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David Yi’s Debut Book, Pretty Boys, Seeks To Transform Gendered Skin Care and Beauty Expectations One (Fun) History Lesson At A Time

We chatted with the founder, journalist, skin care entrepreneur, and now author, to talk about everything from masculinity and his favorite products to Vikings and Pharaohs. 

If you’ve begun to witness the beauty world shift towards a more inclusive space that negates- and at times ignores- gender norms, you’ve probably experienced some of beauty editor and entrepreneur David Yi’s impact. Through his publication, Very Good Light, skin care line, good light, and now his debut text, Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too), David pushes the beauty world to do and be better.

 The beauty expert’s skin care brand’s tagline sums up his efforts best, as he’s just truly seeking to create a space for “beauty beyond the binary.”

Currently, only a third of men under 30 say they’d be open to trying makeup, but it hasn’t only been that way. In Pretty Boys, Yi explores the rich history that men and male identifying persons have with beauty by excavating all the hidden stories of them engaging with-and totally loving- everything from makeup and grooming to nail and body care as far back as 50,000 B.C.E.

If this is true, when did masculine folx stop engaging with beauty and skin care? Read on to find out the beauty powerhouse’s thoughts on this, his favorite skin care products, and the boy beauty looks from the last few years he’s been a fan of.

David Yi. Photo courtesy of David Yi from @seoulcialite.

Q: First of all, how did you find the time to spearhead the inclusive publication Very Good Light, develop the binary-breaking personal care brand good light, AND write your debut text, Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too)?

You also forgot BIDEN Beauty, our viral campaign to swing the vote blue! Heh. In reality, it was a lot but I couldn’t have done this without a very supportive team. My co-founder, Michael, along with my teammates and interns truly did bring their A-game in the past year – and I couldn’t have done anything without this team effort! 

It’s no secret that 2020 was the hardest year in modern history, and writing and researching Pretty Boys actually saved my life. I say this because it was stressful seeing the world close, people mourn for the loss of life, as well as businesses shut down. We’re not even talking about social uprisings either with America – and the world’s reckoning – with Black lives to Asians becoming hypervisible…it was truly anxiety-inducing to have to confront all of this. 

But through it all, researching these powerful leaders throughout history allowed me to escape my reality and time travel to places far and wide. I was able to meet Pharaoh Ramses and get ready with him in his own beautiful Egyptian kingdom; witness Vikings using their beauty kits to groom their hair and beards; the hwarang beautify with makeup and be chosen for their natural beauty; Babylonian warriors head into battle, but not before stopping by a salon and getting their nails, hair, and faces done; and more. It was a delight to be able to go to all places in the world and meet these incredible history-makers and I’m so blessed I actually had the ability to do this. 

Q: We’re big fans of the way you look at- and challenge- the beauty space. Whose work has inspired or informed your ethos?

I’m very inspired by one of my best friends who’s basically a sister to me. Her name is Sarah Springer, from Tissue, a development and consulting company. It’s her views of the world, her ethos, her ideas of diversity and inclusion that help paint a more expansive picture of reality and the world I live in. She’s a powerful vessel of change and I learn from her every day. I also look to those like Alok, change makers who are unabashed in who they are and fight tirelessly for change.

Q: Pretty Boys discusses how masculine beauty practices have existed for centuries. Why do you think current masculinity shys away from such forms of expression?

Men and masc-identifying folx have always beautified – we know this from 50,000 BCE where Neanderthals did so! The modern-day version of Westernized constructs of the gender binary and its roles is what’s limited men from embracing their masculine and feminine selves.

They are divine together – and like yin and yang, work in tandem. Current masculinity shies away from its nascent, more expansive form of masculinity because men have been conditioned to fear what our culture has deemed “feminine” behavior. It’s rooted in misogyny and homophobia, and is actually far from who we, as humans, are in our natural forms. 

Q: You’re making beauty accessible for all with your binary breaking personal care line, good light, which is currently available on Where did the inspiration for the curated line come from? What was the most exciting part of developing the brand?

This all came about because I realized how gendered our world was and how almost ridiculous it was that beauty products were marketed as such. As we know, cosmetics have no gender identity – they are products that serve a specific purpose. A toner, or an essence, or even eyeshadow palette shouldn’t be for one person or catered to a certain demographic but not another. Beauty is democratic and should be safe to be used by all. 

 Q: In the last decade or so, we’ve seen the rise of the male beauty influencer. How do you think skin care and beauty combined are helping to change gender norms and how we think of the beauty world?

I always say this, but the beauty industry is the leader of inclusivity and fighting for change. Beauty is actually one of the only industries that’s championed LGBTQIA for so long – we see this with brands like MAC. I love that beauty has the power to change perceptions and allow folx to feel seen and safe in their own bodies – but I think there’s much more to do!

Q: Recently, Harry Style’s Vogue cover and Kid Cudi’s crop top moment have helped push forward a flexibility in regards to gender expression in fashion. What have been some of your favorite boy beauty looks that are doing the same for the beauty realm? 

I love subtle moves like Frank Ocean who uses retinol; or Bad Bunny who happens to be obsessed with his nails; or BTS, who wears makeup subtly and beautifully. I love that for Gen Z beauty and makeup is so normalized – they’re so confident with their identities and I truly believe it’s this generation that will lead the way!

Q: Lastly, of course, what are your absolute holy grail skin care products? 

My holy grail is, of course, a good light product! I am loving our Cosmic Dew Water Cleanser as of late. Someone said it was like a double cleanse – I believe this was James Welsh – and it’s so true. This very gentle but hydrating formula is something that will clean away your sunscreen and all traces of makeup – it’s a remarkable product!

What’s your favorite skin care or beauty book! Let us know below.

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