Phoebe Grinter – Columnist
With his much-anticipated album Fine Line due to be released on 13th December, I thought it was appropriate to talk about the key role Harry Styles is playing in shattering gender norms and defying toxic masculinity.
From his majestic mane of curly brown locks and his active support of the LGBT+ community, to his goose-bump inducing vocals and captivating stage presence, Harry Styles has the whole world eating out of the palm of his freshly manicured hand. He is a one-of-a-kind artist, both in terms of his music and his look. What sets him apart from his male popstar peers is that he is not afraid to embrace what’s supposedly feminine and in doing so he is aiding to the shattering of gender norms. He is blurring the Fine Line between male and female, gay and straight, masculine and feminine. Adding to the symbolism of his new album – the cover of which shows him posing against a blue and pink background – are his repeatedly head-turning, barrier-breaking and swoon-worthy outfit choices. But as he delves deeper into the world of androgynous clothing, his sheer shirts, bejewelled fingers and statement suits are more than just rebranding; they are part of a larger defiance of toxic masculinity.
Sexism and the standards of the patriarchy have a firm grip on us from a young age. We are taught that boys wear blue and girls wear pink; boys wear trousers and girls wear dresses; boys have short hair and girls have long hair. While most people are familiar with how gender roles can negatively impact women, the poisonous culture surrounding what it means to be a man is lesser known and boys can feel ashamed and embarrassed for enjoying anything not seen as masculine. As with many aspects of society today, the mainstream music world is riddled with toxic masculinity. Cue Harry Styles. Something that he is doing more and more often these days since the (heart-breaking) disbandment of the factory-made boyband One Direction is completely and utterly rejecting gender norms. He is not afraid to push the boundaries of what is deemed socially acceptable for a man in today’s society. While award-show red carpets used to be a cycle of the same ill-fitting black tux over and over again, it is refreshing to see Styles in flamboyant floral suits, ruffled shirts and jewellery. It is a breath of fresh air to see someone as high-profile and influential as him step out confidently and unashamedly in glittery heeled boots, dangly earrings and nail polish simply because he wants to. Boys who are able to embrace their feelings and admit they enjoy less stereotypically masculine things without shame can free themselves from the holds of toxic masculinity.
As this decade draws to a close, everyone is looking back on the changes that have occurred during the 2010s. People are scouring photo albums for a tragic photo of them in hideous clothes with awful hair taken 10 years ago and posting it next to a recent, equally tragic photo of them in better clothes with only slightly less awful hair. With this happening, it’s interesting to imagine what the next decade’s trends will be. During his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, Styles represented what I hope the next decade in fashion will entail. His outfit choices were flamboyant, elegant, and genderless. He also wore alternating pink and blue nail polish for the duration of the episode. His fashion choices have become a genuine part of his brand as an artist. His creativity and carefree attitude to gender and societal norms shows a future where clothing is playing a more vital role in self-expression than ever before.
Although Styles wearing a ruffled shirt doesn’t end toxic masculinity, his unapologetic willingness to express himself devoid of embarrassment or a compulsion to be masculine will encourage others to follow suit. The process of self-reflection caused by Styles can be a healthy and explorative time for boys and girls alike. It is encouraging to see more and more celebrities in the public eye giving the finger to gender norms. Fashion is an art form that knows no bounds and Styles’ simple yet powerful way of shattering gender norms and defying toxic masculinity is something I hope will continue to impact and inspire people for years to come.