David Yi spent the majority of the pandemic traveling – time traveling, that is. In the new book, Pretty Boys, which debuts on June 22nd, the author and founder of Excellent Light requires a journey all across the globe to concentrate on some unexpected beauty icons who've redefined what masculinity looked like throughout history. We sat down with Yi to talk about his experience writing his first book, plus the surprising things he discovered beauty on the way.
Sunday Edit: As the founding editor of Excellent Light, you paved the way for developing a more inclusive definition of beauty and a leader of genderless beauty. How have you begin?
David Yi: Very Good Light started like a publication to redefine masculinity and also to understand why we've been conditioned – as men or masc-identifying people – to see the planet inside a certain way. I began in the New York Daily News and before that, I was at People magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Then, I had been type of hustling: I was a stylist, I was an on-camera person, I started an online show, I did a cooking show for Fashionista, and I was a reporter at Women’s Wear Daily.
I was trying to see what my role in the market was and realized that I wanted to complete a lot more than fashion and uncover fashion and sweetness from the humane, social justice standpoint. For this reason I took employment at Mashable [that provided that platform.] There, I did a story in 2022 called 'The Faces of Transgender Teen America' that transformed my entire life. It had been on 11 trans teens plus they were being released around the world for the first time. The youngest girl I interviewed was just six or seven. I figured to myself: 'How do people know who they really are at such a early age?' Not just did the story go viral, I received my first GLAAD nomination, and that i seemed to be in a position to realize that’s things i desired to do in journalism. I needed to raise different stories and voices and it was my duty to do this.
This was the spark that led me to Excellent Light and to merge my journalism background with social good. I'm able to talk about people and about disenfranchised folks who perhaps aren’t getting much shine in the media. So in 2022, I went out by myself and started Very Good Light.
SE: Your way of writing is so smart, thoughtful, yet relatable. How did you nail down your voice?
Yi: I believe that it’s the Malcolm Gladwell “10,000-hour” rule. You do something for more than 10,000 hours and you hope that you’ll become an expert at it! I believe that refining your journalistic voice needs time to work. I was writing for a lot of different publications for more than ten years. I’ve written 'serious' journalism, business journalism, and profile stories, but finding my very own voice took quite a long time to cultivate. It took a lot of practice.
SE: Let's dive to your new book, Pretty Boys. How would you summarize what your book is all about and who it’s for?
Yi: Pretty Boys is the good reputation for men, makeup, and masculinity – and masc-identifying folks as well. From the beginning of time to now, it’s about elevating the voices of those powerful figures who became of use beauty and cosmetics to empower themselves. I want everyone to know that beauty isn't part of the binary and beauty is not meant for one gender. Everyone has celebrated their own beauty throughout different periods of time and cultures around the world. I hope that history buffs may take this book and say, 'This is interesting. It’s a different take on history.' I also hope people who wish to look for a community will find themselves in this book. And, if you're looking for beauty advice, you can also get the best tips – you’ll find self-care tips and, of course, how to glow up.
SE: Inside your book, you talk about how social networking has aided within the cultural shift of people that are questioning gender roles and traditional views of masculinity. What exactly are types of people or brands on social networking that you simply think are carrying out a good job at this?
Yi: My new skincare brand, Good Light, is about gender inclusivity. The DNA of Milk Makeup has additionally always been super inclusive of everybody and all sorts of identities. In general, more brands need to think outside the binary. I mean, did you ever think how it's so weird that whenever you walk down a CVS or Target aisle, it is so gendered? One section is hyper-masculine with beard oil and shaving cream. Then, on the other side, it's all about hyper-femininity and makeup for women. Where do I belong? I want to shave, but I’m also somebody that loves skincare and likes to sometimes wear eyeliner and eyeshadow.
I think that beauty and sweetness products have no sexuality – other product identity. They’re there as tools to enhance that which you love about yourself. I hope that we can promote that notion through all brands.
SE: You recently tweeted that somebody once said that Korean culture would be a “trend.” How has becoming an Asian American shaped your beauty journey?
