Do you remember the boy with a cream-colored sweater he liked to pull over his hands? It was soft and feathery, and he liked to nuzzle into it when he was nervous. He always sat at the back of your geometry class and pretended his hair shielded him from the people with intrusive questions. The boy was quiet, unassuming, and maybe that’s why he doesn’t jog your memory.
You don’t know that he went home to lay on pastel pink sheets and play The Devil Wears Prada at full volume. He stole a thick coat from his mother’s closet and stepped into bright red heels, clutched a clipboard to his chest, and yelled orders out at his imaginary assistant. He dabbed a little lipstick on his lips for good measure, just to get into character.
How about the chestnut-haired boy who you ran into that busy day at the coffee shop? The one whose nails were painted a soft lavender and who hummed along to soft ballads while curling his fingers over a mocha latte. I doubt you know he used to have a stash of editions of Vogue he’d stolen from libraries and hair salons. His sewing machine was his second most prized possession— almost as much as his bookshelf —and the first thing he did every morning was tuck a charm necklace under his shirt.
Okay, no. But maybe you remember Harry Styles.
The warm boy who wrote his mother notes as apologies after arguments and never failed to share a knock-knock joke at the nearest opportunity. You might have known him as the curly-haired kid who auditioned for the X Factor or the tall boy in one of the biggest boy bands in history. You may think of albums whose melodies made the sun peek its head over the horizon, or of soft-sung words that lulled busy minds to sleep.
But the boy at the back of your class? The boy from the coffee shop? They know him as the person who taught them that it’s okay to be free. They know him as the one who dared to be the first man solo on the cover of American Vogue.
He stepped into a Gucci dress and posed on a grassy field, hushing prejudiced voices and regressive critics. After donning a pearl necklace for months and freely painting his nails a vivid yellow, he openly showed people how to be comfortable in their own skin. They shouldn’t be shoved into categories of what’s socially permissible for men to wear and for women to wear, and happiness isn’t something you should trade in for the sake of fitting in. In his interview with Vogue, Styles said, “It’s like anything—anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself. There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes. I’ve never though too much about what it means— it just becomes this extended part of creating something.”