Six years ago, I watched toxic masculinity in all its glory: I walked into a pungent, ill-decorated college dorm room to find one of my guy friends being mentally shredded to pieces by his cis-gendered male peers. The reason? He was caught with a stick of concealer.
“Dude, are you gay? Yo dude, he’s like, totally queer.”
First, he was not, and still does not identify as anything other than straight. Second, even if he was, using someone’s sexuality as a joke in any scenario is a vile act. Plus, in what world does a complexion corrector equate to someone’s sexuality?
Still, their criticism sunk so deep into my friend’s psyche that he immediately tossed his Revlon concealer before walking out of the room, face beet-red. That one instance left a question burning in my mind for years to come: What is so wrong about a man wearing makeup? Shouldn’t the “taboo” nature of men applying a few dabs of concealer to cover their blemishes be not just acceptable, but totally normal, at this point?
This is where men like David Yi, founder of men’s beauty and wellness site Very Good Light, comes in. The same feeling of disappointment in mainstream society’s backwards, shameful perspective of men indulging in face creams and masks is what led him to create his powerhouse brand.
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“Very Good Light, and many men in the media, are working to redefine masculinity,” Yi says. “We’re all working together to promote the idea that not only is self-care and beauty okay, but it should be a part of everyday life for everyone. It’s empowering; beauty will change your life—I guarantee it.”
From in-depth looks at Frank Ocean’s Met Gala skincare routine to an op-ed on police officers’ affinity to mustaches over beards, Very Good Light is far from the average, “females-only” beauty publication. Yi’s take on the beauty industry tip-toes on the line of genderless, while still teaching men how to care for themselves without flooding how-to’s and product reviews with the overly-machismo feel that other men’s publications tend to fall into. Rather, Yi wants to empower all people—LGBTQ+, straight, and everyone in-between—through the solace of exploring one’s self through acts of skincare, hair care, and emotional exploration.
Below, we talk to Yi about the highs and lows of the beauty industry, the future of men’s makeup, and more.
Why did you decide to create Very Good Light?
“I was working on the style side of Mashable, and I felt like there wasn’t a destination for guys like me to learn more about beauty and grooming. Back then, it was a very heteronormative landscape, and many men were afraid to talk about subjects other than grooming their beards. I thought that was ridiculous, because guys should be able to openly talk about skincare and beauty. There are so many great resources and publications for women to educate themselves on beauty, but there wasn’t anything necessarily catered to men. From message to packaging, it seemed a little isolated, so I decided to create my own website. It was all about redefining masculinity and creating an inclusive space for all types of guys to feel comfortable in who they are from the inside out.”
One overlooked aspect of toxic masculinity is how men find self-care and beauty to be too “feminine.” How can we work to change that?
“One easy way to talk to more men about beauty is to reference history. If you look back in time, some of the most powerful men in the world used makeup;it was never gendered. During the ancient Egyptian times, kohl eyeliner was used by men and women as a symbol of royalty. There were 6th Century Korean warriors called Hwarang, or “Flower Knights,” who were chosen for their beauty and used makeup. We saw warriors in blush, makeup, and even with their fingernails groomed before battle. There’s a disconnect between history and modern makeup for men, and it’s interesting because makeup has always been tied to powerful men and their aesthetic. It was never meant to be gendered from a historical standpoint. To be truly masculine is to be confident in who you are, and sometimes that means using makeup to express yourself. I don’t think makeup makes you less than a man in any way—if anything, it creates confidence and allows you to be who you are.”
What’s the one biggest misconceptions you hear from people about men and beauty?
“That it makes men less masculine, or that they’re weak by using beauty products and taking care of themselves. Somehow, people have tied taking care of yourself to becoming less of a guy, and I don’t think that’s true at all. It’s an old testament that men have unfortunately adopted, but taking time for self-care is empowering. It’s the number one thing you can do to make your day more positive and be more successful in life. It helps you realign with yourself spiritually, and it helps you adjust your mentality and emotional state. I think beauty and self-care allow you to become your most powerful self.”
Self-care definitely has therapeutic benefits, but another problem I’ve noticed is how certain cultures view self-care. I’m Hispanic, and a lot of men within my heritage have this lingering machismo mindset—they feel like they need to be stoic and tough at all times.
“I think that we have to do what we did with fashion back in 2012 to really break down the stigma. Kanye West wore a leather kilt [at Coachella], and that trickled down to other men in hip-hop, encouraging them too break out of the gendered sphere of fashion. That seeped into athletes, and then mainstream society as a whole. Now, it’s not only okay to be into high-fashion and style, but it’s expected. To me, fashion is self-expression, but beauty and grooming is self respect. If you respect who you are as a man, you respect your body. When you’re taking care of your skin and hair, you’re showing others how you respect yourself.”
One surprisingly groundbreaking moment for men was when Frank Ocean opened up about his skincare routine to GQ. Who are some other men you applaud for breaking down the stigma?
