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The life-changing magic of asking kind strangers to rate your looks online

MaleGrooming was started on 4 October, 2010, one of its moderators tells me. “I was a younger man, and had big plans to cover a lot more than I ever actually managed,” he says. Subreddits are overseen by moderators, who do it as an act of love, policing the forum for negative or illegal activity. Most subs come with a list of rules (r/MaleGrooming’s include no self-promotional advertising, no trolling, and no hateful/prejudiced comments). The moderator says that he at one point intended to create a comprehensive “wiki” that covered subjects like hair and skincare routines, fragrances, and . On the very first day the sub attracted a thousand followers, and quickly, he says, “took on a life of its own.”

While the page today may be a surprisingly friendly bastion in a sea of digital disorder, it has caused its founder frustration over the years. Moderating has become more difficult since Reddit disabled third-party integrations, and he even once took the page dark in protest. He’s had issues with both Reddit and the sub’s users, but recently added another moderator to help shape the tenor of the page. “Glad people are still finding it useful,” he says, “but I’ve no real desire to advertise Reddit for them.”

And let’s be frank: the internet is not a friendly, happy place. Three decades in and it’s a much darker force than anyone could have expected. Time and again, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have been found to be detrimental to our mental health, especially that of teens, specifically teenage girls. Large companies like Meta have come under fire for not doing enough in response to those warnings in the pursuit, it is claimed, of a bigger bottom line.

Worse yet, there’s a tendency for men who are deeply engaged with online social networks like Reddit and 4Chan to display signs of “toxic masculinity” – being the most high-profile example. Bullying is on the rise, and the web’s ability to create a veil of anonymity has led to a sort of cruelty that one wouldn’t experience in face-to-face interactions. Reddit, which skews male and younger, seems arable land for this sort of behaviour. Indeed, according to Comscore, r/MaleGrooming ticks all the boxes: most of its members are men, 60 per cent between 18 and 24. Some studies found most teenagers have experienced online bullying, and one, from YouGov, found that a majority of young men feel pressure to engage in “hyper-masculine” behaviours, including stoicism and aggression. Meanwhile, kindness and honesty were considered negative traits.

In that light, it’s heartening to think that a small sliver of good has been able to thrive on the internet. It’s even more heartening to think that it could be this: a place where one asks, nervously, if they’re good enough, and the answer is, mostly, yes. In fact, Reddit itself noted that the sub is doing quite well – as of January 2024, page views increased 326 per cent year on year, proving more men are yearning for advice from their peers.

If you spend enough time on r/MaleGrooming, you may just feel the opposite of what you feel on, say, Twitter. That there are still good people in the world, who are able and willing to help out others. That there’s a fraternity of men (and women) online who want to help others live better lives. Maybe that’s overselling it. Still, no one knows what a throwaway suggestion or word of encouragement can do for someone, even a stranger, how it can change the trajectory of their life (or at the very least get them to shave a ).

“There’s a common human experience of being insecure about how you look,” says Paul. “So it’s nice to get genuine feedback from people who have no reason for you to like them or not.”