The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Kim Ki-soo, blurring gender barriers with makeup

Beauty creator wants to pave way for male grooming, defy conventions of gender-specific attire and attitude

By Hong Dam-young

Published : April 18, 2017 - 14:41

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Kim Ki-soo makes sure to captivate the audience when he films a makeup tutorial: he winks, chortles, bats his eyelashes and daintily lifts a brush with impeccably manicured fingers. “Smudge, smudge, smudge,” he repeats, patting pigment onto his eyelids. “Touch, touch, touch,” he chants while coloring his cheeks in rhythmic strokes.

“I’ve given my eyes a feline flick today,” he said at an interview with The Korea Herald last Thursday. The 39-year-old comedian-turned-beauty creator walked into the cafe dressed in a silky dark-green shirt and geometric golden necklace, a makeup box in hand.

“The theme of today’s look is orange, so I have an orange shade on my eyes that can look very seductive,” he said.

Comedian-turned-beauty creator Kim Ki-soo poses for a photo at Herald Square in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on April 13. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Comedian-turned-beauty creator Kim Ki-soo poses for a photo at Herald Square in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on April 13. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Kim believes people wear makeup to “be beautiful, to receive attention from others.” He is not a fan of the exaggerated, drag-queen style makeup, but a look that more delicately accentuates the features.

That is not to say Kim seeks to copy-paste women’s makeup onto his own face. “There has to be something masculine about (the look), too. That’s the type of beauty I pursue. It’s genderless makeup.” he said, citing George Michael as one of his fashion icons along with Madonna and K-pop diva Lee Hyo-ri.

“Celebrities are like works of art, their gestures, their glances … (Lee’s) movements are completely different with makeup on. Without makeup, she’s like an easygoing little sister. But put on makeup, look at her sing on stage. I was so inspired by that attitude that goes with the makeup.”

Blurring the line between conventional femininity and masculinity is not a new phenomenon in Korean fashion, and Korea has seen a surge in the consumption of male beauty products in recent years. But there is still a dearth of male public figures who voice their love for beauty, save for a handful of bloggers and makeup artists.

Kim has not always had the privilege of parading his passion for all things beauty, either. After graduating from Sangmyeong University with a major in theater, Kim became a comedian with broadcaster KBS in 2001. He came into fame around 2008 for portraying the flamboyant, leotard-clad character Dancer Kim on the live comedy show “Gag Concert.” However, he was forced to halt all work some two years later when he was slapped with a lawsuit for sexual harassment. 

Comedian-turned-beauty creator Kim Ki-soo poses for a photo at Herald Square in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on April 13. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Comedian-turned-beauty creator Kim Ki-soo poses for a photo at Herald Square in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on April 13. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Though he was found innocent the following year, television networks were reluctant to hire Kim, who bore the stigma of being a sexual offender. 

“People would run away from me when I went into the showers at the gym. Friends had to hide when they met me for a drink.”

His legal battles aside, Kim had been interested in self-grooming since early childhood. But his enthusiasm was kept hidden in a society that hewed strictly to gender conventions.

“I started out as a child actor. One day, I wore tinted sunscreen to the set, and they told me, ‘You look so pretty today.’”

Kim traces his fondness for makeup to that incident. “Everybody has a time in their life when they were beautiful. Being able to relive that time -- that’s the kind of makeup I want to do.”

After being forced off television, and struggling to make a living, Kim turned to DJing -- he had always been interested in music; the performer in him craved the stage. He worked in clubs in Thailand and Japan, freely applying color to his face to go with his show. Once such pictures of him circulated in Korea, however, he was bombarded with negative comments about his physique, his gender identity and even his family.

“People would write things like ‘Does your mother know you go around looking like this?’ and much worse things.”

Though hurt, Kim decided to push back by flaunting his love for makeup on social media. “I wanted to show them, this is who I am, this is what I can do.”

The response has been warmer than expected. Now, the beauty guru has over 21,000 followers on Instagram (@djkisoo) and some 68,000 subscribers on YouTube, and is branching out to television once again -- he is set to star in the variety show “My Little Television” on Saturday.

But even now, the first thing that stokes people’s curiosity is not Kim’s cosmetic dexterity, but his sexual orientation, he says.

“I think it’s an insult to gay people if I protest too strongly when people ask if I’m gay. I just say, believe what you see. Believe what you’d like to think. But I am showing genderless makeup. It is completely separate (from my sexual identity).”

Kim hopes that one day, people will find it natural to separate male makeup from homosexuality.

“How can using color to express yourself with makeup be related to (sexual identity)? This is my craft. I don’t understand why people combine (the two notions).”

What keeps Kim going are the hundreds of people who message him privately to thank him for knocking down gender barriers, and the following of fans who delight in his makeup techniques.

“You wear makeup to be beautiful, to get someone’s attention. I put on makeup to be beautiful all these years, but no one told me I was beautiful,” he said.

“I feel like I can breathe. ... There was nothing for years. I feel like I am being compensated for the oppression of the past. I feel like I am being accepted.”

By Rumy Doo (