Imagine if I were wearing make-up while shooting this video! I have blusher, eyeliner as well as lipstick applied on my face. Many of you would wonder what I am up to as this is something extremely strange! Many of you would even make fun of me. But things in South Korea are very different. Consider these photos of the members of BTS, If you’re not aware of BTS, it is a boy band in South Korea And it is arguably the most popular boy band in the world.
In these photos, the BTS members are wearing makeup If in India, a guy wears makeup, what would people say? Oh, he is gay. First, being gay is not a cuss word. Some people are gay, some are not. There is no problem in that. Second, not all makeup-wearing men are gay. A 29-year-old Canadian YouTube celebrity in South Korea, “Happy”, was asked the same question Did he think he was gay for wearing makeup?
He said that after shaping his eyebrows and putting on makeup, he got a lot more attention from girls 16-year-old South Korean YouTuber Kim Seung-hwan, was asked the same question during an interview by BBC When he was asked about whether he thought he looked girly after he put on makeup, he was almost confused by the question.
He said- “I do not think about this being a girly look.” He also added that people wear makeup because they want to look good. He adds that “I feel much more confident when I put on makeup”. And Kim Seung isn’t the only man in South Korea wearing makeup. If you’ll YouTube search – ‘Korean men make-up tutorial’, you would find a lot of channels that talk about it. Talking about the beauty industry of South Korea, there are some mind-blowing facts. For example, according to the Global Data 2018 report, around 75 percent of South Korean men have a beauty treatment done at least once a week, like going to the salon or doing facial at home.
In fact, in Seoul, many men don’t even consider BB (beauty balm) cream as makeup And if you think about it, maybe that is okay. I am sure a few years ago, men who wore hair gel were made fun of. And now a lot of us use hair gel. So, have Korean men always worn make-up? No! In this video, we will examine what led to this shift in Korean society due to which Korean men are wearing makeup? And what can the Indian society learn from it- especially about masculinity.
Now one thing that we’d discuss later in the video is that one factor that led to Korean men wearing make-up was that those men wanted to differentiate themselves in the tough job market. Hence, they tried adopting hard skills like doing courses or taking English language classes and indulging in other things like wearing make-up to improve their physical appearance.
So has Korean society been accepting of men wearing makeup, for a long? No! Let us talk about K-pop star Yang Joon-il, a Korean-American singer who performed in South Korea in the early 1990s Fans believed that he had glowing skin, looked beautiful, and was an ideal K-pop star. But unlike today, when his looks are considered acceptable, in 1991, this display of beauty was considered offensive. Some even threw food at him. “He was hated by many for his unusual looks and songs,” says an article by The Korea Times.
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Yang believes that his look was so controversial, that the Korean government refused to renew his visa. Eventually, his career faded away. Some people opine that the reason why Yang Joon-il was unsuccessful was that he was ahead of his time. In the 1990s, suits, luxury watches, and a traditional strong male look were the ideal characteristics of men in South Korean society.
Dr. Sun Jung, a researcher on Korean society says, In the 80s and 90s, men in K-pop content were largely given a tough guy image such as a gangster or a detective. But all that changed in the mid-1990s, when K-pop’s first-ever band group – “Seo Taiji and The Boys” gained popularity.
I know my pronunciation isn’t very accurate. So please forgive me The group got banned from telecasts because they criticized the Korean education system but their uniqueness made them very popular among fans. Similarly, H.O.T., another band in Korea, had a similar impact on Korean society Basically, these two groups played a major role in changing the “male image” in Korean society Following the popularity of K-pop groups, several mega entertainment companies entered the industry that introduced several boy bands.
Bands like NCT 127, Pentagon, The Boyz, and TXT. They all changed the male image. The makeup artist for Pentagon says- “There’s no difference between guys’ and girls’ makeup looks” Except for maybe using less vibrant colors for boys. Several entertainment companies invested a huge sum of money to introduce new boybands. And K-pop bands such as BTS, EXO, Blackpink, MONSTA X, and Red Velvet have received phenomenal success not only in Korea but globally as well. There are no reliable statistics to account for the KPop fans all across the world, The Korea Foundation (affiliated to Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs) – estimated the number of fans of Korean pop culture, in general, to be around 9 crores across 113 countries.
