K-pop’s biggest male stars may be beauty gods but they’re hardly a new trend. While Korean pop stars may wear porcelain foundations, colorful eyeshadows, and blood-stained lips, there were men who walked — and worked — the earth centuries before. They were called the hwarang – literally “flower boys” aka “pretty boys” of Korea’s Silla dynasty – who sported crimson eye shadows, powdered faces, and slicked-back hair as a spiritual practice. These warriors were chosen for their beauty, as Silla’s king, Jinheung, believed beauty was power. In the excerpt below, we understand Korea’s rich history of beautiful men and how cosmetics, makeup, skincare isn’t a new phenomenon — beauty is literally embedded in the very culture. Here’s a history of the pretty boy warriors who were precursors for K-pop stars to thrive in our modern era.
South Korea is now known as the beauty capital of the universe, and its men hold the title of world’s biggest cosmetics consumers. Korean men glisten and glow, their complexions plumped and hydrated, as if serums pump through their very veins. But to understand why Korean men today care so much about their aesthetics, we must look to Korea’s sixth-century Silla Dynasty, and to the hwarang. The hwarang—which roughly translates to “flower boys”—weren’t only some of the fiercest weapons-wielding, martial arts–practicing assassins in Asia. They would become legendary for their fight and their faces. Aesthetics, and the spirituality behind beautifying, were paramount to their ability to defend their kingdom for over two centuries . . . and to lead the way for generations of Korean beauty boys to come.
There’s an entire month out of the year where East Asian men are forced to confront their own Asianness.
It’s a month called November — that is, 30 days out of the year where men are encouraged to grow out their facial hair for a good cause. How they’re related, we don’t really know; there’s “No Shave November”, which encourages men to grow hair for American Cancer Society. Then there’s “Movember”, an organization started in Australia, which promotes prostate cancer awareness.
We came to this country seeking the American Dream.
Our parents saw this Golden Mountain as a symbol of the future and what it could provide. So they vowed to leave everything behind, their native tongues, their childhood memories, the friends that knew their every secrets, their favorite weekend cafes, early morning dance halls and sleepy beach hideaways for a promise of a better life.