'I tried viral beauty trend – but now I'm warning others of dangers'

Kseniya Didik
-Credit: (Image: Kseniya Didik)

A young woman has exposed the disturbing world of 'looksmaxxing' and its links to 'incel' extremism.

Kseniya Didik, 21-year-old from Russia, is urging people to be careful of an 'addictive' trend sweeping the internet after falling into it during her teenage years. In simple terms, 'looksmaxxing' involves altering your physical appearance to conform to certain beauty standards.

This could range from a rigorous skincare regime to seeking plastic surgery, though it often veers towards a more sinister cosmetic obsession. Dangerous 'bone-mashing' for instance, encourages people to hit their faces with hammers or anything hard to 'enhance' facial features, according to a previous Mirror report.

On the other hand, 'starvemaxxing' promotes disordered eating and extreme exercise pressure to perfect jaw lines and sustain 'heroin chic'-esque figures. In an exclusive chat with The Mirror, Kseniya explained: "I’ve always been insecure about not fitting in, I guess. I was bigger than most girls at five, then I was the only one with acne, then I was the late bloomer-ugly duckling in a class full of beautiful girls in high school.

"I started taking part in beautifying rituals around 12... I also slipped into eating disorder territory around the same time, because I thought I was so big and ugly compared to other girls, when looking back, I wasn’t even big...

"But really looksmaxxing has always been present in my life, consciously and subconsciously – from the women in my family having rigorous skincare, makeup and dieting routines to magazine tips and permeating advertising. So, I’d probably engage in it regardless of circumstance."

For Kseniya, 'looksmaxxing' has generally centred around facial procedures. Before turning 18, she'd often receive pore extractions and laser resurfacing to help with acne scars, while dreaming of lip filler, eye bag surgery and a nose job.

For Kseniya, 'looksmaxxing' has generally centred around an obsession with facial procedures -Credit:Kseniya Didik

Sadly, dangerous dieting habits were also a big part of her life growing up and, on one occasion, it even stopped her menstrual cycle.

Today, she spends around seven hours a week 'maintaining her appearance' - excluding salon visits, treatments and working out. She continued: "On one hand, it has a great effect on my self-esteem – looking good and put-together makes me feel good in return.

"It gives a sense of control as well – even on the most hectic day, I know I’m gonna do my skincare routine, at least... On the other hand, looksmaxxing requires a lot of time and money. And it’s addicting... The median monthly income in my region is about 59’000 rubles a month (£526). I'd need about a third of that for my regimen."

In the past, looksmaxxing trends have often been associated with an online group dubbed as 'incels' or 'involuntary celibates', according to The Conversation. On the surface, this term refers to individuals, typically men, who despite their desire, may struggle to find a romantic or sexual partner.

However, in recent times, incels have gained notoriety as dangerous extremists. The term became infamous following several mass murders, including the 2021 Plymouth shooting.

However, in recent times, incels have gained notoriety as dangerous extremists. The term became infamous following several mass murders, including the 2021 Plymouth shooting.

Despite this, Kseniya insists she doesn't associate herself with extremists and claims her habits are rooted in society's beauty standards. "If we take the original definition [of an incel] – sure," she said. "I’m perpetually single, and that’s it. But when it comes to the community we know now – hateful and entitled to love and sex – absolutely not.

"I really don’t like how looksmaxxing has essentially been co-opted and rebranded for men. It’s pretty much the same thing women have done for ages, now with a 'for men' sticker and a layer of self-deprecation and pseudo-science behind it.

"I sought out communities specifically for women, or centred around specific issues, and they're nothing like that. Just a group of like-minded people sharing their experiences and trying to help each other."

Following this, counsellor Georgina Sturmer, has stressed anyone tempted by looksmaxxing should seek help. She said: "If we are drawn towards [this]... it’s likely that there are some strong underlying emotional motivations.

"We might be struggling with our self-esteem, feeling anxious, depressed or isolated. Or we might find ourselves trying to regain a sense of control when everything around us feels overwhelming... There are plenty of organisations out there who are ready and willing to help."

Dr Lawrence Cunningham, a GP at the UK Care Guide, also added: "Maintaining physical appearance through healthy lifestyle choices is normal and can be beneficial. However, the line should be drawn when such practices become extreme and harmful.

"Building a network of positive influences, whether through friends, family, or professional counsellors, can make a significant difference in one's mental and physical health."

If you're worried about your health or the health of somebody else, you can contact SEED eating disorder support service on 01482 718130 or on their website.