Boys by Girls: Exploring Boyhood

unravels ‘Boys by Girls’, the biannual magazine that depicts boys through the female gaze

Image: Boys by Girls Magazine

Boys by Girls is a fashion magazine like no other. Edited by photographer Cecilie Harris, it publishes on a biannual basis, alongside a constant stream of shoots appearing on their Instagram feed, which has amassed some 100 000 followers.

While ostensibly Boys by Girls may appear to be a menswear magazine to the unassuming eye, it is so much more than that. All of the models are boys – not men, that’s an important factor, with Harris stating: “There is something so magic about the teenager. They have it. We lost it. Capturing it in images is why we shoot.” Moreover all of the photographers, led by Harris herself, are girls.

Boys by Girls takes a deep dive into masculinity, exploring what it means to be the modern man. Gone are the perfect-bodied models of the mainstream fashion industry, and gone is the toxic masculinity that grips onto society and culture. What remains is a raw image of what it means to be a man – in fact, a more accurate summary is that it presents a raw image of what it should be to be a man. There’s a vulnerability and quietness to the masculinity on display here. And sorry, not a man actually – a boy. That’s why Boys by Girls is boys, and not men. As mentioned earlier, Harris says it is because the teenager holds some- thing magical; their growing up, coming of age, and maturing into men.

But the focus on boys and boyhood here is, in my opinion, because the magazine wants to look to the future of gender. In their shoots, gender norms cease to exist. These are the boys who will one day be men (some of them already technically are; despite the baby face, actor Thomas Brodie Sangster as featured in Issue 12 is actually 27), so by challenging gender in youth,perhaps it’s an attempt to counteract a culture of toxic masculinity from continuing. Consequently perhaps this is why it’s by girls: the female gender taking a small step to tackle what they want men to be, and also what they want the fashion industry to become. These girls are not going to be voyeuristically shot by the male photographer, but take an active role in shaping their industry through their own lens.

Each shoot has a story to it – their website describes their shoots as a balance between fashion, art, and documentary – ranging from growing up, to political activism, to equal love, to self-acceptance – each dressed in fashion’s latest threads. Take the ‘Brotherhood’ editorial they published back in October – which looks at the brotherhood felt by boys united by friendship, and not by blood. The editorial describes the photographer’s intention to have the boys “clash with tradition”, letting them explore their youth in a documentary fashion: no cage imposed upon them, but an “invisible rope that unite[s] them.” In addition, each issue features multiple covers: one with a talent, and one which focuses on fashion, with Issue 13, ‘Tales of a New Generation’, being the most recent installment. The issue focuses on the challenges that face Generation Z in a world of social media and “being able to find peace of mind, for all of us, in a very noisy world”, and which lands Riverdale actor Cole Sprouse on the talent cover. And while there are interviews with talent, the real insight comes from the pictures, offering a unique perspective. The future of masculinity no longer resides in the hands of the man – it’s been claimed by the girl.

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