As the beauty industry welcomes in the era of inclusivity, men worldwide are redefining the standards of ‘male beauty’.
Last year, the beauty industry finally got the wake-up call it needed. Leading by example, pioneers like Fenty Beauty, CoverGirl and Illamasqua called time on gendered, racially-biased beauty standards, ushering in an age of inclusivity. We saw cosmetic giants diversify palettes to cater to over 40 skin tones, transgender models fronting major campaigns and male ambassadors stepping up to the makeup chair. This recent rejection of the one-size-fits-all approach to beauty is indicative of a wider cultural shift in values. In a long-overdue act of inclusion and acceptance, the world of beauty is becoming more representative of the real world. By arming everyone with the same tools for self-expression, our conversations on beauty can now be painted in broad, authentic strokes.
As the mainstream catches up and the beauty becomes more inclusive, there has been a steady emergence in ‘male beauty’ trends. Venturing beyond the grooming basics, men around the world are beautifying. This new generation is taking a stand against conservative visions of masculinity and reclaiming control over their own image; from the surge in male beauty salons in Pakistan to the brave, beautiful youths in Moscow who shade and contour. Reporting from Seoul, the “epicentre of beauty”, David Yi, Editor-in-Chief of the male beauty editorial ‘Very Good Light’, joins the conversation. We discuss the people, products, and movements that are championing diversity in the industry and ask, why platforms for male beauty are needed now more than ever.
DAVID YI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VERY GOOD LIGHT
It’s not being gender fluid – it’s being a better version of a man.
The men of South Korea are leading the beauty revolution; from the K-Pop heartthrobs of the big screen to the guy on the street. Taking up the tools once reserved for women, these men have joined the pursuit of perfection, spending more on skincare than anywhere else in the world. Yi explains, “today you won’t spot a guy in Seoul without perfect skin. He wears B.B. cream just as easily as he washes his face.”
In a country celebrated for its progressive beauty culture, wearing makeup “isn’t about being gender-fluid- it’s about being a better version of a man”. In a recent interview, SokoGlam’s co-owner David Cho explained that the male beauty obsession is endemic to the nation’s value system. In a competitive job market, appearance is power and youth equals ability. As Naomi Wolf once wrote, “beauty is a currency system like the gold standard” and in Korea, it’s big business.
Regardless of the motives behind the makeup, the importance of the male beauty movement lies at, its core. It is not just changing how we view beauty but, also how we view gender. It dares to defy the socially constructed male identity and explores new, liberated ways of being. Whilst the young men who step out with enviable skin and flawless makeup are still met by heckles and threats in conservative cultures, the next steps of big beauty brands are crucial. Playing to a captive audience, they can help to educate the public and set the stage for a global refusal of the beauty standards that have ignored individuals for too long.
Makeup and cosmetics are genderless, they have no sexuality. They are the tools we use to improve self-esteem and self-empowerment.
Blurring the lines between the genders, releases from brands like M.A.C, Milk MakeUp, and Charlotte Tilbury state that beauty is for all. This burgeoning unisex cosmetics market is a response to the younger generation’s disinterest in gender identification. Yi adds, “makeup and cosmetics are genderless, they have no sexuality. They are the tools we use to improve self-esteem and self-empowerment.” And, although it is making the headlines, men wearing makeup is nothing new. Modern culture is responsible for attaching the stigma to displays of masculine beauty, seeing it relegated to the LGBTQ+ community. But, Yi explains, “Historically, this wasn’t the case; men in 17th century Europe wore wigs and powdered their faces; Pharaohs in Egypt wore kohl around their eyes and Romans painted their faces with red blush.”
The world has changed; it’s no longer one note, there is no one definition of who a person is supposed to be.
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 hypermasculine ideals of their fathers. By going public, the men at the frontiers of the beauty movement add their voices to the wider outcry to break the cycle of toxic 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.”
As our understanding of gender undergoes a renaissance, men are free to transform themselves in new, exciting ways. Whether they choose to invest in the products they need to keep skin healthy or, opt for a full-face of makeup, the tools for reinvention are becoming readily available. Now that the choice is there, as a community, we now have a responsibility to lend our support and bring male beauty firmly into the mainstream.
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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.
Makeup by Andrea Fernández @andreafzstudio
Model, Stefano at Civiles
David Yi’s portrait by PJ Guerrero @pjam18