Thursday, June 2, 2011

Andrej-yny

I’ve just read about the fashion model Andrej Pejic, a fascinating story of glamorous androgyny.  Pejic’s particularly notable claim to fame is now having been ranked number ninety-eight on FHM’s list of the 100 Sexist Women in the World, in spite of being a man.  I already commented on last month’s Maxim Hot 100 list, and called attention to the masculine features of their number one pick.  But in that case, I used the observation to make fun of meatheads and their repressed homosexuality.  The case of Andrej Pejic and FHM, however, speaks to something deeper.  After all, since Pejic is identifiably male, the readers who voted him in had to be conscious of the impulses driving their decision.  Either significant numbers of FHM readers believe that the shape of a model’s genitalia does not affect the attractiveness of his or her feminine features, or they voted Pejic in as a joke of some sort, or else a bunch of frat boys genuinely didn’t know the gender of the person they were looking at and have spent the entire time since the release of the magazine trembling in horror and confusion.

But regardless of the particular motivations of the FHM voters, Pejic was clearly seen as beautiful enough for inclusion in the list, or at the very least, the undercurrent of his popularity within the fashion industry made his beauty seem worth making fun of.  Even if it is met with backlash and fear, which of course it has been (the copy accompanying Pejic’s picture, for which FHM has since apologized, referred to him as a “thing”), once traditional society feels the need to curse, combat, or recoil from something like this, it has already taken hold and been accepted by many.

My egotistical interest in this story is that it strikes me as the latest and greatest extension of a trend that I have been observing for years.  Society’s standard of beauty is changing, as it always does, but it is becoming androgynous.  I would be absolutely unsurprised if a generation from now we looked back on Andrej Pejic in the same way that we look back on, say, Twiggy now, as defining a type of beauty that influenced our aesthetic preferences for decades.

Around the time that I was in college, I looked in at the culture of American adolescence and was shocked to see how quickly it changed as soon as I had stepped out of it.  The emo movement (a term I passionately hate using) did not exist when I was in high school but was evidently commonplace a year or two later.  Characterized by medium-length hair plastered over the forehead and heavy use of eye-shadow, the changes to physical appearance associated with kids who might be identified by that term were applied equally to both girls and boys.  Various countercultural movements in recent years seem to have followed the same trend, clothing stores carry much highly effeminate attire for men, and the notion of defined styles for men and women seems to be fading away.

I visited with my former employer recently, and while I spoke to him outside an acquaintance of mine who is just a teenager happened by and stopped to speak with me.  The young man is stunningly androgynous.  And that is not to say that he looks like a girl.  It would be more accurate to say that it is practically impossible to tell what gender he is until he gives his name, which is thankfully not Sam or Pat.  When I talked to my former employer later, he commented that my friend had given him serious gender confusion, to the point that he was lost to anything that was being said, being completely focused on whether the person standing in front of him was male or female.  And so he mused that this young man must have been subjected to a lot of bullying as a result of his unusual appearance.  I then found myself trying to explain to a man in his forties that attitudes have changed a great deal even just in my time, and that while certainly there was likely to be a measure of intolerance dispensed to any such youth, kids have been setting new standards for what is unusual with every passing year, and many of them now probably thought that my acquaintance’s androgyny was not only perfectly acceptable, but even admirable.  Indeed, countless thirteen year-old girls have posters in their room of Justin Bieber, who, as has been pointed out many times over, looks like a lesbian.

While that comparison tends to just be a joke, it is nonetheless indicative of an apparent meeting-in-the-middle of the concepts of attractiveness in boys and girls.  This is probably both a cause and an effect of increasing acceptance of androgynous and transgendered people, which is no doubt why the population of a Florida high school had few qualms about voting for a transgendered boy as prom queen.  I suspect that most of those that cast their ballot in his favor not only accepted his lifestyle, but genuinely thought that he was attractive enough to fill the role admirably.

Society is rapidly shedding gender roles and trading some between the sexes, and the result is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to flatly state that a person must be expected to be one thing or the other.  It’s not as simple as turning boys into sissies and making girls butch.  It’s something else entirely.  That’s why the parents who have refused to disclose the sex of their child are so misguided.  If they want to allow the child to develop its own gender identity, keeping its biological sex a secret is not the way to do it.  Instead, they should aspire to raise the child in a society and a household atmosphere wherein its sex does not define the roles it plays or the ways it expresses itself.  Biological sex shouldn’t be hidden, it should be irrelevant.  If that is made to be the case for the child, then even if it’s a boy, maybe he can grow up to model women’s clothing at fashion shows and be seen as sexy by a men’s magazine.

Andrej Pejic, as a matter of fact, gets the best of both worlds, successfully modeling both men’s and women’s clothes.  It is no wonder that he has been so elevated in the fashion industry.  What better way to maintain consistency in a brand than by having the same model available to carry off virtually any garment?  My only concern for Pejic in that atmosphere is that having no fixed gender identity and thus being so versatile might lead the industry to treat him as a blank slate, little more than a living mannequin.  That’s an open question, though.  Does such a lack of fixed identity have a dehumanizing effect, or does it do Pejic a service by giving him the unique ability to build an identity on both sides of the gender divide?

Of course, he’s currently able to bridge that gap just because he only models outerwear.  But when questioned by a reporter, Pejic said that he would consider a complete sex change if offered a contract with Victoria’s Secret.  And while his immediate follow up comment that he is comfortable with himself the way he is makes it clear that that was just a joke, I can’t resist taking it as an opportunity to say that if he does seriously consider such a move, he’d better be careful to choose a highly reputable surgeon.  Otherwise, he could end up literally being Hedwig:



1 comment:

Icha said...

You present a very interesting insight about "Andrej-yny". It gives me a new knowledge. Thanks.