By Rachael Lovette
From donning an updated Elton John LA Dodgers costume for Halloween in 2018 to challenging fashion norms (most notably a sheer Gucci Blouse at the Met Gala in 2019), Harry Styles is an unstoppable fashion force. He recently became Vogue’s first solo male cover star for December 2020 and rightfully so. However, it has become a hot topic, not because it’s Harry Freaking Styles, but because he’s wearing traditionally female clothing (which he’s been doing since at least 2015).
Case in point this tweet from the author and political activist Candace Owens: “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.”
So what is a manly man (don’t bother answering because this is rhetorical) ….
Have a beard?
Obsessively go to the gym?
Keep his emotions hidden?
The theoretical definition of what is manly and what isn’t could go on forever – so let me help. According to the Oxford Dictionary manly is defined as having or denoting those good qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage and strength. Isn’t Harry Styles courageous for being honest in his love for traditional female garments? This sort of deranged “manly man” thinking seems to be a plague of Western society as S/S 21 fashion week’s seemingly discarded gender defined shows for a more nonbinary approach.
We as Westerns are more divided on what is and isn’t, what should and shouldn’t and we define people who display their individuality and uniqueness whether it’s with piercings, tattoos, hair color, or style of dress as different or weird – when in fact they courageous AF. They are also some of the nicest and most down to earth people you will have ever met. I find it ironic that Owens praises the East for knowing what a manly man and not teaching it to their children when she could not be further from the truth. Example – the entertainment industries in Korea and China.
The male beauty standards in the Asian entertainment industry is unrelenting. Slim build but toned body, a tall nose, sharp jawline, little to no facial hair, double eyelids are preferred but some men can get away with mono-lids as it can give them a sultry look. Fair and dewy skin is also preferred so freckles, tan skin, and birthmarks are hidden through whitewashing apps or blatant use of the wrong foundation to make them more appealing to fans. This also expands to apparel. Whether their style of choice is more traditional or gender-blurring Asian men dress extremely well, paying special attention to their outfits and labels.
Like Harry Styles and the icons before him, such as David Bowie, Elvis, and Elton John, Asian men aren’t afraid to challenge gender norms on stage or in public. Many Asian men are seen wearing stage outfits that include body chains, dangle earrings, pearls, corsets, ring bracelets, sheer blouses, semi-skirts, crop tops, chokers, Disney princess costumes, and more. They are commonly seen wearing eyeshadow, have traditionally feminine colored hair (pink/purple), and regularly talk about the products they use or even go live to do a face mask routine with fans. Lastly, they support causes like the Polished Man Project which requires them to paint one fingernail to help raise awareness for child abuse.
The fact that this trend is becoming more popular in the East is a sign that it may become increasingly popular in western culture as Asian entertainment continues to expand the globe. Thankfully, these idols like Harry Styles are vessels of change and are using their talents and influence to push gender stereotypes. Not to mention the relabeling of male grooming to male beauty (thanks Fenty Beauty) in our society will hopefully help redefine people’s perspective of what a “manly man” is.
Rachael Lovette is the Digital Director at Flower Bomb Media with a passion for everything K-Pop, fashion, model advocacy, and pop culture. Check out her Instagram @kindofvoguish.