Taemin from the band SHINee.

It may seem counterintuitive to write about boys on the Girl Museum blog, but hear me out! I was recently in South Korea, and I was amazed at how beautiful some of the male celebrities were, like Taemin from the K-pop band SHINee. I learnt that these men are called ‘flower boys’ and are celebrated for their feminine good looks.

The term ‘flower boy’ originates from the Silla Empire, when ‘Flowering Knights’ were an elite group of young male nobles who studied culture and were known for their use of makeup and accessories.

Now, the ‘flower boy’ is the real-life embodiment of the boys from girls’ comics – large-eyed, fair-skinned, they are the epitome of Korean good looks. Many wear makeup and use skincare products as part of their daily routines, shunning ‘male’ fashion for softer looks.

The androgynous flower boys of K-pop challenge Western gender binaries of masculine/feminine body, homosexuality/heterosexuality, breaking down stereotypes and forming a liminal masculinity quite opposed to normative masculinity.

Flower boys are very popular with girls in Korea and all over the world. In comics and TV shows, however, it is often not the flower boy character who gets the girl, but the brooding male character with the tortured past. For although the flower boys are actively subverting gender by simply being themselves, gender roles still abide in South Korea as they do all over the world, so it is thought that the female character should end up with someone more masculine than the flower boy. However, this may change as attitudes to gender and sexuality in South Korea change.

The flower boy concept is not unique to Korea – Bishōnen (literally ‘beautiful boy’) can be found in areas all over East Asia. Their gender performance is entirely different to the rest of the world; a beautiful contrast to the more toxic aspects of masculinity.

-Jocelyn Anderson-Wood
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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