“Pretty” Means “Handsome” In Korea, And Other Cultural Differences You Should Know

Tough guys are out and flower boys are in.

K-Pop idols are a dominating force, not only in the music scene, but in Korea’s pop culture beauty trends as well. Specifically, idols are changing the face of male beauty…and it’s pretty cool.


Both K-Pop idols and K-Drama actors have played a role in popularizing a softer version of masculinity since the mid-1990’s, introducing a “flower boy” appeal to fans of the rising idol culture.

BTS with Seo Taiji of 90’s group Seo Taiji and Boys that eventually lead to the creation of K-Pop today.

I think the ideal for Korean men is different these days. If a Korean man looks ‘pretty’ it means he’s handsome.

— Joy Kang, CEO of Eunogo, a Singapore-based Korean plastic surgery concierge service

Men aspire for a level of beauty that can be considered feminine or androgynous in western cultures.

Kihyun (MONSTA X)

Joy Kang goes on to say it may seem like Korean men want to look more feminine than other cultures, but they don’t consider it that way. Viewing from a Korean standpoint, it’s just the standard of beauty.

Jeonghan (SEVENTEEN)

Similarly, certain behaviors or hobbies in western culture that are associated with femininity are acceptable and even encouraged for Korean men.

Baekhyun (EXO)

For example, applying makeup and skincare, though most popular amongst idols, can be completely acceptable for the average everyday man.

Ong Seongwu 

Men are also free to experiment with fashion.

In America, men are often wearing dark colors; Black, gray. Here in Korea, it’s completely normal to see men wearing bright colors like pink or light blue.

— Park Jihoon, Professor at Korea University

Kai (EXO) with a GUCCI bag for women.

Different accessories and fashion statements do not come with the risk of jeopardizing one’s masculinity.

BamBam (GOT7) with painted nails.

Similarly, the behavior of men is also not strictly confined to one masculine type of behavior. “Feminine” mannerisms such as crossing legs while sitting or covering your mouth while laughing are completely normalized and not given a second thought.


In a strongly community-based culture, it’s also normal to maintain close physical contact with peers (and certainly, idols can ham this up to appeal to fans in front of the cameras, known as “skinship”).

 I teach at a mostly boys’ high school, and they’re constantly holding hands and sitting on each other’s laps … None of the boys involved see it as anything but basic friendliness.

— Jason Iannone, thisisrocio.com

Jin and Jungkook (BTS) 

What do you think about the appeal of a softer version of male attractiveness? Are men free to relax from the harsh standards of masculinity or does this create a new plethora of beauty standard related problems?