Prior to starting his solo career in 2017, Harry Styles was one of the forefront members of the viral boyband One Direction. Since Harry has independently been in the music industry, his style and messages through his lyrics depict the epitome of embracing his true self, making him a worldwide role model. He has broken gender lines through fashion, sporting long skirts, feather boas, and sheer tops all around red carpets; something that has little prior exposure in the media, with exceptions to Elton John and Freddie Mercury. Harry Styles is breaking the male stereotype and mindset of toxic masculinity, which is the concept that all men are straight and dominant over the general population and exhibit only “manly” characteristics. What is so different about Harry Styles is his expression of self through bold fashion choices and his ability to evoke deep emotion through his music, something that society has claimed to not be “manly” since society has put in place the idea that men cannot be vulnerable and express emotion as often or intensely as women.
As a feminist myself, I follow many blogs and Instagram pages that speak about the term “toxic masculinity,” which has recently become a prominent term in our society. Toxic masculinity occurs when culturally defined masculine norms are emphasized and cause men to exert more dominant characteristics that can negatively harm others. This causes a divide in society because this toxicity can lead to domestic violence and cause women, and other men to feel unsafe around those who demonstrate these actions. There is a cultural mindset ingrained in the heads of men, pushing them to not express or evoke emotion because historically that has been seen as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. These terms “weakness” and “vulnerability” have been societally connotated with femininity and have caused men to stray away from this expression since it has been “feminine” to do so.
Harry Styles, has completely altered this image of men by expressing his “feminine” side through bold fashion choices. On red carpets and magazine shoots he has surprised many by wearing garments such as dresses, skirts, and frilly blouses which traditionally have been connoted as “feminine.” In December of 2020, Harry Styles became the first man who was the solo cover star of Vogue Magazine, and through his photos, he wore a skirt, a dress, and lots of jewelry. As a fan, this was not only a big deal for me as I could go on to buy an issue of the magazine but it held a monumental impact since these photos would go on to really push away stereotypical images of men. Harry Styles’ fashion statements are drastic due to the fact that they now are being widespread and known by everyone, which can later influence young boys and girls to express themselves however they want through fashion. Fashion is meant to be the personal expression of oneself and by having individuals such as Harry Styles model this freedom of expression, this enforces the younger generation to freely embrace who they are.
Harry Styles is not only crushing this concept of toxic masculinity through fashion but also through his choice to evoke deep emotions such as heartbreak, self-identity, and acceptance through his music. Music is a form of art meant to bring people together and unite others, and through his music we learn about the importance of acceptance and loving who you are. One of the songs on his newest album is called Treat People With Kindness and embraces others to express this universal ideal of kindness. In addition to this song, his song Falling evokes utter vulnerability by posing lyrics such as “What am I now?” and “What if I’m someone I don’t want around?” This song deals with heartbreak and expresses how one must allow themself to contemplate how they are affected as a result of heartbreak, which is all stemmed through establishing their own self-acceptance. Vulnerability is something that has been societally deemed as a feminine characteristic however being able to express emotion shouldn’t have a certain gender assigned to it. Preventing men from being emotional and really expressing how they feel, which can lead to toxic masculinity as they can cover up their true emotions by exerting a more masculine persona, where they come across as very tough and aggressive. This idea that men can’t be vulnerable in my eyes is foolish because men have feelings too, and it’s important that acknowledge individuals like Harry Styles who embody the true message of masculinity: being yourself.
Edited by Sam Lacey