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It isn’t about being gender-fluid. It’s about being a better version of a man.David Yi
As feminist author and journalist Naomi Wolf once wrote, “beauty is a currency system like the gold standard”, and in Korea, it is big business. “Today you won’t spot a guy in Seoul without perfect skin,” remarks David Yi, editor-in-chief of male-centric beauty journal Very Good Light. “He wears B.B. cream just as easily as he washes his face.” Speaking to the unspoken gender implications of hetero male vanity, Yi explains, “it isn’t about being gender-fluid. It’s about being a better version of a man.” Similarly, for SokoGlam’s co-owner David Cho, he explains that the Korean male beauty obsession is endemic to a nation’s value system. In a competitive job market, appearance is power and youth equals ability.
Today, the bold new face of male perfection is influencing a whole generation of young men around the world. Where the 80s and 90s projected an ‘all-man’ imagining of masculinity, today’s era has ushered in a new male adonis . The khonminam, or ‘flower boy’ whose soft, gentle facial features slope in elegant, contoured lines, is an archetype that has risen in popularity. His delicate features paired with a chiseled athletic physique communicate a “hybrid or versatile masculinity- both soft yet manly at the same time”, says Dr Sun Jung, the author of Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption.
It may be tempting to associate the rise of male beauty trends with the LGBTQ movement and the dissolution of gender norms. However, to this point, Yi remarks “makeup and cosmetics are genderless, they have no sexuality.” Historically, the use of makeup served a more socio-cultural purpose, indicating status and social standing. “Men in 17th century Europe wore wigs and powdered their faces; Pharaohs in Egypt wore kohl around their eyes and the Romans painted their faces with red blush,” observes Yi. “They are the tools we use to improve self-esteem and self-empowerment.”
In a return to a more expressive vision of manhood, communities of young men worldwide are connecting through Youtube and social media to rally against the stoic hyper-masculine ideals of their fathers. By going public, the men at the forefront of the beauty movement continue to lend their voices to a wider outcry to break free of toxic perceptions of masculinity. Yi adds, “generationally, this suppression has had real repercussions. It’s important to make room for men and allow them to be who they want to be, which is why we need beauty now more than ever.”
Based in Seoul, South Korea, David Yi is the founder and editor-in-chief of men’s grooming and beauty destination Very Good Light. Launching the site after 10 years as a writer and editor in New York, he uses this platform, as well as his Instagram, to redefine masculinity and men’s beauty standards.
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