If you spend a considerable amount of time on YouTube, you may have noticed a new species of video: YouTubers claiming to have changed the shape of their face via something called "mewing".
It's been dubbed – by The Coventry Telegraph, of all places – a "new health craze" taking over YouTube and Instagram. Adherents claim that the technique – essentially: flattening your tongue against the roof of your mouth – can aid breathing and alleviate mouth muscle pains, as well as helping to define your jawline and align your top and bottom rows of teeth.
There is one problem with the Telegraph's definition: mewing is not only not new, it's also been popular for quite some time, on incel forums and hyper-masculine fringes of the internet. Still, they're not wrong that it's exploded in popularity: over the last few months, hundreds of videos dedicated to this alternative orthodontic technique have popped up, with titles like: "HOW I CHANGED MY FACIAL BONE STRUCTURE by MEWING, V-shaped jawline, no more doublechin," and, "How using correct tongue posture can make you more attractive and healthier."
According to YouTube, "We've seen views of 'mewing' videos spike from December, 2018 to February. 2019, which saw an 84 percent rise in the UK, and a 255 percent increase of videos uploaded globally to YouTube about mewing since December."
Austin – a 22-year-old known as AstroSky to his nearly 25,000 subscribers – is one of the most diligent documenters of mewing. He started posting about it around ten months ago, but says he started practising it himself when he was a 16-year-old worried he couldn't breathe through his nose properly. 'I'll be honest, I was a mouth breather," he says. "It was a mixture of different issues – I struggled to breathe through my nose, and my face was going in the direction of being long."
So he did what any 16-year-old would do and googled a fix for his issues. Eventually, he came across the work of a British orthodontist named Dr Mike Mew. "I pretty much just applied it to my life," he said. "I figured: I've got nothing to lose."
According to Dr Mew, you can improve these kinds of problems by keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth, also known as having "proper tongue posture". So that's what Austin did - and according to him, it has changed his face.
"Over the years, it came to the point where my parents were saying: 'Are you losing weight?' They were asking me what's up with my face," he says. "I just remember one day playing a video game with my brother, and he did a double take – he said: 'What happened to your jaw?'"
Watching his videos, there's no doubt Austin has a square jaw. The thumbnail of his video "Why mewing is important to all!!" shows a "before" and "after", though it's hard to tell whether his face changed because of the technique, or just because he got older.
"I don't like to make claims," he says. "I just know my own experience with it."
A lot of Austin's videos – and a lot of the videos in the genre – centre around the basics of how to mew. Austin even offers people mewing coaching sessions via Skype. To understand how we got to a place where YouTubers are giving orthodontic advice, it's best to start with Dr Mew himself, who you could call the original "mewing" YouTuber. His channel, Orthotropics, has been up since 2012 and hosts hundreds of videos about it.
"I'm here putting forward a very controversial point," he tells me, "saying that few people in the modern world have gained the full genetic potential in their facial development."
You'd assume Dr Mew had coined the term "mewing", but that isn't the case. "I have no idea where it came from," he says. "I just started noticing it in the comments below the videos."
Dr Mew also noticed people, like AstroSky, taking elements of the theories and running with them. In the early days of these videos cropping up, he'd get in touch with other YouTubers and encourage them. "I don't own this, it's not mine," he says. "I believe, in principle, information should be for free, and it's only by having a community we can come up with ideas and some level of an evidence base."
Mewing hasn't come without criticism. First off, those who really picked it up and ran with it were members of the incel "looksmaxing" subculture – as per a 2018 VICE article: "The practice of trying to enhance one's appearance via methods ranging from buying nicer clothes to gym training to radical facial reconstruction through surgery" – desperate to get a square jaw. Dr Mew says he has no knowledge of this community and wouldn't comment on it.
Austin says he has noticed some of his views come from that part of the internet. "I understand there's a lot of bad rep with it, but mewing is for everyone – that's what I always say," he tells me.
What does the professional orthodontic community think about it? There's a sense of some friction. "Whenever a new idea comes in, there's going to be a mixed reaction," says Dr Mew. "Clearly I've been a little bit disappointed by the reaction of some within our profession."
Dig into Dr Mew's channel and you'll find videos where he discusses being expelled from the British Orthodontic Society for his "social media postings", as well as a hearing with the General Dental Council in December last year. Dr Mew wouldn't discuss any of this, citing legal reasons. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the British Orthodontic Society said: "As we are not a regulatory body, we cannot comment on [an] individual's membership of BOS or status."
To check the orthodontic trade's feelings on the technique, I speak to Dr Uchenna Okoye, of London Smiling, who says she doesn't believe mewing is damaging. She does, however, feel the claims should be taken with a pinch of salt: "A lot of the conventional wisdom tends to say this is nonsense, but there is some truth in it," she explains. "Like with everything, it's getting that balance. There are some cases where things would resolve with growth."
That said, she says some of Mew's ideas could aid problems with sleep apnea: "I wouldn't disagree that there is benefit in some cases, but I wouldn't say it's the be all and end all." For Okoye, when it comes to YouTube, we need to be wary of who we listen to. There are more issues, for example, around YouTubers who claim they whiten their teeth with bicarb and lemon – which could actually damage teeth.
The next stage in the YouTube trend is inevitably that in which everyone starts making videos criticising said trend.
In fact, one satirical YouTuber named Phillion already posted one, about a month ago. "Everyone and their mother who made a video about this topic already has a defined jawline," he says. "They found out about mewing last Tuesday and decided to pick up a camera to try and get some views and clicks."