South Korea’s 19 million men are expected to spend $885 million on skin care and cosmetics in 2012, reports the AP, making them the largest men’s makeup market in the world.
Apparently, moisturizing, shading, and penciling are totally normal male grooming habits there.
Evidence of this new direction in South Korean masculinity is easy to find. In a crowded Seoul cafe, a young woman takes some lipstick out of her purse and casually applies it to her male companion’s lips as they talk. At an upscale apartment building, a male security guard watches the lobby from behind a layer of makeup. Korean Air holds once-a-year makeup classes for male flight attendants.
Korean feminism expert James Turnbull has a pretty fascinating account of why: because women prefer them that way. After the economic crisis in the nineties, companies fired their female employees first, prompting women “to question the kinds of men society told them they should find attractive.” Ultimately women — with the help of some massive billboards thrown up by the cosmetic companies who stood to cash in — settled on the pretty boy looks of Ahn Jung-hwan, the hero of South Korea’s 2002 World Cup team. They call them “flower men.”