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Flapped Your Face Lately?

By Nathan T. Baker Oct. 11, 2006For Belmont Vision


ary and Zollie sit together on a hotel-like couch in Belmont’s student life center. Mary cups a camera in her hands.

“Let’s jowl, baby… Ready. Set. Jowl.”

Photo from Zollie Wilson

Zollie Wilson, above, says one of the secrets to a good jowl is making a sound during the act, which helps to ensure the looseness of the skin. He takes his face flapping seriously, which has produced some arguably absurd photos.

Mary lifts the black Canon 30D. She aims it at Zollie and stiffens her arms. Zollie looks dead into the lens. He relaxes his face and starts to shake his head violently from side to side, letting the skin around his mouth roam free.

As three bright flashes illuminate Zollie’s flapping face, he lets loose a ba-ba-bu-blabbbbullala sound. Each click of the camera freezes a split second of the movement.


Then it is over.

Mary and Zollie snap from their positions and huddle around the 2.5-inch camera screen. They laugh.

This is jowling. There are other terms: flap face or shaken face. A few people call it being ghost-punched.

Mary Michael, senior music business major from Lake Village, Ark., is a newcomer to the jowling circuit. Her friend Zollie showed her the ropes about a month ago.

Zollie Wilson, senior entrepreneurship major from Nashville, has posted three photos to Jowlers.com, a site dedicated to the activity. Two of his shots earned a “Top Jowler” distinction.

How do people justify passing the time by distorting their face?

Mary said she is not ashamed of practicing the hobby in public.

“They may be staring, but we are laughing,” Mary said. “It’s a stress reliever.”

And, she added, there’s another bonus: “Laughing is very healthy.”

“It takes a ballsy person to take these god-awful pictures of yourself. … I think everyone wants to see people look dumb and vulnerable sometimes.”

Renee Reyle

Jowling has at least a niche following, which spreads across international borders. On Flickr.com, a photo sharing website, there are around 1,000 photos of people’s faces. The appearance of cheeks and lips invoke Picasso. Sometimes “mug shot” or “drunkenness” can describe the look. Shots are tagged with keywords like “flapface" or “jowler.”

Whole Web sites, such as Shakeskin.com and Jowlers.com, are devoted to jowling.

More than 3,000 photos from over 50 countries have been uploaded to Jowlers.com since the site was launched less than two years ago, said Jowlers.com co-founder Patrick Moberg.

Renee Reyle, Belmont political science and Spanish major from Memphis, has seen the stunt, but she doesn’t actively participate.

“I’m so scared to see what they’ll turn out like,” Reyle said.

She remembers seeing a random picture someone took of her and thinking,

“Oh my God, that’s not me.”

“It takes a ballsy person to take these god-awful pictures of yourself. … I think everyone wants to see people look dumb and vulnerable sometimes.”

“It sort of brings some people down to earth,” Reyle said. “It evens the playing field.”

Regardless of the reasons, something may have clicked. Thousands of people visit Jowlers.com daily.

“There are two types of people: People who get jowling and people who don’t,” said Moberg, who attends Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Moberg and co-founder Bill Brown, of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., went to school together for a few years at Montgomery Bell Academy, a young men’s prep school just three miles from Belmont.

Both are now juniors in college. Since they hail from Music City, there is a concentration of photos submitted to Jowlers.com from Tennessee. Another leading state is New York, where Brown and Moberg have a group of friends loyal to the site, including Brown’s brother.


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“My brother came to me with the idea of making a site about ‘jowlers’ after a friend of his went on a skiing trip and ‘discovered’ jowling,” Brown said in an e-mail.

Moberg said not everyone agrees with their version of how jowling began. On their site, they preface “The history of the Jowler” with “(according to us anyway…).”

“It’s a hard thing to claim,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people had similar ideas.”

Reyle remembers peers taking similar photos at her high school in Memphis when digital cameras were becoming more affordable. She said people were beginning to experiment with the technology.

Photo by Zollie Wilson

Mary Michael, above
center, adds that for her, jowling is one way to relieve stress.

“It was like my senior year. It was the crazy art kids,” Reyle said.

During Brown’s senior year in high school, he visited Wake Forest University. At Wake Forest he was exposed to people involved in Internet ventures such as CollegeHumor.com, which is an entertainment-based Web site targeting the college crowd.

The Jowlers.com founders had similar aspirations and they were inspired to carry their ideas forward.

“We saw these guys doing big things with Web sites,” Moberg said,

“We were eager to get a project to start.”The pair had tried things before, like a Web site where people could submit photos of people flexing. The idea wasn’t strong enough to stick.

After the success of their jowling site, they started two additional sites. One sells stuffed robots and another sells wristbands, but neither has reached the popularity of their site dedicated to facial distortion.

Photo from Jowlers.com

Moberg said they have seen jowling spread from people linking to them online and by word of mouth. He said it’s common to see people introduce others to the activity at parties or get-togethers.

Brady Rittman, junior exercise science major from Hendersonville, Tenn., met some students from Western Kentucky University over Labor Day weekend.

“They just started taking pictures. They had done it before,” Rittman said.

He said they didn’t have a name for it. At Belmont, he showed some friends what he learned at a birthday party.

“Knowing their personalities, I knew they would find it hilarious,” Rittman said.

Award-winning jowler Zollie Wilson is among the amused. He said jokingly,

“You’re just born with the spirit of jowling.”

“It’s for the young at heart.”



This story first published for Belmont Vision, on Oct. 11, 2006. Republished with permission.



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