Harry Styles further solidified his status as an international treasure over the weekend, pulling double duty as both the host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live.
The former One Direction heartthrob showed off his knack for precise joke timing and his best crack at multiple accents, using his monologue to poke fun at his own boy band history. To celebrate the momentous occasion, Styles shared a few photos from set on his Instagram, in which he's sporting an embroidered, bubblegum pink leotard, tights, and a full tutu. Combined with his moppy hair, chunky rings, black nail polish, and collage of tattoos, it's an unmistakable portrayal of what makes Styles so emblematic: his ability to take aesthetic inspiration from classic rock stars and mix it with his own campy flair.
But some took issue with Styles' ballerina ensemble. After a fan account shared the photos on Twitter, another user, @posebitch, retweeted them, commenting: "This performative femininity s**t has to stop, and what's worse is how y'all eat it up." The fan account has since deleted their tweet.
To an extent, these concerns are valid. The trope of hypermasculine, presumably straight men dressing in traditionally feminine clothing for comedic purposes is growing more tired by the minute. But to those familiar with Styles, these ballerina photos shouldn't come off as performative: It feels like a genuine part of his brand as an artist, particularly considering his reputation for rocking statement jewelry, ruffles, and bold patterns and textures.
Styles has never explicitly defined his sexuality, but he's left clues in his music before that have led fans to believe he might not be straight: 2018's "Medicine" references him " messing around" with men and women, while a crowd of both are prominently featured caressing him in the music video for this year's "Lights Up." He's a recognized advocate for the LGBT+ community, going so far as to claim "we're all a little bit gay" onstage at a Los Angeles show in 2018, and even helping a fan come out as bisexual to her mother. Not to mention for the entirety of his solo career, his concert and event attire has famously erred on the side of flashy and feminine (he wore alternating pink and blue nail polish for the duration of his SNL episode). With all this context—enough to solidify Styles as a genuine supporter of queer folks and potentially a queer person himself—why would a photo of him in a tutu be considered "performative?" It's understandable that comedies like White Chicks, 2007's Hairspray, and Tyler Perry's Madea franchise might trivialize the experience of gender expression for trans women, but coming from Harry Styles, these photos feel like a (presumably cisgender) man genuinely expressing himself and not a man just putting on a dress for some cheap laughs.
It's also important to think of the flip side of this circumstance, as female stars have long been heralded for donning menswear-inspired looks. Of course, Styles' tutu is absolutely more costumey than an oversized blazer and slacks, but these women weren't chastised nearly as often for transcending fashion's gender norms. Why is it OK for women to embrace their masculine side, but when the reverse occurs like in Styles' case, it's accused of being a performance?
While cultural appropriation is unfortunately still alive and well among white artists, this instance of so-called "gender appropriation" is a non-issue. Part of what makes Styles so beloved as a public figure is that he doesn't restrict himself to the confines of traditional masculinity and manhood, and as a result, fans of all genders can hopefully feel a little more comfortable in their own individual gender expression. There are bigger things to worry about than a man in a tutu—especially if doing so helps that man feel more confident in his skin.