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Inside the world of ‘masculinisation’ fillers, the ‘Instagram Face’ for men

Men are tweaking their cheeks, jaw, and chins with injectable filler for various reasons: to conform to masculine ideals, boost self-esteem, affirm their gender identity, and more

What makes a man attractive? It might sound like an impossibly general question, but it’s one that Dr Max Malik – an experienced practitioner at London’s Cranley Clinic, also known as “the face doctor” – gets asked on a regular basis. “Generally speaking, the ideal ‘attractive’ face for men is a masculine one,” Dr Malik tells me, leaning slightly across a polished, mahogany table in his Harley Street office.

He quickly details this face: low, flat brows with a ridge above them; strong, high cheekbones with flattened cheeks; a square, visible jawline and a pronounced chin. “It’s always been the attractive look,” he continues, explaining that a conventionally masculine face “should widen a little bit as it goes down.” But since the rise of social media, these proportions have been amplified: “men have been getting squarer and squarer, but there are limits to normality!”

In the past, achieving this composite required painful, expensive surgeries. But now, clinics are increasingly offering handy packages of ‘masculinisation fillers’, which include jawline, cheek, and chin injections. Not only are they non-surgical, they’re comparatively cheap and generally give a subtle, slightly enhanced look. As a result, they’ve experienced a well-documented surge in popularity, which has been attributed to everything from Love Island to incel forums.

For influencer Zack Smith, the reasoning is simple: “I just feel more confident with filler,” he explains. He credits Dr Roya of Medicci Aesthetics for his natural, masculine look, saying this is fast becoming the digital default. “Men with chiselled jawlines have always been shown as strong and sexy, and that comes from society and social media as well. Men feel like women are attracted to that alpha male.”

Smith reasons that Instagram has allowed more men to become models or monetise their appearance; therefore, it makes sense that men are now paying particular attention to their aesthetic. These men were once called ‘metrosexuals’, but it was a loaded term, especially for guys craving alpha male status – just ask UrbanDictionary. Now, stigma is slowly disappearing. “Injectables used to be frowned upon, or seen as feminine,” Smith continues. “But new techniques are making fillers undetectable, so it’s easier than ever for men to get tweaks to improve their facial structure.”

This term – ‘tweak’ – notably cropped up last year in a report by the BAAPS (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons), which claimed that men want to look “tweaked rather than tucked.” The reasoning behind this was left to interpretation, but essayist Jia Tolentino later made a similar observation in her viral essay on ‘Instagram Face’: a “cyborgian”, “distinctly white but ambiguously ethnic” look propagated by influencers (Emily Ratajkowski, Kim Kardashian-West and Bella Hadid) and exaggerated by editing software. In other words, the aim is to look like a FaceTuned version of yourself. ‘Masculinisation fillers’ offer exactly that: a smoothed-out version of a palatable, distinctly gendered beauty ideal.

In other cases, the pursuit of these packages is linked to low self-esteem. Dr Malik gives the example of a businessman in his 50s who lacked confidence, to the extent that he wore oversized, non-prescription glasses to hide his face. “This changed his life,” he says, before responding to my slightly raised eyebrow with a clarification: “Genuinely – he met a partner and got married soon afterwards, and that’s partly due to the self-esteem it gave him.”

Now feels like a good time to mention incels, or ‘involuntary celibates’. This toxic community of extremely online men is known for alt-right rhetoric, hardcore misogyny and suicidal ideation, all of which are fueled by their inability to get laid. ‘Looksmaxing’ forums are filled with threads which detail the ideal masculine facial structure, and the ‘Chads’ lucky enough to be born with strong, chiselled jawlines. For these men, surgery is about more than shaving away a few millimetres of bone: one, quoted by the New York Times, wrote of his obsession with a famous doctor, whom he claimed had “changed thousands of incel lives for their better.” In their eyes, a few small tweaks could change everything.

“Psychologically, these men are shifting focus away from their lack of a social or personal life to their face,” Dr Malik says thoughtfully, saying he knows nothing of incels or their notoriety. “I always ask clients what made them come for treatment because some think that I can solve their life problems. If someone just had a massive break-up and wants to ‘fix’ that by changing their face, I would be very cautious. I tell them that all I can do is make them feel better about how they look.”

“ (A conventionally masculine face has) low, flat brows with a ridge above them; strong, high cheekbones with flattened cheeks; a square, visible jawline and a pronounced chin...But since the rise of social media, these proportions have been amplified”

Issues like these are usually identified at the consultation stage, which differs based on price range. Dr Malik uses software to show patients a digital mock-up of their post-filler face and encourages them to take time and consider their decision. In some cases, the problem might be more psychological than physical. 

