American girls like Korean men

The heyday of the "Flower Boys"

Culture & Society

by Vanessa Hinz, 05/13/2019

A typical "Flower Boy" with an impeccably youthful appearance (Photo: Lee Nam-soo (@ lucluck94_Instagram))

The fact that only women are allowed to wear make-up has long been refuted using the example of the internationally acclaimed K-Pop idols. However, this trend has so far been limited to the area of ​​show business. In parallel to the "getting out of the corset" movement initiated by women, the number of men in Korea who do not want to use the typical cliché of the cool, tough man, but also show that the image of a "flower boy" ( 꽃미남 / Konminam), a man with soft, beautiful features and a gentle nature is more attractive than one might initially assume.

Men who pay more attention to their appearance are no longer uncommon in Korea, especially in the trendy neighborhoods of big cities. Nourishing cosmetics, BB cream [1] and eyebrow pencil are part of the whole. Others go even further with eyeshadow and liptint [2]. The image of the cool macho has had its day. Interestingly, the ideal of the tender, perfect man, borrowed from the model of Japanese manga, already existed in ancient Korea. Looking at the time between the 1st century BC. and the 7th century AD. it becomes clear that today's phenomenon is nothing new. Under the name "Hwarang", which is composed of the Chinese characters for flower 花 and young man 郞, the men of the military units in the Silla period were known, who were trained in philosophy, instrumental music, singing or other aesthetic areas. Since they were influenced by shamanism, among other things, they occasionally also wore make-up. Even then, the men in these military units were known and adored for their young, soft, and flawless appearance.

This phenomenon then reappeared in the late 1990s. It is assumed that as a result of the financial crisis of 1997 and the layoffs pronounced primarily against female workers, men were sought as (spouses) partners who were more similar to the female nature and therefore more on an equal footing. Since then there has been some pressure on men to conform to the wishes of women. The time of the so-called "Flower Boys" had come. According to another theory, the Japanese manga mentioned earlier also had a considerable influence on this tendency. Here, the main male characters with soft features and an understanding, affectionate nature reflected the dream of many young girls. Above all, K-pop groups and actors in many TV dramas promoted the ideal of the "Flower Boy". Men in show business are especially adored by young girls - the implications for the rest of the male population are obvious.

“In Korea, I was constantly admired for my full and expressive eyebrows. Women told me that it made me look very manly. I think this view has fueled men's desire for fuller eyebrows. Many have their eyebrows tattooed or put on make-up. Almost all of my male friends have had their eyebrows raised at some point. I think Korean women were influenced by the looks of the K-pop idols and transferred these ideals to their dream men, ”says a man who prefers to remain anonymous.

Advertising for make-up and cosmetic products at a drugstore (Photo: Jan Angelmahr)

In addition, almost every cosmetics store advertises its make-up and care products with large portraits of popular idols. Their flawless faces suggest other men to do the same. The show "Lipstick Prince", which has been broadcast on Korean television since December 1, 2016, even shows male idols who are supposed to learn the common make-up techniques and use them on mannequins or star guests. The showmakers hope that this program will dispel the stereotype that make-up is only for women.

“Men use cosmetic products for the same reasons as women. Above all, they want to boost their self-confidence. It is generally considered attractive to take care of your appearance, ”says the man who should know. Many make-up brands have reacted to this trend by increasing their cosmetic lines for men. The Erborian brand offers both skin care and cosmetic products. Laneige, The Face Shop and Tonymoly follow suit. The South Korean makeup industry is now valued at over $ 10 billion. Care products for men account for 10% of the total. [3] In a global comparison, Korean men spend the most money on good looks. Especially those born after 2000 go to the hairdresser or cosmetics more regularly than the generations before them did. Everything has to be perfectly coordinated. Hair, outfit, flawless young skin. A perm (파마 / ​​pama) rounds off the whole thing, which is only supposed to give the hair volume and shape and has nothing in common with the old-fashioned poodle hairstyle.

In general, men's trends are similar to women's trends. Pastel colors are worn, fabrics and patterns mixed and outfits combined with handbags. Jewelry shouldn't be missing either. Of course there are enough men in America who pay special attention to their appearance and apply make-up. The difference to South Korea, however, is that there is usually still a certain drag queen look aimed at and attention is to be drawn particularly to the make-up. Koreans, on the other hand, tend to describe their make-up as light and genderless and do not associate it with their sexuality. “I only sometimes apply BB cream to hide reddened areas on my face or my beard shadow. It shouldn't look like I'm wearing make-up, but simply freshen up and smooth my face, of course, ”explains my interlocutor.

The appearance of great K-Pop idols is emulated to perfection (Photo: www.korea.net)

There are still misunderstandings. Often the appearance of the K-Pop idols or the “Flower Boys” is referred to as “feminine”, which of course implies that they are less masculine. But that's not how they see themselves. “Soft Masculinity” means that they favor a different type of masculinity due to their perfect, soft image.
The idea that “toxic masculinity” and thus rough and macho men are considered masculine and attractive should be overcome.
To the delight of many women, by the way.

The downside of it all, however, is that the compulsion to conform to a certain ideal of beauty increases the pressure on men. Those who do not fit into the picture are in a worse position than many others. The first impression counts and can be of great importance even in professional life. A bitter reality made up of beauty rules that have been in effect for women for a long time.
My interviewee explains: “I was always under pressure because my relatives felt that I was not handsome. Plastic surgery or diets have been recommended to me on several occasions. The fact is that Korea is still a society that pays great attention to external appearance. Even the photo enclosed with a job application can determine whether or not you will be hired. "

Unfortunately, these social expectations also lead to dissatisfaction among many South Koreans, which can no longer be concealed with make-up. In order to be able to copy the appearance of the K-Pop idols, not only armies of women, but also more and more men undergo an operation. About 40% of cosmetic surgeries performed are performed on men. So whether men develop into “Flower Boys” out of inner conviction or rather succumb to social compulsion cannot be said with certainty.

[1] A face cream that combines the properties of a day care product with the benefits of a foundation.
[2] A type of tinted lip balm
[3] LONDON RUNWAY. https://londonrunway.co.uk/2019/02/13/gendered-beauty-how-south-korea-is-challenging-our-perception-of-male-beauty-standards/ (Febr. 2019)

Photo: Seo Myeongji

has been studying Korean studies at the Free University of Berlin since 2016. She is particularly interested in Korean fashion.