Yi: Being Korean is everything to me. I was raised in a very white city and that i was the lone Asian American in many of my schools. For several Asian Americans who're products of immigration, you deviate towards either rejecting your identity because you wish to assimilate or adopting your ethnicity and becoming hyper-militant inside your cultural identity. It was the second for me personally – I’m very Korean. I made sure which i spoke Korean in the household. I ensured that I was connected to my roots through K-Pop and thru K-Dramas. That was my form of entertainment because I never saw myself in American television or media. After the day, being Korean isn’t just 'trendy.' Korean pop music has been in existence well before anyone in the usa 'discovered' it. So, for me personally, it is extremely offensive when someone says Korean culture is just a trend, because which means that we’re not human, right? Being Korean American has painted every aspect of my entire life. I’ve been an activist for Asian Americans since i have was super young. Hopefully we are able to continue these conversations around diversity and inclusion and never forget that Asian Americans have existed and we're thing about this American diaspora.
SE: Speaking of Korean culture, you talk about the Korean hwarang from the sixth century in your book. That which was their effect on male beauty?
Yi: Hwarang is directly translated to 'flower boys,' that is another way of saying 'pretty boys.' The hwarang were an element of the Silla Dynasty within the 600s. What’s fascinating about the subject is they could really beautify as a spiritual practice.
To backtrack a little, there were three different kingdoms in that time period [comprised of Baekje in the western world, Goguryeo within the north, and Silla in the east]. King Jinheung helped the Baekje reclaim their land, but turned on the Baekje right after. To keep enemies away, King Jinheung needed 'Big Buddha Energy' and he thought the Silla's hwarang could deliver that supernatural energy.
He found these men within months after which created a military and they proudly joined the assassinship. They learned horseback riding; they learned fighting techinques. These were trained by monks, so that they discovered spirituality with Buddhists and Confucianism teachings. It was fascinating simply because they also learned how to beautify.
Though there isn’t distinct understanding of precisely what powders and creams they used, we think that because Korea was greatly inspired through the Tang dynasty of China, that many their customs could be traced to the Tang dynasty. So, from safflower oil to guide powder the Chinese used, I’m let's assume that the hwarang would’ve used that a lot. But we do know from special onward from the Tang dynasty, there are records from the Chinese people that visited in Korea that truly said, 'the hwarang boys are simply so beautiful, so handsome, and everybody in the land respects that.'
So it was a thing: The hwarang maintained throughout East Asia as being these 'beauty boys' who have been super fierce as well.
SE: Were the hwarang the muse for the title of your book?
Yi: No, I titled it Pretty Boys because I wanted to take back power from the idea that men who were 'feminine presenting' or who were too 'woman-like' or beautiful are traditionally called 'pretty boys' in the western world. So I wanted to put that on its head and say, 'Well, yes, we’re pretty, but that doesn’t make us less powerful.' I want to reclaim that phrase and say, 'Pretty is pretty powerful.' Hopefully men today type of reclaim that word and say, 'Yes, I am a pretty boy and that i like it – I take pleasure in it, I’m walking into my light, and i'm my authentic self.' That’s what a pretty boy is.
SE: What was the muse behind developing a book such as this? How did it happen?
Yi: I desired to think back in history and pose the issue: Why aren’t beautiful men or pretty men celebrated? As if they’re incapable or even shameful in some manner? Now we all know the fiercest men – the warriors and kings, such as the Pharaohs or the Vikings or Alexander the truly amazing – they’re all pretty boys. I had been surprised that there weren't already historic books dedicated to the topic which really piqued my interest. I knew that I needed to do this. In a single way, I feel like it’s an obvious book and anyone really could have written this book.
SE: Well, we think you put a great perspective onto it though that no one else could have. The mix of people featured is so unique. How have you limit who to profile?
Yi: It was difficult. It had been very hard which book does not have every part of the planet, but it is much more of a starting point. I needed to possess diversity and ensure that people had representation everywhere. There have been some cultures which i wanted to represent more, however i just couldn’t find primary or secondary sources to support things i found. Hopefully, I’ll be able to if there is a second book or perhaps a sequel. It was important in my experience we have that intersectionality and we’re able to delve into these cultures and show that 'pretty' is universal and that every culture around the globe wanted to amplify their power through their aesthetic. I believe that that was necessary to the piece because many people might say, 'Oh, beauty is just a western thing,' or possibly just a 'Korean thing,' – but no, it wasn’t. Beautifying was an act that everyone took part in.
