you edgemaxxers.

Frankly, I’d hoped for better than for my son’s generation than to be bamboozled by the false god of surface beauty that kept previous cohorts—men and women—anxious for so long. I recall a college boyfriend named Brett chewing gum constantly, until once I asked what was his attachment to Trident. “It strengthens the jawline” he replied, unabashedly. When I saw a TikTok suggesting chewing mastic gum as a way to improve your face, I thought, aha, perhaps this underground male teenage glow-up has been around forever, we just didn’t have social media to amplify our insecurities. (Nor did we have social media to cheat them, as when Australian model Jordan Barrett, arguably the idol of the looksmaxxing crowd, was discovered to have edited away a double chin before posting on social media.)

Still, my queasiness grew while reading hundreds of looksmaxxing TikToks. I thought back to my gum-chewing college date, and what I wish I could tell him now. Brett, your jawline wasn’t ever a plus or a minus. I liked the funny-sweet way you carried around a briefcase at the student union, and the way the corners of your eyes crinkled when you laughed. And how nice you were to me, and how much fun we had. I suppose that if a pack-a-day gum habit made you feel more confident, then good for you.

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dana dickey
Dana Dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...
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