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Viral photo of Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran sums up different standards for men and women

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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It’s something all women can relate to. 

For many, Beyoncé’s performance at the Global Citizen festival in South Africa bordered on a religious experience.

Video footage of the crowds showed young men and women in raptures, watching the superstar perform some of her greatest hits including the ballad Halo, complete with the accompaniment of an African choir. It was, to use Beyoncé common parlance, flawless.

Or at least it was until the singer wheeled out her collaborator Ed Sheeran onto the stage for a performance of their duet Perfect. There was Beyoncé, resplendent in a bespoke, sculptural fuchsia gown by Ashi Studio. And there was Sheeran, in a T-shirt and baggy jeans. 

In all fairness to Sheeran, he wasn’t dressed any differently to how he usually dresses onstage or, one assumes, off it. This baggy, shaggy look is his choice as a musician, just as haute couture is Beyoncé’s. Everyone is allowed to wear exactly what they want, especially when they are in the business of conveying their art through fashion.

But the image, which quickly went viral around the world, has ignited debate about the glaring gap in standards that society holds men and women to.

As some users on Twitter pointed out, the side-by-side photo of the two onstage provided much-needed social commentary about the way women in the public eye and men in the public eye are asked to present themselves. 

Not everyone felt like the picture had deeper meaning, though.

Some argued that fashion is a matter of choice, and both Beyoncé and Sheeran should be allowed to make their own choices about how they wanted to dress during their performances. 

It’s a fair argument, but it begs the question whether a female artist like Beyoncé could choose to dress like Sheeran, comfortable and unremarkable, and have the kind of career that they both have.

“But you kind of have to wonder whether, if Beyoncé had started out with Ed Sheeran’s style, she’d have made it anywhere or just been dismissed,” one Twitter user wrote. “There’s a lot of evidence that women get judged far more harshly on their appearance.”

But as others pointed out, maybe we should shift the focus back to the purpose of the festival in the first place: honouring the legacy of South African president Nelson Mandela and raising funds to continue his work in the fields of education, sanitation and health.

This year, Global Citizen has raised in excess of £5.712 billion (USD$7.26 billion) to achieve these goals. Now, that’s something worth talking about. 

Images: Getty

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