There are massive K-Pop fans even in India! So inspired by these boy bands, many South Korean men began to wear make-up and began to portray soft masculinity. Now, you may wonder what do we mean by soft masculinity? Soft masculinity is masculinity that is different from the hard, toxic masculinity that we are used to. Hard masculinity represents men that are tough looking, muscular, and do not portray emotions.
Soft masculinity is completely opposite to this. And such men are known as Khonminam or Flowerboys in Korean – which comes from combining the words for flower and a beautiful man. M Han Hyun-Jae, a senior makeup artist says that men come in wanting to look like their favorite K-pop idols. Kim says that is is normal for men to wear makeup today.
“Today, beauty is a requirement for Korean men.” At the same time, K-pop is not the only reason why Korean men are wearing make-up. There are two other theories pertaining to this change. The first theory suggests that it has become more difficult for men in Korea to get a job. James Turnbull, a writer, and lecturer based in the South Korean city of Busan say that in this cut-throat job environment, young men need to look for different ways to improve their profile. They do this by securing extra degrees, courses, internships, English-language qualifications or by improving their looks. and the beauty industry has been quick to exploit this need to sell more makeup products.
The second theory suggests that this change in Korean society was not driven by men alone It was also driven by women as they were demanding for such men. This 2010 study shows that due to the 1997 Asian financial crisis, unemployment across South Korea rose. Figures show that especially women were more affected by this unemployment Resentment over this economic inequality, as well as the rise of literature and film in Korean society that questioned traditional gender roles, As a result, several women were seeking out male figures portraying softer masculinity.
Now, these theories could explain the adoption of makeup by men in Korean society As for the ground reality of Korean girls and boys in Korean society, Has that changed any bit because of this? Are many boys now portraying soft masculinity? Surprisingly, the answer is no! In fact, Korean society is still quite patriarchal i.e. male-dominated. A 2015 government survey found that around 80% of respondents reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.
World Economic Forum 2021 rankings rank South Korea 102nd out of 156 countries in gender equality. In fact, South Korean men earn 60 percent more than women, according to the Gender ministry of South Korea In 2021, talking about the 2,246 stock market-listed companies in South Korea, only 5.2% of all corporate executives in these companies were women.
While on one hand, K-Pop is promoting soft masculinity, Kpop is reinforcing gender stereotypes on the other hand Sexual objectification is very common in K-Pop girl bands Just like in Hindi songs, we can witness such sexual objectification in the lyrics and the videos of songs For example, “Touch My Body” song by Sistar. In fact, research suggests that consumption of K-pop may make you create more patriarchal attitudes Which tells how difficult it is to change such patriarchal attitudes Despite the lack of progress in gender equality in South Korea, there is a lot that other countries can learn about masculinity from South Korea If we talk about China, recently a notice was issued from China’s education ministry It suggested young Chinese men had become too “feminine”.
The Chinese government said that the country’s most popular male role models are no longer strong, athletic figures like “army heroes”. A similar “perfect male” image also exists in Indian society which is often referred to as toxic masculinity Rajeev Bhargava, Professor of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies explains that the model of manhood in India necessarily includes aggression A ‘real’ man is quick to take up a fight. If he does not, he is told to wear bangles on his wrist. Second, men must be muscular and unemotional;
For instance, research revealed that about 93% of men agreed with the statement that ‘to be a man, you need to be tough’. Third, men do not need to consult others. They take independent decisions that require no questioning. As famously put by Amitabh Bachchan in one of his films, ‘Keh Diya na…Bas… Keh Diya (Enough, I have said so).’
The impacts of this toxic masculinity can be clearly witnessed every day in India For instance, last year, a 16-year-old girl from Gujarat has beaten mercilessly as allegedly, she had dared to elope with a boy which, according to the villagers, brought shame upon the village. So, how to fix this problem in India? There are three solutions to this- First, young boys should be taught right from the start that there is not much of a difference between boys and girls in society For that our education can play a very important role.
Second – Increasing Public awareness through media For this, songs and movies that objectify women need to be changed Third- Creating safe spaces in our society for young men to share their problems Rohini Nilekani, an author and a philanthropist says, that such platforms are essential where young boys can talk about their fears, their doubts, and their insecurities And we may not understand its importance, but it is very necessary I was just discussing with a friend that it’s weird that men never discuss anything emotional with each other Such as what their insecurities are.