Welcome to another TikTok Myth of the Week—one that I really, truly wish I were making up. Today we’re talking about “bone smashing,” sometimes known by similar names such as “bone mashing.” It’s when you hit your face with a hammer, but gently. To make yourself prettier.
Bone smashing is not a brand-new trend, although it’s gotten more popular lately—or at least more popular to warn against and make fun of. For years now, it’s been a topic of discussion on some of the saddest Reddit forums, where (mostly) teenage (mostly) boys ask if this bone-smashing thing they saw on YouTube or Instagram is legit—and then, in many cases, they try it themselves.
What is bone smashing?
Bone smashing is supposed to make the bones of your face bigger or thicker, in the areas where you smash them. People who are interested in bone smashing will tap their face with a hammer or with their knuckles in places where they want more bone structure, often the cheekbones and jawline.
The idea of doing this for facial beautification seems to have sprung from the imagination of “mewing” influencers (more in a minute on what that phrase means). They heard about Wolff’s law, which describes how bone remodels itself according to physical stress, and took it to what seemed like a logical conclusion.
Wolff’s law is widely recognized, by scientists, as legit. It states that when you put stress on bones, they strengthen in response. This is why people at risk for osteoporosis are encouraged to do weight-bearing activities like walking or running. Bone smashers figure that they can use this principle to grow their face bones.
Does bone smashing actually work?
There is absolutely no evidence that you can get a chiselled jaw and cheekbones by hitting your face with a hammer. Wolff’s law describes the general idea of bones growing in response to stress, but the details of how it’s triggered, and how bones grow as a result, is more complicated than you can sum up in a single TikTok-digestible sentence. Advocates of bone smashing sometimes point to athletes or boxers who they believe have undergone the effects of Wolff’s law, like this Insta post that shows a tennis player with one forearm noticeably larger than the other. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he probably did not achieve his physique by smashing one of his arms with a hammer.
So what does happen when you tap your face bones repeatedly with a hard object? You probably won’t get aesthetically pleasing bone growth, but you may well get swelling and bruising as the soft tissues of your face react to being hit with a hammer. There are videos out there with influencers who say they bone smash, showing bruised and swollen cheekbones. That’s one way to make parts of your face bigger, I guess.
In theory, your results could be even worse. You could break a bone, give yourself a concussion, or otherwise injure yourself (miss the bone you’re aiming for and hit your teeth or your eyes, for example). People who say they’re into bone smashing often emphasise doing it gently or safely. I can’t comment on the safety of any bone-smashing method.
Where did bone smashing come from?
When I first heard of bone smashing, I thought it was funny. The more I learned about it, the more I think it’s just sad. And if you dig deep enough, it gets pretty dark.
Bone smashing is just one facet of a hobby/anxiety shared by a subculture of young men who aim to alter their faces to appear more masculine. This is the home of mewing, the idea that you can do exercises with your tongue to make your jawline more square (and cure or treat a variety of health problems, to boot). There are no peer-reviewed studies on mewing; the claims all come from people who promote the exercises.
The sad part comes in when you realize just how many people spend hours of their lives learning how to mew and bone smash and thumb pull—all techniques that can be used for looksmaxxing, a sort of incel-flavored pursuit of (usually male) beauty.
There are tons of looksmaxxing influencers out there, especially on visual platforms like YouTube and Instagram, but there’s no way to verify that their “before and after” shots represent the effects of whatever they’re promoting. In some cases, the differences seem to be just posing and camera angles. In others, the influencers are so young I’m pretty sure we’re just seeing the effects of puberty. And then there are tons of videos where filters have been applied to exaggerate the TikToker’s features, not to mention people who have undergone procedures such as getting fillers injected.
Most of what I know about bone smashing is from older posts on text-based forums; at this point the TikToks about it are mostly memes and warnings. This influencer, for example, speaks to would-be bone smashers and recommends instead chewing gum to build your jaw muscles rather than actually hitting your face with things. That is, at least, an improvement.
Why this is even creepier than it sounds
Why are these kids—and, worse, some full-grown adults—so obsessed with the minutiae of their and others’ appearance? Dive just a bit deeper and you’ll find yourself learning about the evolutionary traits that supposedly make people destined to be loved or to have social power. Do you have “hunter eyes”, or are you doomed to display “scleral show,” where the whites of your eyes are visible below the iris? Do you have a negative or positive “canthal tilt”? (This refers to whether the corners of your eyes are slightly above or below horizontal.)
Of course, there is no such thing as an objectively hottest or most powerful way to look, and these assumptions break down under the lightest criticism. On the Reddit forums where these things are discussed, newcomers are sometimes confused at why there exist hot, famous people with “inferior” traits. In one case, the reply was: “Please keep in mind that this sub[reddit] is about objective beauty. …To some, scleral show could make a person more attractive, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is not an objectively attractive feature.”
The idea that facial features determine your destiny is nonsense, but it’s nonsense with a long history. In the early twentieth century, for example, the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso wrote extensively about how facial features mark somebody as a born criminal. He argued for harsher penalties for people with these features, and lighter sentences—even for the same crimes—for people whose faces didn’t look criminal according to his theories.
Facial features were also a focus of the eugenics movement, pseudo-histories about where “Aryans” come from, the “science” of phrenology, and more. Scientists collected photographs in the name of figuring out the defining features of each race, and museums measured skulls to “prove” that some races’ brains were bigger than others and to find the supposedly purest examples of Native Americans. I cannot think of a good thing that has ever come from attempting to categorise human beings according to “objective” measures of their facial features.