squid game

Post Squid Game: The K Culture Wave Redefines Manliness 

South Korea has entered our living rooms through the delightfully tense and internationally acclaimed Squid Game on Netflix. You’ve probably come around the surge of Dalgona recipes on Youtube, encouraging each viewer to copy one of the games depicted in the show, cutting a dalgona shape without breaking it. But once you start with the Squid Game, you rapidly find yourself falling into the rabbit hole of South Korean culture. K-dramas, K-pop, your Netflix and Spotify lists are adjusting accordingly. The more you learn about South Korean culture, the more you question the definition of manliness. 

The macho man of British culture is someone who isn’t afraid of strong drinks that will take care of upper body hair. Yet, Korean culture differs even in the notion of strong drinks. Soju and Makgeolli, the most popular beverages in Seoul, are respectively around 15-20% and 6-9% in shops. Needless to say, it doesn’t compare to our whiskey or vodka-based drinks. Yet, the Seoulite doesn’t think of his beverages as girly drinks. So, it’s worth asking once and for all if there’s something our culture could learn from the definition of manliness, according to BTS and K-dramas.  

The smoke and mirror of manliness

The noir polar trend launched the popularity of the manly lead with a cigarette squeezed between his teeth. Tobacco maintains a manly image throughout western culture. Despite what doctors tell us, advertising specialists are not afraid to turn up the dial on their male stars’ sexiness with the addition of a cigarette. Desktop wallpapers still testify of the unbreakable link between cigarette and sex appeal, ranging from Brad Pitt to Johnny Depp via Robert Downey Jr. Yet, the South-Korean wave of sexy male leads leaves the cigarette aside. Perhaps, a good reminder for smokers to gradually decrease their nicotine consumption via the help of vaping kits such as Aspire Nautilus Nano Tank and behavioural methods. The people in your life are unlikely to question your manliness. But they’ll certainly appreciate the fact your clothes don’t smell of cold tobacco anymore. 

Goodbye bulky strong men

We have to thank box offices for the idea that manliness is bulkiness. Chris Hemsworth, once a slender actor, is well placed to talk about the sexy bulk syndrome. The man has never had as many female fans as when he had to bulk up for his role as Thor. Yet, if there’s one thing we can learn from the preferred male leads in South Korea, it’s that bulk is not an essential part of the package. In fact, most South Korean actors have a lean silhouette, granting them an effortlessly sophisticated look. Lean muscle mass is not perceived as a synonym of weakness. On the contrary, it’s time to wave goodbye to the strength cliché. Lean and strong is the low maintenance look and feel that the Seoulite aspires to. And while everyone is built differently and has different body goals, we can’t help but wonder if there is a future in our society in which men don’t feel the need to bulk up to defend their manliness. 

A manly hairstyle? It could be pastel pink

Manly hairstyles have grown both figuratively and literally during lockdown. Perhaps, we owe it to the Witcher’s series on Netflix, but the pandemic has encouraged many men to let go of hair worries and embrace the length. Out of lockdown, however, the queue in front of barbers’ shops told a different story. At home, long hair could be manly, but we prefer it short and natural once we’re back in public. 

And then comes the BTS wave, first with songs such as Idol that crosses the borders, and then other more and more hits in the English language. The K-pop boys band of 7 shows an array of creativity when it comes to hairstyle: pastel colours, short, long, orange, bleached, and so much more. The BTS army, as the fans call themselves, follows and loves all the shades, never questioning for one second the manliness and sex appeal of their favourite artists. And frankly, we may not be ready to embrace pastel pink, but we could learn a lesson of manliness and style from Korea. 

Fashion is genderless, once and for all

The K-pop culture has proven many times that fashion knows no boundaries or gender. Anyone who’s watched some of BTS clips knows that the band embraces all colours, cuts, shapes, and accessories when it comes to their identities. They’re not the first to love fashion diversity, as people such as Harry Styles have long caught the eyes of the public. But, there’s something refreshing about seeing the uniqueness of K fashion redefine the manly culture. 

The truth is that in 2021, it’s time for western society to catch up and give us, men, something less patriarchally dull. Once again, we ask: Can’t men have a little fun with their identities without losing their manliness?