SE: Should you could narrow it down to 2 or 3 of the favorite people who you featured in this book, who are they and why?
Yi: I love the Shi Pei Pu story since it would be a dramatic love story which had a lot to use espionage and secrets and sex. It had been really delicious to analyze and write. My other favorite chapter was understanding Prince better. I was a Prince fan, but I didn’t realize [until I researched with this book] just how much of the spiritual vessel he was – and delightful from the inside out.
SE: It seemed like a bulk of your book was written during the pandemic which book gave you the chance to kind of escape from reality.
Yi: I feel like the pandemic was the hardest amount of time in life for you, for me personally. I’m assuming it had been the hardest year for everybody. Otherwise, then I’m so sorry you had another harder year. I had a lot of dreams and individuals I wanted to see – things that I wanted to complete. However this book allowed me to survive a later date as dramatic as that may sound. I had been really stressed out and depressed. I almost feel like I was in a position to escape my painful present through this book, and time travel to meet Cyrus the truly amazing or to be a part of the Mayan tribe watching and observe their ruler. I was able to go to 50,000 BCE to observe our Neanderthal cousins, beautifying with foundation and blush and grinding pyrites for highlighter. This past year was this type of difficult year, which book allowed me to escape, have friends along the way, uncover some secrets, and understand people a little more.
SE: What do you hope people take away from reading this book?
Yi: I hope they keep being motivated to grow and to rethink the gender binary – to rethink everything that we’ve learned. Because if you consider it, who writes history? So why do we learn one history? Or why are certain people more important than others when it comes to our history? Also it is dependant on dig deeper than historians plus they look in a certain style and there are biases. We need to question why they amplify a particular person's brawn as well as their brute strength, however they don’t amplify the fact that additionally they use beauty products.
I hope people can question their history, reread history, understand that you will find multiple sides of background and there is nothing so exact or precise. You can make your personal conclusions outside the confines of the school or another textbook that you've read. I hope that this could inspire people to become more like themselves and also to find people like that in history because they’re all there.
SE: Was there anything you’ve discovered beauty out of your research for the book that you simply didn’t know before?
Yi: Everything within the book! I didn’t know anything going into it. I didn’t know that King Louis XIV was the impetus for France becoming a nation of luxury. I really didn't know that Pharaonhs had this kind of extensive morning routine – long periods of time being dumped in baths, having their nails clipped for their hairstyle, their wake style, being sugared, that is their form of waxing. I additionally learned how sacrilegious it was to bathe for Anglo-Saxons. Some queens like Isabella I of Castile only bathed twice in life: Once after birth and when before their big day. There is this concept that bathing an excessive amount of was sinful and never very modest for any Christian, but additionally from the beauty standpoint, they believed that having dirt in your body would be a good thing for your bacteria to then reach your pores. Nowadays we all know that that's not correct.
SE: In your last portion of the book, “What I really like About Me,” you feature 10 pretty boys how they found accept themselves. How have you find these people?
Yi: It was super vital that you nail down that point that you are beautiful and you're simply quite a boy because you define your own beauty. And I think it was essential actually, for the book, to find diverse people. We stock everyone from non-binary visitors to Muslims to plus size to political refugees to disabled folks. I needed the entire spectrum and the breadth of beauty because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You are that beholder.
It was extremely important and essential to the type of connect with individuals who aren’t traditionally lauded to be beautiful. I found them through Instagram or friends of friends – it took annually. However i was very adamant that we were going to try to look for a representative from a very diverse group of people.
SE: Appreciate carving a new path of what should be defined as 'pretty' or 'beautiful.' We can't allow you to go without us asking: What's your preferred BTS song?
Yi: I like “Spring Day.” I also like “Pied Piper” and “DNA.”
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase an item found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.