David Yi was working as a writer at Mashable, covering the realm of fashion and beauty, when he started to feel restless.
The 29-year-old was growing dismayed by the lack of discourse in the media about men’s beauty. As his months as a reporter went on, he soon noticed that his pieces on male grooming seemed to generate the most buzz; his stories on topics including runway hairstyles at New York Fashion Week: Men’s and a man who transformed his face using makeup garnered thousands of shares and comments. Yi, who has always been passionate about such topics, was keen to foster a dialogue on his own terms — thus his men’s beauty blog, Very Good Light, was born.
Yi is part of a growing movement of men’s beauty influencers who, along with brands seeking to tap an emerging market of male consumers, are aiming to normalize men experimenting in beauty practices oft relegated to women. Today, discussions about grooming and skincare that were formerly carried on in anonymous chat rooms — or never talked about at all — are not just readily accessible, but they’re also embraced on blogs, YouTube channels and even major marketing campaigns.
The male beauty movement finds it voice
Historically, men have worn makeup since the early days of civilization — Yi called out the dark eyeliner of Egyptian pharaohs and the stained nails of ancient Asian royalty. More recently, it became commonly known that major Western pop-culture icons like Johnny Depp and punk-rock bands like Kiss and Green Day wore makeup. Even so, men wearing makeup has, for the most part, remained largely stigmatized in the U.S.
With this in mind, Yi left Mashable in September 2016 to focus full-time on Very Good Light, which operates under the tagline “Redefining men’s beauty.” With the help of a small team of writers, Yi publishes an array of content from how-to guides to topical news pieces, all focused on reducing the stigma of male interest in beauty and grooming.
“It came from this idea that we can really change people’s perspectives when it comes to men and beauty,” he said. “I felt there was a market out there for guys like me who don’t consider themselves to be hyper-masculine. I began to wonder, ‘How do I fit into society? Am I an outlier?’”
As it turns out. Yi is not an outlier at all. A quick search on Instagram yields a barrage of male beauty influencers, decked out in full faces of blush and eyeshadow, with devoted fans and followings. Their accompanying YouTube channels, filled with makeup and product tutorials, also have rabid audiences of men and women alike tuning in to see their fresh perspectives on cosmetics.
Yi attributes both his own beauty proclivities and the Western world’s growing interest in men’s beauty to Korean beauty. Born to Korean parents, Yi has long used Korean facial masks, and said that the increased visibility of Korean pop stars who are known for their supple skin, as well as their use of concealer and foundation, helped advance the movement in the States.
Even Snapchat is joining in on the conversation. Just last week, it launched a Discover channel titled “Boy Beauty” that featured men talking about their skincare routines, including the face wash and under-eye concealer they use. Publishers like Esquire have also taken to the platform to share grooming tips — the publication’s Snapchat takeover in December featured men sharing shaving and skincare suggestions.
Images from Snapchat’s “Boy Beauty” Discover channel.
Bruce Sturgell, founder of the plus-sized fashion blog Chubstr, said he has noticed an influx of questions from readers regarding grooming over the past couple of years. He said that the increased interest goes in tandem with the growing acceptance of plus-sized fashion — for both men and women — and a growing culture of inclusivity.
“When I started [my blog] in 2010 and 2011, I wasn’t hearing a lot from people who were interested in getting a facial or learning more about what specific pomade would work for their hair type,” he said. “Now, a lot of these guys are trying to create a specific look. It’s become more acceptable for men to enjoy that.”
The double-edged sword of inclusivity
It isn’t just blogs and men’s publications the are receiving such inquiries — brands are, as well. Chris Salgardo, president of Kiehl’s, told The New York Times that he, too, has received an increased number of men’s beauty queries. “Over the past year and a half, there’s been a growing conversation in our stores and on my own social media, as men reach out with questions beyond basic skincare or shaving to learn more about anti-aging and ingredients.”
In October 2016, as a result of the proliferation of the men’s beauty movement, CoverGirl announced that it had selected its first cover boy, 17-year-old James Charles, who was brought onboard to promote the brand’s new mascara. This came a few months after L’Oreal selected Lewis Hamilton to rep their new Men Expert line. Earlier this month, Maybelline tapped Manny Gutierrez to sign on as a brand ambassador.
Smaller brands like cult favorite Glossier are also giving a nod to men’s beauty: It named its popular brow pomade Boy Brow and is reportedly in talks to trademark the term “boysturizer.” Though the company declined to comment on the pending trademark and if this might translate to a new men’s line, Brittany Rica, public relations manager at Glossier, said she has noticed several men tagging Glossier on Instagram in images of their favorite products.
“Our mission is to celebrate beauty in real life, and although we haven’t necessarily developed a line specifically for men, we see men using our products often and will continue to listen to all of our customers in our product development process,” she said.
A male Glossier fan on Instagram.
Yi himself is a self-proclaimed Glossier fan, as are many of his male friends, but said his peers wish it was a little less targeted to women, with its “Glossier pink” designs. He said that for Glossier, and the rest of the beauty industry, male cosmetics and grooming remain a largely untapped market.
“When I think about these traditional women’s makeup brands, I think it’s a smart business decision to also target men, because they’re also using the products,” he said. “For men, especially in modern day society, it’s still a new concept to wear makeup, to want to take care of your skin and to adhere to a skincare regimen.”
Kelvin Davis, founder of the men’s style site Notoriously Dapper, said he views the men’s beauty movement as a form of “ungendering” and pushing toward a more gender-inclusive society. However, when it comes to successfully targeting men, he said big brands like L’Oreal and CoverGirl risk authenticity by jumping on the bandwagon of bringing on male beauty ambassadors just to make a media splash.
“It’s like a catch 22: There are marketing people who are saying, ‘This is going to get us a lot of attention,’ but they don’t care enough about the people who are wearing the makeup,” he said.
Yi echoed Davis, and said that while he views increased visibility of men wearing makeup as a progressive step forward, it can also appear to consumers like a ploy to tout a mirage of inclusivity. He noted brands like Milk Makeup that have repeatedly used men in their marketing without making major announcements to attract attention.
“We see through inauthenticity, and it’s all about being authentic and seeing if a brand really cares,” Yi said. “I do think [using male ambassadors is] trendy right now. It’s super trendy for these national, huge retailers to get onto the huge bandwagon, and it’s because they’re seeing the rise of these beauty boys on YouTube.”