In the world of “glow-up TikTok,” countless female influencers peddle fitness and style tips. Even the occasional “beauty boy” such as James Charles shares secrets on applying makeup and arching brows. But today, a new generation of “bro influencers” teaches young Gen Alpha and Gen Z males how to improve their physical appearance. This trend is called “looksmaxxing,” and it’s turning beauty culture on its ear.
The term “max” originates from the world of role-playing games, where competitors aim to maximize a character trait to gain a strategic advantage. Looksmaxxers on TikTok care only about improving surface-level appearances and have developed a language all their own.
“Softmaxxing” refers to maximizing one’s appeal through diet, exercise, improved skin-care regimens, and other natural means, and represents the primary domain of “glow-up TikTok.” “Hardmaxxing” refers to self-improvement through extreme means like cosmetic surgery or steroids, and is typically relegated to darker corners of the Internet, such as bulletin boards.
Those who practice “mewing” believe they can strengthen jawlines by placing their tongue on the roof of their mouth. “Mogging” means looking better than someone else, and “canthal tilt” refers to the angle of the eyes relative to the face (a positive tilt, or eyes slanted upwards, is considered more desirable than a neutral or negative tilt).
And while some mention “bonesmashing,” or intentionally breaking cheekbones or jawbones to make them grow back stronger, most looksmaxxers consider this an urban legend and think nobody is intentionally smashing their own face in the name of beauty (or at least admitting to it).
Most fans of looksmaxxing are males 16-18, with a fair number of 14- to 15-year-olds along for the ride, with a few followers as young as 10 or 11. Influencers even promote “pubertymaxxing,” or maximizing androgens and growth factors to improve one’s looks, under the belief that adherents should start as young as possible, while their faces are still moldable.
Two leaders of this unlikely movement are Dillon Latham, an 18-year-old from Virginia with 1.3 million TikTok followers, and Kareem Shami, a 22-year-old from San Diego with 1.2 million followers of his “syrianpsycho” account. When Shami saw the film “American Psycho,” his biggest take-away was that the main character had an ideal skin-care routine, and led an aspirational lifestyle…apart from all the killings.
What can brands learn from the lurid world of looksmaxxing?
*Everyone wants to be beautiful. Beauty is no longer the exclusive purview of women and femmes. Today, even the most masculine of men worry about their body fat, jawline, and even their canthal tilt. Beauty brands should expand their reach beyond female and femme consumers to include young men.
*Softmaxxers can be ideal brand ambassadors. Brands should be wary of “hardmaxxers” promoting extreme, unhealthy or age-inappropriate interventions. But “softmaxxers” promoting healthier diets, exercise, better skin care and more thoughtful self-care can be ideal spokespeople for brands in most categories. Plenty of “bros” on TikTok would consider a new moisturizer, exfoliating scrub or undereye mask if their trusted “softmaxxer” were to recommend it.
*More can be “maxed” than looks alone. The gamer strategy of “maxing” can be applied to other categories. Education brands can strive to “max” student learning and achievement. Financial brands can help young people “max” their bank accounts, earnings potential and financial security. Travel, leisure and hospitality brands can “max” fun, experiential learning and human connection. There are few activities that can’t be maxed; even food and beverage categories can “max” taste, while treading lightly on consumption.
By following the lead of looksmaxxers, brands can “maxximize” their appeal among teens and young adults of all genders.