In November, American Vogue revealed that Harry Styles would be gracing the cover of the magazine’s December issue. A momentous moment for many. This would be a significant moment for the publication as Styles would be the first solo male cover star in the magazine’s 128-year history.
The publication was keen to adopt the narrative of racial and gender equality and activism that became prominent over the summer
Despite being one of many who spent the first half of their teens obsessively listening to One Direction and swooning over Styles in particular, I initially questioned whether he was the right choice to be the first male cover star. Of course, since the band began their indefinite hiatus in 2016, Styles has had a successful career: releasing two top ten albums, establishing himself as an icon and slowly making his name known in Hollywood. However, I couldn’t help thinking that Vogue should have made a more significant choice.
I reflected back to the killing of George Floyd in May and how this led to a global outcry for change across all industries. As one of the most iconic magazines in the world, the publication was keen to adopt the narrative of racial and gender equality and activism that became prominent over the summer. In the September issue, to convey the theme of hope, the magazine published two illustrated covers by African American artists, Jordan Casteel and Kerry James Marshall. Similarly, October’s cover featured plus size African American singer Lizzo and in November, Black British model Naomi Campbell followed.
Perhaps, then, it would have been more fitting to continue the celebration of black identity and the triumphs of the black community by choosing an African American as the first solo male cover star? For instance, actor and producer Michael B. Jordan, or Broadway star and LGBTQ+ activist Billy Porter. But It seems that this may have been a step too soon for the magazine.
Despite these early frustrations, I decided to read Styles’ corresponding interview to gain a better understanding of why he might have been chosen for such an important moment. Admittedly, I was unaware that the photographer who shot the images of Styles was 25- year-old African American Tyler Mitchell.
Mitchell was the first African American photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover back in 2018 with an image of Beyonce. His photography is undeniably beautiful, capturing Styles in a Gucci dress and jacket. It is clear that Styles has moved away from his boyband years of sporting Jack Wills joggers, a floppy head of curls and cheeky smile. He now emulates the androgyny of his icons David Bowie, Prince and Mick Jagger.
Discussing his journey with meditation and how his own tastes have developed since the beginning of his solo career in 2016, he also confesses his fascination with female fashion stating, “I find myself looking at women’s clothes, thinking they’re amazing.”
It is often that these images of overt manliness can be problematic, especially if they conform to the expectations and pressures of male sexual prowess, extremely muscular body types or female subordination
Whilst the images seem to spark a conversation about non-binary aesthetics and acceptance, right-wing commentator, Candace Owens, responded to the images of Styles on Twitter, demanding that society should “bring back manly men”. However, it is often that these images of overt manliness can be problematic, especially if they conform to the expectations and pressures of male sexual prowess, extremely muscular body types or female subordination.
Choosing Styles, a cis white man, is nothing profound and clearly does not fit with the narrative of African American recognition and celebration that has dominated the latter part of 2020. Yet, Vogue seem to have chosen a male-cover star who confidently displays his comfort in exploring his feminine side and vulnerability, which appears to be progressive direction for the world’s leading fashion magazine. There are no traces of toxic masculinity here.
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