Anthropologie faces backlash for featuring dancer Harper Watters in campaign

Controversy over an Anthropologie promotion with ballet dancer Harper Watters begs the question: Is backlash now par for the course as more brands attempt to promote diversity and inclusion?

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First, they came for our books, then our “Little Mermaid,” and now they are coming for our closets. The “they,” in this case, are folks seemingly intent on rejecting any and all notions of diversity and inclusion. 

Earlier this month, Anthropologie, the women’s lifestyle and apparel brand owned by parent company Urbn, released a video campaign starring male ballet dancer Harper Watters. In the video, Watters is modeling various looks currently sold at Anthropologie.  

Anthropologie, Harper Watters, Anthropologie controversy, Anthropologie backlash, Black fashion, Black style, queer Black people,
(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

“To quote @theharperwatters, “Never anthro-pologize for being fabulous! Loving these #UnexpectedAndUnforgettable looks.” (Obviously, we couldn’t agree more!),” read the post’s caption. 

Unfortunately for Anthropologie and Watters, many users on Instagram did not agree. The post was reportedly quickly ambushed by hateful comments, causing it to go viral. The comments were eventually disabled, but not before some Instagram users expressed how they felt mocked or as if the campaign was attempting to erase and replace women. Some even began calling for a boycott of all Urbn brands, including Urban Outfitters and Free People. 

Rampant and rapid-fire attacks like these are becoming par for the course as more and more brands and entities attempt to promote diversity and inclusion. No industry is safe. The entertainment industry is constantly coming under fire for casting people of color and those who are genderqueer. The beauty industry has had to navigate promoting darker skin tones and kinkier hair. All of this while legislation continues to pass throughout the country banning drag queens, nonbinary bathrooms, reproductive freedom, diversity efforts, and critical race theory in schools.  

While Anthropologie has not addressed the controversy beyond disabling comments on its post, Watters took a more playful route, clapping back at one hater who took specific issue with the fact that one dress he wore was not fully zipped in the campaign. In a direct video response posted to his Instagram, Watters demonstrated that the dress does, in fact, fit him.

Watters, son of New Hampshire Senator David Watters and the first soloist and the highest-ranked Black and queer dancer at the Houston Ballet, explained that on the day of the shoot, he had been suffering from a neck injury, so he wasn’t able to zip up the dress due to the pain. 

“I’m a professional dancer; I move around and move my body and dance for a living. I don’t just sit in a chair and talk about people that I don’t know,” he quipped.

In another post, he riffed on the character of “Little Mermaid” villain Ursula, costumed in dramatic tentacles with the caption “poor unfortunate trolls 🐙.”

Between the backlash, the hateful comments on not just Anthropologie’s page but also Watters’ personal page, and even negative reaction videos tagging him, this debacle demonstrates what brands are up against. With comments like “go woke, go broke” (left on Anthropologie’s page in this instance), the intimidation isn’t felt by the brand alone. When those among us who present with any amount of gender fluidity or who are in any way different from the brand’s status quo are used in campaigns, they are potentially exposed to not only hateful rhetoric but potential threats to their personal safety. What’s become clear is that in our current climate, businesses that stand up for (or attempt to sell the idea of) diversity and inclusion are in risky business.

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