“I think we really need to applaud guys like Ezra Miller who are bold with their beauty choices not just on the red carpet, but everywhere they go. Also, men like Troye Sivan and Harry Styles, who show that men can be themselves, while also being fierce. Even wearing nail polish on the red carpet is such a move in the right direction. Then there are guys like Jaden Smith—he takes a lot of risks with beauty, he changes up his hair color constantly (he even used his own hair as an accessory), and he’s expressive with his style. We also need to look at K-Pop stars, especially the guys—they have really revolutionized the landscape by adopting beauty so well into their regimen. They really have fun with eyeshadow, dewy skin, flawless complexions, the list doesn’t end. I think K-Pop is a prime example of what men can look like if they infuse more beauty into their appearance.”
Social media has definitely opened the conversation for men, in terms of beauty.
“It’s really interesting that you bring that up, because I feel like men aren’t going to outright write reviews about products. I think it’s more of a discreet thing for men. It’s changing, but I feel like 2019 men are silently Googling how to wash your face and use pomade correctly. They’re not going to be social about it, but I think that we are slowly allowing men to speak openly about beauty. “Relatively, I think that men need permission to be themselves. Men needed permission in 2012 to be into style. Before that, liking Chanel and being front row at a fashion show was either perceived as reserved for women or homosexual guys. But now, that idea is completely gone; there are guys dressed head-to-toe in Chanel, many of them even wearing Chanel bags. Now, those guys feel like they need permission to dabble into beauty, and thanks to guys like Harry Styles and Jaden Smith, beauty is slowly becoming a norm for men.”
The era of the hype-beast is also a major influence on men when it comes to style. Men are so into the next Supreme or Yeezy drop. Maybe that’ll seep into beauty soon.
“You can rock the latest drop, but money can’t buy you your appearance. Money can’t buy you a dewy, clear complexion. Sure, you can get cosmetic surgery, but you also need to put in the effort to get a great complexion. You can have all the money in the world, but you can’t buy a healthy glow.”
Where do you see the beauty industry going for men?
“I think the beauty industry for men is going towards more color cosmetics. Right now, we’re seeing brands like Tom Ford and Boy de Chanel dabble with this, and they’re also introducing foundations to the men’s landscape. Many of these brands have very limited, six-shade ranges, but I think they’re just testing the market right now. I think men are ready for this, especially in eastern cities like Seoul. Men are just as hungry for beauty as women are, and I think that mindset is coming over to the States. I don’t think skincare is the end-all-be-all; there is a want for more color cosmetics.”
How has beauty personally impacted you?
“I think that it’s allowed me to become more confident, and it’s allowed me to understand my own identity. That practice of self-care in the morning, and before the day ends, are two essential moments in my day for self-reflection. In the morning, it helps me get ready and gear up my mind for the day; at night, it allows me to reflect on who I am. Beauty has been really transformative for me; it’s not just about what you look like, but also the confidence that lets you shine from the inside out. That’s what really attracts me to beauty. It’s a meditative process where you can fill yourself with power and really be your best self, and it allows you to share your best life with the rest of the world.”
Personally, I’m much more into beauty than fashion. You feel accomplished after you finish your skincare or makeup routine, it feels like you actually did something.
“Exactly! Also, fashion is so exclusive to size and money. You may not be able to afford the dress Rihanna wore on the red carpet, but you can afford the makeup she used. You can buy into luxury at a fraction of the cost—a designer fragrance retails for about $90, which is a much better bargain than the $9,000 dress. It’s more accessible, and it’s available to all different sizes and backgrounds. Everyone can benefit from beauty, and that’s why I believe it’s so powerful. Its, overall, an inclusive outlet.”
What does your beauty routine look like?
“Right now, I’m definitely trying to be more minimal with my skincare. I used to prescribe to 10-step routines, but now it’s more like five. I really love double cleansing, so I use the Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm and a foaming cleanser. Then, I’ll use a toner—my favorite is Pixi’s Glow Tonic because of the glycolic acid in it. After, I’ll try my best to be minimal and just grab an essence—I’m currently using the one from AmorePACIFIC. Then, if it’s the morning, I’ll use the Elta MD sunscreen; if it’s nighttime, I’ll use a cream. The night cream I use now is from Augustinus Bader; everyone’s been raving about it and it’s truly amazing. It’s deliciously milky and beautiful, I’m obsessed with it.
“I’m also obsessing over this new beauty brand called Blume. I’ve been using their Meltdown oil, which is meant to target acne, and I was genuinely shook that it actually worked. If you have any blemishes, this oil really works to shrink them down.”
What’s the one beauty tip that you think men should follow?
“Definitely sunscreen. So many guys ditch it, but they don’t realize that UV rays not only cause skin cancer but physical damage to your skin. Some people don’t see the effects until years later, when it’s too late. Use sunscreen on a daily basis, multiple times throughout the day. Most guys think that using it once a day is just as effective, but you have to reapply. Treat sunscreen like your best friend. I know a lot of men complain about the gray or white cast that sunscreen can leave, but there are so many amazing formulas that won’t do that. I love Elta MD—they have the best formulation for acne-prone skin.
“Also, I’d tell men to overall just pamper themselves and their skin a little more. Introduce a toner—I promise it will change your life for the better. Use a moisturizer, and just be a human. Try taking care of the largest organ of your body. Guys just need to take care of themselves better and feel the power of the pamper.”