Vogue made history in their December 2020 issue by publishing their first-ever cover *man* in 175 years of existence. That’s right, the very first man to grace the front cover of Vogue is none other than Harry Styles. While Twitter alternately praised Harry and argued over whether or not he was destroying masculinity (spoiler: he’s not), they missed a deeper aspect of the conversation: That Vogue is problematic because they took a historical moment that belonged to a person of color or a trans person and handed it directly to a straight, cis white man.
Political pundit Candace Owens tweeted some troll bait equating the “feminization” of men like Harry to Marxism. “It is an outright attack,” she said. “Bring back manly men.”
I mean, is Candace a yoga teacher? Because WOW that is a STRETCH…
Bekah M, from the 22nd season of The Bachelor, responded to Owens by pointing out that men have been wearing dresses since BC, saying, “Does white Jesus get a pass?”
Harry Styles Isn’t the Problem.
First of all, this isn’t about Harry Styles. We love Harry, and he looks lovely in a dress.
“There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes.” Styles told Vogue. “I’ve never thought too much about what it means — it just becomes this extended part of creating something.”
God bless Harry and his sweet, kind, genuine heart for spreading the message that true masculinity isn’t determined by fashion or self-expression. We love you, Harry, and your light shines bright.
Harry isn’t the problem. Vogue is the problem.
Vogue has a Heteronormativity Problem.
Vogue is one of — if not, the biggest publishing platform in the fashion industry — and they have a huge amount of influence. Before we applaud how “forward” Vogue is about breaking the gender binary, we should consider giving credit where credit is due: to the queer people who have been genderbending and crossdressing forever.
All over the world, queer and trans people are ridiculed, denied, disowned, and even killed simply for expressing themselves in line with their identity. Crossdressing considered too “fringe” until a heterosexual person pulls it off – then it’s applauded. Are people who have actually risked everything to stay true to their identity not deserving of a Vogue cover?
Allure Magazine Did What Vogue Failed to
Even Allure magazine beat Vogue to the punch. Billy Porter made history back in February 2020 when he was published as Allure magazine’s first cover man. Hats off to the editor-in-chief, Michelle Lee, for recognizing the importance of the magazine’s historical moment and for giving it to a truly deserving figure who’s actually out on the front lines doing the work.
Vogue knew that when the time came to publish the first-ever non-woman on their magazine cover, it would be a historical moment. If Vogue was truly invested in breaking the gender binary or representing people of color, they wouldn’t have featured a cishet white man in a dress.
Vogue has a Whiteness Problem.
André 3000 (left), Jaden Smith, Young Thug
Vogue is problematic because they took a historical moment that belonged to a person of color and handed it directly to a straight, white man. Black men like Young Thug, Andre 3000, André Leon Talley, Tyler the Creator, Trinidad James, J Alexander, and Jaden Smith (only to name a few) have been wearing women’s clothing for years with zero recognition from fashion publications like Vogue. Are they not deserving of a cover?
Trindad James (left), Tyler the Creator
For centuries, white people have been co-opting and appropriating cultures that aren’t theirs, trying ideas on like a dress (no pun intended), while actual members of marginalized communities suffer ridicule, exile, and violence. Think: privileged college students dressing in costume as Native people for Halloween.
Another example is when actor Alyssa Milano tweeted about #Metoo in 2018 and was widely assumed to be the creator of #Metoo. But #Metoo was actually created by Black activist Tarana Burke back in 2006, a fact that many people still don’t know.
Good job, Vogue. Once again, privileged white supremacist institutions pocket the clout (and money) and walk away from the crime scene unscathed, washing their hands of the responsibility to give credit where credit is due or, you know, actually pay people for their work.
I Love You, Vogue, but You’re Breaking my Heart.
My love affair with Vogue began when I started collecting them in 2015 to reference my work as a fashion illustrator. The towering stack of Vogues in my studio is equally a cool conversation piece as much as an endless source of inspiration for my hustle. I thought, how cool would it be if in 50 years my grandchildren would be able to look back into what my era was like through a stack of vintage Vogues?
In August 2017 my work was featured in Vogue for the first time. I remember waking up to the congratulatory email with the announcement and the link to the article. My face and my paintings were splashed across Vogue.com, and reading my name in the article was nothing short of surreal. I was featured in the top fashion publication. Little ole’ me!
Since then I’ve been published three more times… but who’s counting? In all seriousness, to be published in Vogue is the collective dream of the entire fashion industry. I invested time, money, attention, and hustle into this dream. I’m sharing my story because knowing the context of my personal connection to Vogue is crucial to understanding just how heavy my heart feels today.
I’ll admit that at first I was in major denial. I mean, how could they have a problem? I assumed that due to their platform, they’d naturally just know better than this. I was completely oblivious to the fact that Vogue has been subconsciously contributing to systemic racism all this time by creating white-dominated iconic visuals and feeding them to society for decades with the underlying theme that, “This was the way fashion was done.” Now it’s all I can think about.
As my denial began to subside, the reality of the situation sunk in. As I turned each glossy page, visual reminders jumped out and shamelessly laughed in my face. As my pile of Vogues grew, so did my disappointment. It went from an aesthetic conversation piece to an overflowing pile of evidence of Vogue’s blatant lack of diversity.
It’s 2020, Do Better Vogue.
In lieu of our collective 2020 nightmare, with it’s heartbreaking injustices, suffering, and grief over the loss of loved ones at the hands of oppressors and COVID-19, Vogue still managed to drop the ball.
As I sit here writing this, my mind starts to wander and I think about the sheer number of people it takes to put together a publication like Vogue. The editors, writers, researchers, photographers, stylists, artists, advertising branches, buyers, merchandisers, brand affiliates, sales departments, branding experts, graphic designers, consultants, production teams… but not one person could point out such a big fault in design? Vogue was able to pull off fashion week in the midst of a pandemic, but they failed to see the simple problem of putting Harry on their December cover? I’m not sure I buy it.
It’s not like Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, is a feeble, incapable woman with her head in the clouds. Anna Wintour has built a strong reputation for being “That One Woman You Don’t Fuck With”. She even presumed to take full responsibility for Vogue’s lack of diversity back in June.
So Ms. Wintour, I’m speaking directly to you. You expect nothing short of excellence in the creativity, hustle, mindset, forward-thinking, and thoughtfulness of the people you’ve hired to bring to the table. When you hold your team to the highest of expectations, it’s only fair that your subscribers hold you to an even higher expectation. So, please… know better, do better, and be better than this.
Roya Ansari, the co-founder of FEMMEZONER, is a Seattle-based fashion illustrator and photographer whose work has been featured in publications such as Vogue, British Vogue, GQ, and Elle. Roya studied psychology at the University of Washington, has a dual Yoga Teacher Certification, and has extensive knowledge in visual brand consulting, graphic design, creative directing, and post-production. She has illustrated for brands such as Covergirl, Frank Body, Pinrose, Wolk Morais, R+Co, Wildfox Couture, and Dyptique.
In her free time, you can find Roya practicing yoga, playing the piano, filming funny Tiktok videos, making cool content for FEMMEZONER, and collaborating on creative projects. Roya is never not up to something creative that aims to push the boundaries and spark conversation amongst her peers.