Ah, fetishes — everyone has them, few mention them outside the confines of their web browser (Incognito mode, of course.)
You know the common culprits: feet, BDSM, and handcuffs. These fetishes were all popular between the sheets long before the dawn of the internet. But sometimes, you don't know you have a fetish until you see a pornstar or gamer girl post a meme about it.
This seems to have been the impetus behind ahegao: a facial expression characterized by rolling or crossed eyes, a dangling tongue, blushing cheeks, and profuse sweating or drooling. As one writer artfully described it, ahegao looks like a cross between having an anvil dropped on your foot while tripping on psychedelics.
Over the past year, Ahegao (pronounced ah-heh-gah-oh) has crawled out of the internet's dark corners into mainstream culture. As we write this, Google searches for ahegao have increased by 50%. Reddit's ahegao-related subreddits have a combined quarter of a million followers. #ahegao on Instagram has nearly a million posts (not counting the ones that get removed for violating the app's community guidelines.)
All of this craze...for a facial expression.
What Is Ahegao?
The term relates to a genre of Japanese anime and manga porn known as hentai (which loosely translates to pervert). In Japanese, ahegao is a combination of the expression for panting ("aheahe") and "gao," which means face.
While a picture of a cross-eyed woman with blushed cheeks, drool, and an outstretched tongue can't technically be categorized as porn, the facial expression has undeniable sexual undertones. According to Khursten Santos, an Asian studies researcher at the University of Wollongong in Australia, the purpose of the ahegao face is to "exaggerate the orgasmic face to show that the character is receiving an orgasm beyond normative notions of pleasure."
Ahegao was once kept within the confines of anime characters and otaku culture, but it's now trending stronger than ever, even among "normies" who simply can't get enough of this mysteriously captivating o-face.
While ahegao is just now reaching the peak of its popularity in Western culture, the term dates back nearly six decades. The earliest mentions of ahegao can be traced to Japanese erotic art forums as early as 1960.
Why Do People Like Ahegao?
If reading about the rise of ahegao tests your hope in humanity, you're not alone. Nevertheless, thousands of cosplayers such as Belle Delphine, along with TikTok stars and anime girls, have managed to make careers out of making this lewd face for their followers.
The appeal of ahegao seems to lie in its exaggeration of the female orgasm face. Just like fake cumshots, excessive moaning, and manufactured gyrations, men (and some women) are enthralled by unrealistic sexual fantasies.
"I think men like it so much because it's a physical way of knowing pleasure is being felt," says Redditor coffeecreamer06, who was crowned "Ahegao Queen" by a committee of 140,000 ahegao lovers.
Unsurprisingly, the demand for ahegao led to the development of ahegao t-shirts, hoodies, phone cases, and more. Because, you know, who doesn't like to turn their fetish into a fashion statement?
However, in January 2020, several anime and cosplay conventions throughout the United States started banning ahegao clothing at their events, citing that it exposed young attendees to sexual material. "Going on attendee feedback, people wearing ahegao made the majority of attendees uncomfortable, especially those with children at the event," said a spokesperson for SunnyCon Anime Expo.
This Stuff Is NSFW (Don't Say We Didn't Warn You)
While some of the ahegao content is perfectly innocent (cartoonish depictions of girls rolling their eyes and sticking their tongues out), much of it is X-rated. The last thing you want is to share your screen during a Zoom meeting, only for your coworkers to see a bunch of open tabs for your hentai anime and ahegao fetish.