Here's Why I Think Men Should Embrace Being "Soft"

David Yi

David Yi

In a new special monthly column in collaboration with Byrdie Boy, grooming and beauty site Very Good Light’s editor David Yi writes about beauty from the inside out. Each month, he'll touch on topics that celebrate inner and outer light through the lens of beauty. In his first column for Byrdie Boy, he shares why he think more men should embrace their softer side.

The day Very Good Light launched was the day I realized I'd become an imposter.

That Tuesday, planted on the front page of the New York Times Style section, was none other than me and a photograph of my bad side (like Ariana Grande, it's our right) gazing at the camera as if I was someone special. 

I give a self-assured smirk, learned from watching way too many K-pop videos, and hunch my shoulders with a hint of bother—an attitude perfected through my years of being a fashion editor. My head shorn on the sides with the top mane slicked back, I'm wearing a silk crimson and black Saint Laurent jacket that I'll later return to Barney's (sorry, Barney’s! RIP!). I look like some glamorous Brooklyn entrepreneur. A Crazy Rich Asian. A guy who has it all together.

Or complete fake. 

Who is he?

Who isn't he?

In reality, I had no clue who he was. I had yet to find my own light. The guy on those pages was certainly not the man sitting at this Prospect Heights cafe in Brooklyn, frantically looking over his finances with cold anxiety-sweat dripping down his round cheeks (or were those tears?). 

I had just left my cushy full-time job with a big announcement: that I was launching a men's beauty site all about redefining masculinity. We'd tell stories about the new male experience, diverting from a traditional, suffocating heteronormative lens. It should be about untethering men from toxic masculinity and showcasing what freedom could look like. 

This was 2016—years before #metoo, #timesup or any viral Gillette commercial, and people were confused. What do you mean, "redefine masculinity"? What's wrong with it now? And a beauty site for men? Men need that kind of advice? 

The greater good, I'd reply, was to create a safe space for all masc-identifying people to be free and channel their authenticity. Whether that's equipping yourself with lipstick or hair gel, I wanted to spread the message that beauty wasn't just skin-deep and it certainly isn't restricted as something just for women—it was about self-respect, self-love and self-awareness for all. More so, beauty was all about coming to terms with who you were—shining your light from the inside out. My hypothesis was that if we empowered men to embrace their softness, the world could be a better place.

 From that guiding light, the name was born. Very Good Light wasn't just about vanity (though we cover how to tease those brows or find that perfect foundation). It was about finding and nurturing that inner light, that powerful confidence, with the sole purpose of making this world a brighter place. 

A few years later—with lots of laughs, tears, and nights sleeping on friends’ couches not knowing where I'd be next—the beauty landscape has vastly changed. It's become a more inclusive, empathetic and pretty world. Men are starting to embrace their beauty and flaunt it like no other time in recent history. In Seoul, guys refuse to leave their homes without penciling in their brows and applying a BB cream. On red carpets, more and more Hollywood celebs like Ansel Elgort are wowing audiences by wearing a face full of glitter on red carpets. And on YouTube channels everywhere, the biggest stars—not only in beauty—are men who beat, blend and bake their faces until they shine for the gods. (Bretman Rock, a beauty mogul and makeup artist with over 14 million followers on Instagram, is one of the biggest influencers, having just launched a collaboration with Wet N’ Wild.) But it doesn’t end there. 

Thanks to social movements advocating for inclusion, beauty has become big business. Major brands and corporations are all taking notice of men’s beauty. From CoverGirl and its first “Cover Boy,” James Charles, Chanel debuting its first makeup line just for guys, to Milk Makeup’s take on makeup for all, the "beauty boy" explosion is no longer niche—it’s crossed over to the mainstream. It’s this shift that Very Good Light has been documenting since its inception, and it's so exciting to have championed this movement. 

Since its inception, millions now call Very Good Light their home. In many ways, the site has become a refuge for all masculine-identifying people who seek to explore identity, empowerment—myself included. And after four years, we’re finally finding recognition. 

For one, we’re collaborating with sites like Byrdie on franchises like Byrdie Boy. Every month, Byrdie and Very Good Light will celebrate masculine-identifying people and what sparks their own good light through a beauty lens. We’ll explore what beauty means to them, from products to culture. 

In 2020, I can’t help but sigh with relief and beam with pride that Very Good Light has survived. We’re still here, pushing culture forward, embracing beauty in all forms. Though the world has changed, I for one, haven’t. Everyone battles with imposter syndrome, but I turn to this community of masculine-identifying people to provide me with the empowerment I need to face another day. Along with this community, I realize that I no longer am forced to hide in the shadows—rather, I can and should be celebrated, just like everyone else. Everyone deserves to be spotlighted, everyone is entitled to their shine. Everyone has very good light. This column’s for all of that and more. Let’s set the world on fire. 

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