“My jaw used to be literally to the point where it was inches in my neck. A woman would probably look at me and throw up in her mouth. Thank god for bone smashing, testosterone maxxing, and nutrition,” a user once posted on Looksmax.org, an internet forum ripe with incel ideology.
From beauty trends to nutrition gurus, the internet is no stranger to content offering false, yet often benign, self-improvement tips. However, in recent months there’s been a new kid of the DIY beauty trend block—fuelled by the incel community. It’s called bone smashing, and it’s quite literally as bad as it sounds.
Bone smashing is quite self-explanatory. It’s the act of striking oneself with objects in the hope of enhancing one’s appearance. Yup, that about hits the nail on the head. And while this trend has largely remained inside the online subculture of incelism, it’s spilt over into other parts of the internet in recent months too.
Take TikTok for example, where videos with the phrase “bone smashing tutorial” have already racked up over 270 million views. So, what exactly is bone smashing? Why are people swearing by this trend? And is it doing more harm than good?
In case you need to hear that once again, bone smashing is the act of repeatedly causing blunt-force trauma to parts of your body in an attempt to reshape your bone structure. And yes, people are voluntarily doing it to themselves.
Often, this trend involves hitting yourself on parts of the face with a hammer, such as the eyebrows or the jaw, in hopes that the bone will heal in a more desirable alignment after being broken or fractured.
The trend falls under the larger umbrella of “looksmaxing,” an internet term that refers to a person making an effort to improve their physical appearance. And, at least on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to improve your looks through DIY techniques.
“Mewing,” which involves a tongue exercise to allegedly enhance the jawline (based on the dismissed work of two British orthodontists) is another one of these strategies that fall under the wing of “looksmaxing.” However, unlike mewing, the absurd new trend will likely cause much harm. But we’ll get to that later.
Advocates of bone smashing reference Wolff’s Law as its ‘scientific’ backing. Coined by the 19th-century German surgeon Julius Wolff, the law asserts that bones adapt to the demands or stress exerted upon them. While Wolff’s Law has been applied, in some circumstances, to bone remodelling and physical therapy, the theory has been widely disputed in the circumstance of bone smashing.
So, to better understand this absurd (and potentially dangerous) trend, we need to clarify where it actually comes from. Incelim can be defined by the incels’ sense of social or genetic injustice at their lack of sexual success with the opposite sex, whether that’s social, romantic, sexual, or otherwise.
“You don’t just wake up one day and become an incel,” Jack Wilson, a PhD student who specialises in incelism and internet subcultures at Warwick University, tells SCREENSHOT. “It’s a process, a worldview that develops over time.” According to Wilson, this ideology predominantly affects men who might be vulnerable in various aspects and are using incelism as a framework to comprehend their surroundings.
“Economically and socially alienated men are the most at risk,” he continues. “We live in a lonely world, people are trying to find an explanation for the consequences of the world we live in. How much time they spend, and their media diet online, can also significantly shape an individual’s likelihood of being influenced by incel-related content.”
Although much of incel discourse circulates below the surface of the internet, largely on fringe forums and websites dedicated to the ideology, Wilson also adds that social media can perpetuate this toxic worldview. “Social media platforms want to keep you engaged—the algorithm is programmed to give you more of the same stuff you’ve already engaged with,” he says.
Think of it like the classic snowball effect: a scenario seen time and time again, where extremist views are perpetuated and reinforced through social media’s nuanced but powerful echo chambres. As summed up by Wilson, algorithm-led content leads “individuals towards more extreme and niche incel-related material.”
One individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells SCREENSHOT that they had been doing bone smashing regularly for four months, originally coming across the trend on TikTok. They have since seen no physical changes to their bone structure.
“Although I don’t consider myself an incel, I do now read a lot of the forums [that are associated with the incelosphere],” they say. “When I first started looking at this kind of content, it was more so for self-improvement. I did notice that, as time went on, the content got more focused and more extreme. It was around that time I discovered the bone smashing trend.”
It’s likely that this DIY beauty trend is just another meme generated by the incel community, but the impact it’s having on individuals who follow it is very much real. Apart from the agony of fracturing bones deliberately and having to endure severe bruising, there are many risks and long-term complications that can arise too.
According to a recent report by Healthline, the aftermath of bone smashing can potentially require more distinct reconstructive surgeries due to these long-term complications. “A post-surgery facial scar would further contradict the intended goal of improved aesthetics. And without proper planning by a trained professional, the bones can grow back in a way that causes an unattractive disfiguration,” Kyle Zagrodzky, CEO of OsteoStrong, told Healthline.
Bone smashing may also cause irreversible nerve damage, as well as internal or external bleeding, the report says. Young people, often more susceptible to online trends, are the most vulnerable as their bones are still in the growth and development phase, influenced by genetics. This can lead to bone damage disrupting the bone’s typical and healthy growth trajectory.
However, the bone smashing trend is not merely a personal pursuit. Its proliferation and visibility online can lead individuals deeper into the incel ideology. Wilson raises concerns, saying: “If bone smashing is something that’s been seen by more people, it could lead an internet user or a young man to encounter further incel material.”
“There have already been Incel mass casualty events because of this worldview,” he continues. “People have killed other people because they are incels—lashing out against people who they think have alienated and oppressed them.”
While bone smashing may, on the surface, be laughed off as a ridiculous trend, what it reflects is much more serious. Bone smashing embodies the deep-seated desire felt by vulnerable men to enhance their perceived attractiveness—so much so that they’re, quite literally, willing to take a hammer to the head. Until more work is done to tackle misinformation within extremist online communities, while also addressing the root causes of this ideology, incelism will continue to cause damage for years to come.