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‘Pretty Boys’ author David Yi on male beauty

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Famed ancient Greek ruler and military mastermind Alexander the Great had a passion for fragrances. France’s King Louis XIV sported glittering heels and made voluminous wigs fashionable. Vikings, often remembered for their rugged masculinity, had extensive hair grooming routines.

Interest in men’s beauty was socially acceptable before it became taboo, and, as David Yi notes in his new book “Pretty Boys,” it is now reemerging after a long hiatus. Modern, Western ideas of masculinity took root in Enlightenment-era Europe and continued across the pond in America, Yi recounts, and interests in cosmetics, fashion and grooming became increasingly aligned with femininity, queerness and immorality — and even criminalized for men in some cases.

Now, the pendulum is swinging back again.
'Pretty Boys' author David Yi. Credit: Sarah Yun
“When it comes to men’s beauty, attitudes of masculinity have shifted,” Yi said in an email interview, pointing to stars like Bad Bunny, Harry Styles, Frank Ocean or boy band BTS. “No longer do we subscribe to the idea that men have to be stoic, or hypermasculine to survive in our capitalistic, Western world. Rather, men and their masculinities can be expansive.”
Yi is the founder of gender-inclusive beauty media brand Very Good Light, and “Pretty Boys” is one-half comprehensive history of masculine beauty — including ancient Egyptian ruler Ramses the Great and the “queen of queens” RuPaul — and one-half tips and techniques for how to get their looks.
Looking back at famous men throughout history, Yi said, “Often times, it’s their brute force or physical strength that’s celebrated in history books and not their beauty that is amplified. I’ve questioned why this is and it has everything to do with historians being afraid to tell stories of powerful men and their ‘softer’ sides as if that makes them have any less agency.”

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