When it comes to the modelling industry I sometimes think the stereotypes and connections with extreme weight loss, dieting and eating disorders probably outweighs my general appreciation for some of the contributions it is making to identity.
I’m definitely not someone who follows fashion – my friends can vouch for that as I own one pair of jeans and they were purchased in the 90’s…say no more. What I am interested in is how models are finding ways to blur gender or what is commonly called androgyny. Male models modelling as Female and vice versa and even modelling themselves as both! Our sense of what makes someone fit a particular gender is challenged and there might be a few certainties about what guides our visual references but overall androgyny has kind of emerged from the shadows to help us question what we think we know.
Two models stand out for me, Andrej/Andreja Pejic and Erica Linder blend masculine and feminine with their bodies and body language perhaps indicating the subtle ways gender is communicated. When I looked through photos I noticed the role hair had in shifting my perception. Facial expressions and poses struck me as interesting ways of representing gender. So what did you notice about the picture at the start of this? It is the same person (Erica Linder)
I think women passing for men generally slips under the cultural radar – we don’t even have a special name for women who like to dress in men’s clothing, we aren’t called ‘cross dressers’ or trannies. But for guys to be more feminine or try to embrace aspects of femininity into their identity it is seen as a threat and something to be concerned about. Guys have to be seen in guys clothes and any remote ‘feminine’ touches are rejected outright – for some guys (not all) it’s like some form of contagion that could see them forever mistaken as female…as though that is the worst thing that could happen to them. So this is where I think we need to ask questions about gender – why is ‘feminine’ still such a scary concept?
Androgyny is a unique intersection to explore ‘genderdness’. The body becomes kind of a neutral zone of gender but parts of femaleness and maleness have to be ‘dialled down’ to create the effect, particularly body hair. It is hard to pass as female with a good crop of facial hair, no matter how well manicured. Lumps and bumps in particular places also require ‘flattening out’. In some ways some athletes and dancers bodies also morph into androgyny and this is probably to do a bit with body fat and why maybe it can be a bit of a mixed message around body image and acceptance. What we find attractive in someone is sometimes a bit mysterious but our anxiety about gender identity might be more to do with finding someone of the same gender attractive because that what androgyny invites us to consider.
And as for shopping for jeans? Well…maybe it is about time I braved the shopping mall. But you won’t catch me in skinny jeans any time soon.