Through Fashion & Music, Will Jay Tackles The (Toxic) Masculinity Debate

Photographed by Giselle Dias.
There's no better time to be yourself than the present, right? If we've learned anything from the current cultural shifts rippling across the entertainment, fashion, and media industries, it's that living one's truth is what foster's change, and sometimes, our very existence can be a form of resistance. And even pop stars — especially pop stars — are providing new narratives to challenge outdated societal norms. Take singer Will Jay, who, with his music video for his song 'Gangsta,' strives to take down the masculinity debate — one florescent pink suit, and one twerk, at a time.
In the song, and the accompanying photoshoot debuting exclusively on Refinery29 ahead, Jay addresses the impossible standards of masculinity that have stunted the emotional growth of men. "No emotions / Don't talk with your hands / Your mannerisms / should be more like a man's." They're lyrics that, for the sake of calling a spade a spade, may mean different things to different people, but aren't lost on those who have been at the other end of scrutiny for the way they move their body or how they choose to dress it.
The 21-year-old singer/songwriter hails from Los Angeles, California. Jay, a former member of boyband IM5, launched his solo career in 2014 with the mission to be an example for other young Asian men and women in the entertainment industry. After decades of ill-informed, misplaced Western perceptions on Asian men and the Eastern world in general (things that continue to mar cultural cross pollination today), Jay's tackling an issue that has actually affected him. And it's a message that's led him to more than eight million views on YouTube, 15 million on Facebook, and over a million streams on Spotify.
While the fight toward gender equality is well underway, the efforts to dispel cross-cultural gender norms have yet to hit a fever pitch. Where a man's interest in fashion is still deemed feminine (and thus, less-than or frivolous — or, even more of a stretch, gay) by mainstream society, it's people like Jay who play an integral role in the fashion community and who have the capability to breed real and tangible change.
Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we’re feeling on the inside — and the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.
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Photographed by Giselle Dias.
On challenging traditional masculinity...
"There are so many guys out there, myself included, who don't fit traditional masculinity [standards] and don't feel like they can talk about it because men aren't supposed to share our feelings. This unspoken competition between guys on who's the manliest of them all is toxic, unnecessary, and truly exhausting.

"Taking ballet as a boy didn't make me any less of a man than if I played sports, which is ironic because football players take ballet to move more gracefully on the field. I wanted 'Gangsta' to be an anthem for the guys who feel emasculated and anyone who feels trapped by the boxes society loves to put us all in."
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Photographed by Giselle Dias.
On how masculinity stereotypes have affected his own life...
"My own masculinity is something I've struggled with for a long time. I knew I was different from other guys my age yet I felt the need to pretend like I wasn't. I'll admit that, planning this shoot, I still had an ounce of hesitation to do an all-pink look for fear of what people might say; it's funny I doubted myself even for a moment because the pink is my favorite color of the three by far. Doing a photoshoot like this really shows my personal growth and how good it feels to not water myself down anymore."
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Photographed by Giselle Dias.
On why shoots like this are important...
"Since the music video was very to the point, I wanted to do something visually that was a little more conceptual and outside of what I normally do. With this shoot, I'm making a statement by combining traditionally manly settings and outfits paired with very vibrant and non-masculine colors to show how outdated society's definition of masculinity is.

"I hope that when people look at these photos they see someone who's comfortable in their own skin and can apply some of that confidence to their own lives. It feels great to know that being a man is being yourself."
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