Online communities that present a dangerous view of male beauty are growing in popularity. When does a quest for self-improvement become something darker?

“I believe in taking care of myself, in a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine,” says Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The character – an investment banker who’s also a serial killer – is played by Christian Bale in the 2000 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel.

American Psycho is a satire of New York yuppie lifestyle in the 1980s, portraying a society dominated by hedonism, materialism and narcissism, according to the novel’s author. “It’s strange how that character has been co-opted into the culture in a way that he absolutely wasn’t in 1991,” Ellis told Publishers Weekly on the novel’s 20th anniversary. “Patrick Bateman seems to embody something about masculinity that was blooming at a certain point in the late ’80s to early ’90s.”

The film presents the main character’s elaborate morning routine which, stripped of its wider satirical context, has become a tutorial for young men. The scene – featuring the unreliable narrator tying a plastic ice pack around his face and doing 1,000 crunches – has been watched 17 million times on YouTube and emulated in several #GetReadyWithMe (GRWM) shortform videos.

American Psycho has been the subject of numerous online debates, with the audience split between young men who are in on the parody and those who are decidedly not. In the latter group exists the internet looksmaxxing community.

With roots in online incel (involuntarily celibate) forums, looksmaxxing claims to be about the “maximisation” of one’s appearance. The aim of looksmaxxing is becoming the most attractive one can possibly look according to a set of prescribed criteria, with particular importance given to jawlines, eyes and physique (including “hunter” eyes, angled slightly upward toward the temples – a positive canthal tilt).

The trend has existed for at least a decade, but has recently been popularised and redefined on TikTok, where it’s reaching a widening demographic of teenage boys algorithmically predisposed to the “manosphere” subculture. (Created in opposition to feminism, the manosphere refers to a network of websites and online communities propagandising masculinity and misogyny.)

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