Plastered across algorithms on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, Looksmaxxing is becoming the newest trend – but what is it? At its core, Looksmaxxing and its relative terms, (mewing, mogging and canthal tilt) is a trend based on bettering your physical appearance. Looksmaxxing can start with a diet, a haircut, or becoming the Incredible Bulk at the gym. However, it can also promote plastic surgery and limb-lengthening procedures. Despite social media’s tendency to swing like a pendulum from topic to topic, Looksmaxxing as a term has persisted for a while. Where did this phrase come from, and why is it haunting everyone’s screens?

This movement began in the 2010s, after an online project named ‘INVCEL’ took a dark turn. Nearly everyone will know about the Incel community (involuntary celibate), but it is not common knowledge that the site was originally created by “Alana”, a university student in Toronto in the 1990s. She created this website in order to share her own struggles with loneliness and lack of sex life, seeking comfort in the community to deal with her sense of lacking. The project helped Alana. She felt more comfortable in her sexuality, and so passed the baton to someone else. 

Now, those who have seen Oppenheimer will be familiar with the quote “Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds”, in reference to nuclear weapons, but it is also applicable to the INVCEL project, as after it was handed over, the consumers became more right-wing and extremist. The community switched focus from being about finding connections, instead beginning to believe that women biologically only go for “good-looking men” and men who do not fit that standard will be left without a “mate”. In their eyes, these men are the victims. From this space Looksmaxxing was born. Incel culture spread, gaining popularity on Reddit – a forum for anything and everything under the sun, from extremism to AITA stories that end up on TikTok – and in the subreddits /r/TrueRateMe, /r/incel and /r/braincels (now banned), men would share their experiences and compete with one another. 

You could view this as a sadistic self-care forum, not far from the dangerous ideology put out by some magazines in the 2000s such as “heroin chic”, or the jokes about anorexia nervosa in The Devil Wears Prada. Neither of these are excusable, but the core difference is in who they intended to harm, being directed at different communities. It is inexcusable to glorify and criticise eating disorders in the way that the media in the 2000s did to young girls; however, the hate and violence actively shared and glorified in incel communities doesn’t only reach those who are looking for and consuming that media. 

To expand the victim mindset that was, and continues to be the centre of incel culture, there is a continuous endorsement of extremist right-wing ideology. Many of these websites that express ways to better yourself, to the detriment of your own personal health (i.e. limb-lengthening surgery) often coincide with extraordinarily violent terminology. Before being taken off Reddit, as the policies of the website became harsher, there were multiple instances in these communities justifying rape and violence towards women. This anti-feminist stance has not just been left at words though, as there have been multiple killings in North America since 2014 by self-proclaimed incels. Though ‘Incel Wiki’ states that incels do not condone these violent acts, the community has to be held responsible for being a gateway to forums that do.

Taking care of yourself and developing healthy habits is always a positive, and there are many safe and accessible ways to accomplish this. However, where this  becomes dangerous is when the “bettering” becomes obsessive. 

Looksmaxxing made its way onto TikTok and became big in 2022-2023. Although it started off as a parody and mockery of those that believe and follow the extreme or obsessive rituals, mere months later, the canthal tilt trend began. A canthal tilt is, simply put, the angle of the inner to outer corner of your eye: it can be positive, negative, or neutral. A positive canthal tilt is apparently more attractive, though many celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe and Jacob Elordi, have negative tilts, and are still perceived as incredibly attractive by the media and public alike. This trend is seemingly harmless at first glance, but it is a socially acceptable echo of terms like ‘prey’ or ‘hunter’ eyes’ that float on incel forums. Though alone not dangerous, the gateway to extremist views, such as those held by influencer Andrew Tate, often opens with trends that are “harmless”.

Although it may feel ludicrous to attribute so much hate to one trend, it is important to recognise that extremist views and behaviour are discovered and perpetuated on social media like a drug. A trend alone may be relatively harmless to many, but for some, it is the start of addiction. Incel culture perpetuates a standard of attractiveness that is unattainable for many. Looksmaxxing is no different, and would be detrimental even if its origins were not so deeply rooted in misogyny. To proclaim consistently that you are only going to achieve a partner if you look a certain way, and that the only way to win a partner is to physically alter your face catalyses a cycle of self-loathing and harmful beauty standards. Limb-lengthening surgery, one of the most extreme methods of Looksmaxxing, is expensive, brutal, and permanent. The accessibility of these forums preys on young people’s insecurities and convinces them to alter their body.

As previously mentioned, the 2006 film ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ perpetuated ideals of beauty and has been criticised for it, yet it is also a critique of the treatment of women in such institutions. If Looksmaxxing and its associated extremism were aimed at women, would it be a laughing matter? Would there be parodies? Have we excused the danger of this trend because the focus is on men? I think the danger of this trend has been understated because of the ridiculous and almost comical nature of the terms (i.e. mewing) but the dangers of an incel mentality are repeatedly reduced to comedic relief. The manosphere and inceldom that is ever growing should not be ignored, nor should its dangers be understated.