Harry Styles: Dressed for Controversy
Meredith Backman, Staff Writer
In U.S.’ December Vogue issue, Harry Styles made headlines for being featured as the first male star to grace the magazine’s cover. Styles appears to be caught in controversy for adorning a Gucci periwinkle and black lace gown on the cover, as well as in the cover story in the magazine itself. The cover includes an inspiring quote from Styles, reading, “anytime you’re putting barriers up in your life, you’re limiting yourself.”
In recent years in society, there is a lot of discussion about gender fluidity and gender norms, and how they pertain to how one presents themselves to society. The way people present and express themselves is primarily through clothing, as it is one of the most creative outlets to self-discovery and how one wishes to be perceived by others. The Fine Line singer, known for breaking gender norms through clothing and advocating to “treat people with kindness”, has faced backlash for his choice to wear women’s clothing on the iconic magazine’s cover.
Two prominent conservative commentators that voiced their opinions on the matter are Candace Owens, PragerU and The Daily Wire affiliate, and Ben Shapiro, founder of The Daily Wire. Owens tweeted 11/14, “There is no society that can survive without strong men. The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.” Two days later, she tweeted again, clarifying what she meant in the tweet. She stated, “Terms like ‘toxic masculinity, were created by toxic females. Real women don’t do fake feminism.”. The next day, when bombarded by pictures of male musicians wearing women’s clothing, Owens responded with, “Newsflash woke idiots: when you send me pictures of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain dressed as women to prove your point, you are actually proving mine. Stable men do not wear ball gowns. The end.”
Shapiro, agreeing with Owens, tweeted out on November 16th, “The Left knows this, of course. The POINT of Styles doing this photo shoot is to feminize masculinity. Otherwise, why would it be headline-worthy for Styles to don a dress? The Left knows this; they openly say that gender is both important and socially constructed (which is why they tell you that a man can be a woman, e.g., despite no biological underpinning).”
The critiques of the political pundits were not taken lightly by Style’s fans and supporters, as well as left-leaning voices. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York State Representative, stated that Style’s cover “looks wonderful”. Olivia Wilde, actress and director of the upcoming Styles-led movie, “Don’t Worry Darling”, responded to Owens’ tweets with, “you’re pathetic”.
While the cover brings representation to the gender-fluidity movement, many members of the LGBTQ+ community are not as satisfied. Some have questioned why Styles, a white cis-gendered male, is to be praised in the movement instead of people apart of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically nonbinary or transgendered people of color. Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender-nonconforming performance artist, posted their thoughts in an Instagram story. They wrote, “”Am I happy to see Harry be celebrated for openly flouting gendered fashion norms? Yes. Do trans femmes of color receive praise for doing the same thing every day? No. Make no mistake: trans femmes of color started this and continue to face the backlash from it. Our aesthetics make it to the mainstream, but not our bodies. We are still dismissed as ‘too much’ and ‘too queer’ because we aren’t palatable enough to whiteness and heteronormativity.” While there is an outpour of support for Style’s choice of attire and garnering of awareness to such issues, it is perceived that the fashion industry and popular media “cherry-pick” figures who are not representative of the communities that they take their inspiration or identities from.
These comments and discussions are nothing new to the divisive and polarizing debates that our country consistently grapples with, like gender, norms, and societal values. There is a constant battle between progressive and conservative viewpoints and values, and expression of identity and self-expression seem to be the worn battleground for warfare. While Style’s Vogue cover preaches expression and creativity, there is much more work to be done in order to achieve acceptance and awareness for the gender-fluid and non-conforming communities.