What Male K-Pop Idols Taught Me About Beauty
There’s more to it than just pretty boys and guyliner
Nobody’s ever said that your phone’s wallpaper is the window to your soul, but somebody really ought to put that thought out into the universe. Hear me out: we peer at our lockscreen through bleary eyes the moment we wake up, glance at it throughout the day. The faces or places or pictures we choose are the ones we deliberately wake up to and look at, which is why my wallpaper has featured an extensive rotation of Korean idols for as long as I can remember. I flaunt my phone backgrounds like a mother showing off a photo of her star student children, but it took an awfully long time to get to this point—operative word being awful. Just a few years ago, I would tuck my phone away in fear of anyone commenting on the boys who sported bright hair colors and—I cringe at the term—guyliner on my screen.
Despite the popularity of all Korean everything, we still hear side-comments about how male K-Pop idols wear makeup or “look like women.” God knows we fans have heard every version of that quip. In 2009, I heard it from my parents when SHINee was promoting Ring Ding Dong and I had a fan-taken image of Key—immaculate bone structure, dyed asymmetrical bowl cut and all—set as my background. I heard it from high school classmates when Taemin had hair extensions cascading down his shoulders for Sherlock. I heard it when SHINee went full-on horror kitsch for Married to the Music, but I don’t remember who I heard it from anymore. By that point, I’d stopped listening.
These days? I’m too caught up picking my jaw up off the ground at the sight of E’Dawn’s saturated blush or imitating S.Coups’ tint-smeared lips and Taeyong’s golden hairpin masterpiece. Now that I think about it, iterations of all these have made their way to my roster of go-to looks.
Male K-Pop idols have long been reinventing norms in both the realms of beauty and gender. Through pristine skin, painted lips and ever-changing hairstyles, they introduce the world to another definition of masculinity: one that isn’t fragile as glass and precariously see-saws on the possibility liking sheet masks and using BB cream in the morning. The best thing about all of this? Despite the slow pickup from the traditional and macho-men-only schools of thought, change is undoubtedly afoot. Most Korean men aren’t makeup averse and make it a point to invest in their skincare. As early as 2012, they made up 20% of the men’s cosmetics market worldwide. The youth all across the globe care less about gender-based demarcations. There’s a growing interest in content about grooming and men’s skincare, something we see first-hand as content creators. While we may not be at the point where a straight man can purchase brow pencils without rousing any suspicion or warranting questioning looks, call it progress.
Male K-Pop idols are the ringleaders of a brave circus. But really, none of this should even be revolutionary. Men and women should be granted the same access to ground zero, where they can choose to love or hate skincare and makeup without their gender playing in as a factor.
Who dictated that makeup should be a hands-off commodity for men anyway? I ought to show them a music video or two.
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Art Alexandra Lara