It took David Yi years to embrace the skin care routines his South Korean mother thrust upon him as a little kid.
There were the facials, which he hated, and the strict adherence to layers of thick and pasty-white high SPF products, which, combined with his natural widow’s peak, incurred the bullying of classmates, who called him a vampire. It only added to the aloneness Yi felt as an Asian American in his predominantly white Colorado Springs community. His parents immigrated to the Springs from South Korea in 1983.
And then there was his dad, who had no problem pampering himself with his wife’s cosmetics and products. It confused the young Yi. At home, self-care was nongendered, nonstigmatized and taken seriously, but outside the home, in the Western world, the notion of men paying attention to beauty was scorned.
“Self-care has nothing to with masculinity in the Eastern world,” said Yi, a Springs native. “It’s about empowerment. The Western world was judging me, and the Eastern world was teaching me something else. We need to balance both to become healthy individuals.”
His new book, “Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too),” explores the history of men and masculine-identifying people and their relationship to looks and beauty from the beginning of time to now.
“Beauty has never been gendered. People from all walks of life have empowered who they are through aesthetics,” said Yi. “Neanderthals used ground-up pyrite as a means of expression. Vikings were considered fierce warriors, but they were also obsessed with aesthetics. They had grooming kits, toothpicks, brushes for their beards and hair, tweezers — these were men obsessed with beauty.”
If you’ve been paying attention to pop culture, you’ll have noticed men and masculine-identifying folks are returning to their roots, and taking back the serums and eyeliner. They’re embracing gender-bending clothing (pop star Harry Styles), indulging their obsessions with acrylic nails (rapper Bad Bunny) and adorning their mugs with makeup and dying their hair in Kool-Aid colors (South Korean boy band BTS).
“This is the rise of Generation Z,” said Yi, a Palmer High School graduate. “They’re more open and born from the womb with an iPhone. Masculinity norms are changing. People see it isn’t just one note, but expansive and can be multiple things.”
Yi’s change of heart about coddling his skin and saying yes to beauty came after leaving Colorado for New York City, where he worked at Women’s Wear Daily, New York Daily News, Harper’s Bazaar and Mashable, and wrote for GQ, The Wall Street Journal, InStyle and Vogue, among others. (He moved back to the Springs a year ago.)
Working in the “cut-throat fashion industry,” he said, where he experienced racism and invisibility as an Asian, prompted him to return to his self-care roots as a form of self-preservation.
“It’s not a vanity thing. It’s coming to terms with who you are, and hugging your skin,” Yi said. “Poring over your pores is a way to become a more empowered human. It’s transformative. It’s more than skin care for me, it’s about the development of appreciating yourself. This is the only skin and body you have and you need to appreciate and love it.”
After leaving the trenches of fashion, Yi founded Very Good Light (online at verygoodlight.com) in 2016, an online skin care publication devoted to men’s beauty and grooming, particularly men of color and the LGBTQ community. And in March, he launched the gender-inclusive skin care brand Good Light (online at goodlight.world), with such products as Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion and We Come in Peace Probiotic Serum, all made in South Korea.
“I want to be as inclusive, loving and supportive as I can,” Yi said. “The tagline is beauty beyond the binary. Beauty is for everybody to empower themselves. We as a culture in 2021 are coming back to our nascent selves. Beauty is a conduit of change and a way to express ourselves and celebrate who you are. It makes you stronger and fiercer.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270