Fix the problem: Billy Porter vs. Harry Styles

It’s hard to imagine Harry Styles ever being scrutinized, but his recent disagreement with actor and singer Billy Porter has proven otherwise.

As we’ve all no doubt seen, Harry was declared the first male solo to feature on the cover of Vogue in December 2020 – and he did so while wearing a dress. Styles has always been recognized and applauded for his androgynous style, with photographer Tyler Mitchell going so far as to say “he’s a revolutionary” and “the image of a new era”.

While this commendation is well deserved due to its role in inspiring the next generation, there are others that should have been credited for their contribution to the conversation about cross-dressing and self-expression.

Notably, Billy Porter has dressed eccentrically and has been wearing dresses on the red carpet for years. Porter expressed his frustration with Styles being on the cover as he worked tirelessly for years and received much less recognition.

Porter said, “I feel like the fashion industry has accepted me because it has to. I’m not necessarily convinced, and here’s why: I created the conversation, and yet Vogue did dress up a straight white man Harry Styles anyway for the first time.

We can’t help but feel sympathy for Porter – who just wants to express his true personality – when Styles’ intentions could be seen as more performative. It is clear that Porter was frustrated and needed to speak out about the injustice he was facing.

Fast forward 11 months and Porter apologized to Styles for criticizing him. Instead, Porter said it was a systematic issue in which Styles was used as a prop, saying “It’s not about you. The conversation is not about you. The conversation is actually deeper than that. These are the systems of oppression and erasure of people of color that contribute to culture.

Unsurprisingly, Vogue chose Styles for its coverage because it would generate the most hype, reflecting the fashion industry and a larger issue in society. The industry is concerned about the public’s response as it contributes directly to their bottom line, and Styles would undoubtedly bring in more revenue than Porter.

However, marginalized people need more representation and credit in the media. The fashion industry claims to be ‘awake’ and inclusive, but beneath the surface there is systematic injustice and oppression.

At the very least, this conflict between Porter and Styles has brought that to light and further underscores the need for change in order to give credit to the people who deserve it most.


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