In March 2017, thousands of men eagerly posted selfies with their newly-acquired Nintendo Switch video game consoles. Some commonalities between these pictures included scraggly beards, square glasses, and boyish haircuts. But it was their facial expressions that the internet picked up and ran with.
Creepy, gross, embarrassing, unnecessary—these are just a few words to describe Soy Face: the term used to describe the face a man makes when taking a selfie with his mouth wide open. The term started with trolls on 4chan and Reddit, but has since been etched into the mainstream digital lexicon.
So, what exactly is Soy Face? And how did this legume from East Asia get associated with a cringe-worthy facial expression sweeping the internet?
What Is Soy Face?
Soy Face has nothing to do with actual soybeans—at least not directly. It’s slang to describe an overly-enthusiastic and ostensibly creepy face that guys make in selfies, whether involuntarily or in jest. Characteristics of Soy Face include a wide, open-mouth smile and raised eyebrows.
But why soy?
Soy is a food that extremist, misogynistic subcultures have linked with weakness, feminism, and beta status. There’s also the debunked claim that soy products increase men’s estrogen levels to the point of growing man boobs. Put these conspiracies into a virtual blender and you get an unimpressive slang term to insult any male you think is a snowflake for smiling too big in his selfies. Some men have taken it a step further, claiming Soy Face is the sign of a cuck or a simp.
Soy face is a derivative of “soy boy,” which Urban Dictionary defines as “males who completely and utterly lack all necessary masculine qualities. This pathetic state is usually achieved by an over-indulgence of emasculating products and/or ideologies. The average soy boy is a feminist, nonathletic, has never been in a fight, will probably marry the first girl that has sex with him, and likely reduces all his arguments to labeling the opposition as ‘Nazis.’”
As you can see here, we’re going down a dark path. If you guessed the Soy Boy and subsequent Soy Face memes were concocted by basement-dwelling shitposters, you’d be correct.
Tracing the Origins of Soy Face
Like most meme investigations, discovering the genesis of Soy Face sent us digging through 4chan archives, where the internet’s best and brightest philosophers dwell.
On December 26th, 2017 an anonymous 4chan user speculated that open-mouthed smiles were a signal of submission and being "lower in the social ladder" according to “research on non-human primates.” Another user replied that the smile should be called a "cuckface" as a spin on the duckface facial expression.
Two days later, a thread titled "NuMale face epidemic" was submitted to 4chan's /pol/ board, which received nearly 300 replies, many of which included a montage of guys smiling with their mouths agape.
Since then, Soy Face has steadily trickled into reddit, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube under a variety of aliases: “Cuckface,” “Nu-Male Smile,” and “Soylent Grin.”
Is There a Connection Between Soy Face and Low Testosterone?
According to a 1997 article in Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, researchers found that men with smaller smiles tend to have higher levels of testosterone compared to men with large smiles. Additionally, people who analyzed portrait photographs gave higher “potency ratings” to smiling high testosterone men than smiling low testosterone men.
For the brain geniuses on 4chan, this was all the proof they needed to prove Soy Face was a real, physiological phenomenon that signaled emasculation.
However, this completely ignores the fact that Soy Face isn’t really a smile. Much like ahegao face, it’s an exaggerated facial gesture that’s done to provoke a reaction, usually on social media. Let’s also not forget that was an isolated study of 119 men done over two decades ago.
Look, we’re not out here to defend Soy Face. It’s bad. It’s weird. But if you’re going to roast someone for cheesing super hard with their Nintendo Switch, find an insult that didn’t descend from a pseudoscientific 4chan forum.