"Open Wide" tells the history of the "mewing" TikTok trend, through a deep dive into the controversial practice of orthotropics and its evangelists, John and Mike Mew

Grant St. Clair recently shared news about the trend of "looksmaxxing," an umbrella term for a variety of "purportedly appearance-enhancing strategies" that became wildly popular first on incel message boards and then on TikTok. One of the most popular looksmaxxing techniques is called "mewing" and involves closing your mouth, and placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth, which supposedly exercises the muscles under the jaw and tightens the skin under your chin. What is this supposed to accomplish? In their review of Open Wide, a new documentary about mewing, Giant Freaking Robot explains:

At its most basic form, this technique involves resting your tongue in a certain way, breathing through your nose with your mouth closed, and embracing a straight posture while chewing food and even chewing with your tongue in a certain way.

Why would anyone want to do this, exactly? As the Open Wide documentary elaborates, this technique is supposed to help you sleep better, reduce pain, and (most importantly, according to its followers) lift the jawline. Done right, this technique is meant to subtly transform the shape of your face without you having to get any kind of proper orthodontic surgery.

Accordingly, some of the Mews' biggest opponents for decades have been other orthodontists. Though the father/son duo didn't achieve viral fame until 2019, the Open Wide documentary explores how the elder Mew has been carrying this fight on for decades.

Among other things, he sees this technique as a less painful and much cheaper alternative for teenagers who would otherwise need braces. However, his ideas are considered fringe, and many orthodontists have spoken out about the danger of "mewing."

Open Wide tells the story of John Mew and his son Mike, who have been on a quest for decades to expose the field of orthodontics as being useless, at best, and harmful, at worst. They have created an alternative to traditional orthodontics: "orthotropics." The International Association of Facial Growth Guidance (the professional association for orthotropics) describes the theory and practice of orthotropics:

ORTHOTROPICS was developed in 1966 to guide the forward growth of the upper and lower jaws and comes from the Greek words Orthos (Straight or Correct) and Tropos (growth). "Facial Orthotropics" describes the Growth Guidance of the Face.The jaws of our direct human ancestors almost always grew correctly until we changed our life-style about 10,000 years ago and started to eat much softer foods. Later on we started to live indoors, cook frequently using utensils, gained blocked noses from allergies and changed infant feeding methods, less time breast feeding and introduced of soft weaning foods.

The soft food weakened our jaw muscles, the indoor living encouraged allergies while early weaning created abnormal tongue habits and Orthotropists believe that these distort the jaws and teeth. Orthodontists on the other hand believe that badly shaped jaws are inherited and concentrate on straightening the teeth by mechanical means using wires and brackets. They often extract some teeth to make room for others and use surgery to reposition the jaws.

Orthotropists believe that malocclusion is a biological problem which should be treated naturally not by mechanics and surgery. Removable widening appliances are used to make room for all the teeth and the tongue before training braces that teach individuals to make changes, correcting the underlying problem. If these lessons are learnt then they can be learnt forever, whereas Orthodontic results need to be held straight with retainers forever, orthotropic results stay straight. The best orthotropics results are obtained when children are young, under 9, although treatment is possible at any age.

Open Wide, released in 2024 and directed by Sara Goldblatt, explores the creation of orthotropics through an in-depth look at John and Mike Mew, their quest to revolutionize the field of orthodontics, and their newfound popularity via social media. IMDb describes the film:

John and Mike Mew's fringe orthodontic theories have found a passionate audience online-but now Mike must fight the establishment to keep his practice.

John Mew thinks we're all ugly, and orthodontists are to blame. For decades, he has waged a lonely, losing war against the industry, which long ago took away his right to practice. With his son Mike taking up the fight, Mew's fringe theories have finally found an enthusiastic audience online. Now, Mike must defend himself from an angry establishment to avoid his father's fate.

Variety published a great review of the documentary. Here's an excerpt:

The documentary explores a father and son who are fighting to upend mainstream orthodontics. According to the official logline, "John Mew has waged a lonely war against the industry — and that teenage rite of passage, braces, for decades. With his son Mike now taking up the fight, the Mews' fringe theories have turned into a full-blown online sensation. But even while mewing goes viral on TikTok and the Mews churn out content for their millions of followers, Mike is pursued by the British Orthodontic Society and threatened with expulsion by the very people who took away his father's license."

The father-son's technique of "mewing," which is not scientifically proven and highly contentious in the world of orthodontics, is intended to lift the jawline, alleviate pain and improve sleep. 

"What's in a face? The answer I learned from John and Mike Mew is: so much more than you think," Goldblatt said in a statement. "I was drawn to the two men because of the controversy surrounding their unorthodox beliefs, and discovered a story about family and legacy and why we care about the things we care about. It's a real rabbit hole, and I hope people will enjoy going down it as much as I did."

If you're getting eugenics vibes, you're not alone. One viewer's review on IMDb makes the case very clearly:

When a doc starts off by stating there's such thing as an ideal face and it looks like this little white boy, and most people are deformed, the message is clear. Yes, symmetry is attractive. Also, light hair, blues eyes, and pronounced jaw-lines are not the gold standard for attractive faces. I'm sure these orthodontists have skill and technique and help some individuals on some level, and I'm also sure their schema of the world is saturated in white supremacy and what seems to be eugenic motivation. It's not surprising that senior had his license revoked. It's also not surprising they have an online fan base. What is surprising is that Netflix didn't stamp this as the white supremacist eroticism that it is.

I highly recommend the documentary—I found it to be an incredibly interesting (and at times really unsettling) look at a subculture I previously knew very little about. The Mews are odd fellows, to say the very least, and I'm fascinated by their extreme devotion to their cause. After watching the film, I had to try some mewing for myself. I can report that the area under my chin *does* look noticeably tighter when I'm actively holding the position, but the downside is that I find it impossible to breathe while doing so, so I can only hold the position a few seconds at a time. Do I think I'm going to suddenly get a tighter, more youthful jaw line from mewing? Not a chance. And most orthodontists agree that mewing doesn't really do anything helpful. But will I keep mewing? Nah. Go watch the film, though, and tell me what you think.