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If the last 20 years have taught us anything, it’s that humans act in mysterious ways when they find themselves in front of a camera. Whether it’s duck-facing or dabbing, internet eras have come to be defined by (often gendered) gestures or expressions. But while women have no shortage of poses and techniques to use in pictures and videos, men tend to move in a monolith, dedicating years to a common pose before finally moving on to the next.
We are currently witnessing one such shift. If the 2010s were about soy facing in YouTube thumbnails—posing with an open-mouthed expression of joyful surprise for clicky videos teasers—the 2020s are about chad facing in TikToks.
The concept of a “chad,” the generic term for an alpha male with exaggerated facial features (mainly a strong jawline), dates back to 2006. The artist Krista Sudmalis later (unwittingly) gave a face to the name with her photographs of the model Ernest Khalimov. Khalimov became known as the “GigaChad,” and his photos inspired memes on Reddit, 4Chan, and Tumblr throughout the 2010s. (Khalimov released GigaChan NFTs in 2021.) The memes inspired TikTok filters that gave users chiseled, hypermasculine jaws. But recently, young men on TikTok have started physically contorting their faces to achieve the look without filters, using techniques, like “mewing,” pioneered by creators called “looksmaxxers.”
Chad facing is a four-step process. First, arch one eyebrow as if you’re Dwayne Johnson being told something dubious. Second, slim your nose by sucking in air. Third, bite the sides of your cheeks to create two chiseled divots. Finally, flex the muscles around your shoulders to appear more beefed up. If you can do all that without spraining something, you’re ready to make a self-facing video.
What’s most fascinating about chad facing is that, while it started as something of a bit, I do not, in the words of another TikTok trend, think it’s a joke anymore.
In a unique blend of thirst trap and bid for virality, Gen Z men are now earnestly pulling chad faces while pointing to generic text like “I just want to lay in bed next to you” and stiffly lip-syncing to often extremely cringey content about dating and hooking up.
You may know this phenomenon by another name: “Gen Z lip-sync face,” which was expertly parodied by comedian Caroline Easom. Whatever the name, the trend reflects a shift among men from the playful (soy face) to the severe (chad face), and suggests that the idealization of the chad has escaped the confines of the incel forums and begun to saturate the wider male community. The text in these videos might just be the modern version of sharing song lyrics as your Facebook status or reblogging an overly stylized quote on Tumblr, but the look aspires to a physical standard so unattainable that it requires broken bones to achieve.
If history is anything to go by, we have at least five more years of chad facing ahead of us before some new masc-specific facial expression usurps the zeitgeist. Or men could just, you know, smile.
Originally Appeared on GQ