Dr Malik says that body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) would also make him cautious about treating a patient straight away, and claims it’s more common than we think. It shouldn’t come as a surprise – stars like Robert Pattinson have shared their struggles, and research estimates as much as 2.9 per cent of Americans affected by BDD – but men often bottle these feelings, pressured by society to ‘man up’ and swallow their concerns. 

“I had one man who would wear a plastic cover over his nose because he thought it was deformed,” Dr Malik recalls. “Any aesthetic treatment for that person would have been the wrong thing to do, because he needed psychological support, too. It’s similar with (incels) – if they’re at the point where they’re obsessing about their features, it could be damaging for their mental health.”

It’s difficult to narrow down a more specific demographic, as the BAAPS report omits information about gender identity, sexuality, and race. There is no reason, but more generally, data limitations occur either because the information is deemed irrelevant or too difficult to accurately capture, as it relies on self-identification. These omissions are important. For example, gay men are disproportionately likely to suffer with eating disorders, and much has been written about how gay beauty ideals, in particular, privilege masculinity – could that result in a rise in masculinisation fillers? A more detailed breakdown by race and ethnicity would also show if the non-surgical beauty industry’s attempts to diversify have actually worked, and arguably paint a revelatory picture of what Western society deems to be ‘attractive’.

Information like this is especially important when trans patients are factored in. Trans people are problematically judged by how well they ‘pass’ as cisgender, an issue which Hari Nef concisely summarized in a TED talk describing femininity as an ‘aesthetics of survival’. The same goes for trans men and masculinity – with the ongoing rise of hate crimes, it’s not hard to understand why trans men would want to look more ‘masculine’ in order to reduce their risk of violence. But even disclosing yourself as trans in a consultation brings the possibility of encountering transphobic in healthcare, or biased treatment. Misdiagnosis is actually so common that it has its own name: ‘trans broken arm syndrome’.

Model and activist Kenny Ethan Jones acknowledges that shows like Love Island and the rise of social media have partly contributed to the popularity of these fillers, but his motivation was different: “I wanted to make peace with my masculinity.” Although he says his modelling career was also a factor, the primary goal was “to align myself with the person I should have been born as. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided I wanted to look more handsome, you know?”

From his perspective, research is everything. “These fillers were becoming a trend, so my main concern was how many of these procedures were legal, and how many of these ‘doctors’ were registered.” Jones’ concerns were fuelled by online horror stories; as a result, it took two years for him to finally take the plunge just a few days ago

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all procedure, so I walked in with a good idea of what I wanted,” he recalls. “I was very concerned about my face changing completely, so I told him I didn’t want too much. We agreed to start slowly, pause, and then see if I wanted to look more masculine. I feel like, because I told him I didn’t want a dramatic change, he took a different approach with me.” Ultimately, Jones says he’s happy with the results, would be happy to pay for their upkeep and sees them as a step towards gender validation. “It’s important to understand why you’re doing this, and to make sure that it’s for you,” he concludes.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all procedure... I was very concerned about my face changing completely, so I told him I didn’t want too much. We agreed to start slowly, pause, and then see if I wanted to look more masculine. I feel like, because I told him I didn’t want a dramatic change, he took a different approach with me” – Kenny Ethan Jones, model and activist

Dr Malik similarly warns that fillers can go wrong – “I’ve dissolved bad fillers for a lot of patients,” he tells me, advising extensive research. These procedures may be non-permanent (he tells me they can last anywhere from six months to two years, although some claim to last for four), but they’re still a risk.

As with any cultural phenomenon, it’s clear that ‘masculinisation fillers’ have their pros and their cons. There’s an obvious dark side: we see black market doctors capitalising on our Insta-friendly beauty standards with no real regulation to contend with. We see incel forum users bragging about their ‘looksmax’ journeys while refusing to examine their misogynist, white supremacist ideals; we even see men suffering from BDD, a mental health disorder, seeking fillers as an aesthetic salve for a deeper, psychological issue.

Yet the popularity of these fillers is understandable, and there’s nothing to suggest they’re a gateway for more extreme or permanent surgery. In fact, the BAAPS report shows that cosmetic surgery rates have actually declined. So whether it’s a millennial seeking a quick boost and a few thousand followers, an unmarried man with low self-esteem or a trans man seeking vital gender confirmation, it’s not hard to see why more men than ever are seeking out injectables. If they’ve followed the right guidance, you probably won’t be able to tell at all.