Androgyny, fashion, culture, social attitudes towards sex

Discussion in 'Relationships, Discrimination, and Jealousy' started by D_Tim McGnaw, Sep 17, 2011.

  1. D_Tim McGnaw

    D_Tim McGnaw Account Disabled

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    For a long time now I've followed the career of Australian/Bosnian model Andrej Pejic, check out these links if you've never seen or heard of him before-

    Guy AND Doll: Man Models Women's Clothes - YouTube

    Androgynous Model Andrej Pejic - YouTube (sorry the sound is slightly out of sync in this clip)

    Boy or Girl Model, You Guess - YouTube


    The last video is interesting because in it the presenter explains how she feels that Andrej isn't going to go down well in Middle America.

    Given that Andrej already has secured campaigns with almost every major label you can think of (both menswear and womenswear) and from the most Haute to the most workaday, and given that attitudes toward the roles of the sexes and the behaviour men and women are expected to exhibit is a hot topic around here right now, I thought I might open a discussion about Andrej and people's reactions and feelings about him and about androgyny in general.


    One of the things which is constantly said about Andrej is that he isn't a beautiful boy, he isn't a beautiful girl, he's a beautiful person. Mind you I get the feeling that despite spending a lot of time in front of cameras and in the public eye he isn't yet perfectly comfortable talking about himself (he's only 20 so I suppose that's probably understandable, especially given that he talks about having had some difficulty growing up in becoming comfortable with who he is) and I have a feeling this gives a slightly off impression of his personality in interview. I imagine that those who rave about how beautiful a person he is (and not just physically) are going off more private and 1 on 1 interaction.

    He has a speech impediment which is another interesting aspect of his whole demeanour and must have also been a hurdle growing up.


    Apparently he had to have security guards and was really closely guarded during a recent visit to his former home of Serbia, where social attitudes towards those who bend gender aren't all that progressive.

    What I also find interesting though is that quite apart from the more extreme reactions some people have to him there is a range of more moderate incomprehension and mild discomfort which he seems to provoke among an awful lot of people in societies such as those of North America and Western Europe.

    I think what this shows is that even now and even in the most culturally permissive societies the rigidity of the assigned roles of the sexes remains to a greater or lesser degree intact and that those who challenge these preconceptions must still face a significant degree of difficulty in being understood and accepted by other people.

    What's weird about that though is that Andrej works for mainstream and everyday clothing companies as much as for couture houses. This means that marketing execs must be betting on there being an underlying response to his look which they feel has the ability to net them billions of dollars in profit from ordinary everyday people's pockets, and in fact he does.


    It's as though Andrej's natural ambiguity provokes an equally ambiguous response in cultural and social terms.


    I think the very questions Andrej raises by merely being himself are the exact reason for his popularity, that is; what is provocatively confronting about him is also extremely beautiful, and by making what might otherwise be off-putting for many people look attractive and glamorous he allows ordinary folk to feel more comfortable about the much less obvious and less distinct things which make them feel alienated at times or like a "weirdo" or a "freak" and makes it seem as though they too could be attractive qualities.

    What I love about Andrej is the way he is the apotheosis of the uncomfortable and socially awkward, the angel of the conflicted and the peculiar, the perfect king or queen of those who challenge and confront our preconceptions whilst simultaneously attracting us by simply being exquisitely themselves in a world which often crushes people and destroys their lives by demanding that they live a lie or disguise themselves to fit in. I don't know if I personally find Andrej sexually attractive or not, but I know I find him extremely compelling and fascinating.


    I'm glad Andrej is in the world, and I'm super glad his natural beauty is recognised and that he is successful and celebrated. I hope to goodness that the Fashion industry doesn't just eat him up and spit him out too.

    I'm also glad that he seems to have conquered the mainstream and that someone like him can be there to make us ask questions about the often highly oppressive social expectations and cultural norms we all tend to simply accept and live with.
     
    #1 D_Tim McGnaw, Sep 17, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  2. Bbucko

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    I don't think Andrej is the first biological male to walk down a couture runway, though he's surely the most publicized. If he's really 6'2 and fits into a size 2 dress, he must be insanely skinny. Such extreme ectomorphism, combined with a complete lack of facial and body hair is most definitely genetic and quite possibly a sign of hormonal irregularities; I'll take him at his word that he does not take estrogen.

    Beauty is such a subjective thing. To me, Andrej is certainly very pretty, but I wouldn't use the B-word to describe his look. And, of course, leave it to Gaultier to put him in a wedding dress for his finale; he really rocked it.

    Androgyny and genderfuck have always fascinated me as an intellectual exercise, even if my build excludes me from any attempt at expressing it except as high irony. I rarely (if ever) find androgynous men physically attractive. And even though I find Andrej's confidence and life-story compelling, I don't find him especially attractive sexually, nor was I overwhelmed by any great intellect.

    Ultimately, aside from his high-status venues and great press, I'm not sure that he's really anything other than an exceptionally pretty drag queen. The chick in that last clip sure does have a flair for the obvious; haute couture has never been appreciated or even understood by "middle America". They are diametrically opposed points of view.
     
  3. D_Tim McGnaw

    D_Tim McGnaw Account Disabled

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    I agree with basically everything you say, as ever :tongue:


    I would say that he also does GAP campaigns and H&M and other "regular" brands (and all the other couture labels for that matter) as man modelling menswear. What interests me about that isn't the whole "boy masquerading as a girl"/ Drag aspect of what he does but the way he bends the actual concept of what it means to look like a man.


    That's much more interesting to me than him walking for Givenchy in a dress. :wink:
     
  4. Bbucko

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    We've been experimenting with and tweaking the boundaries of acceptable gender representation for pretty much all of my adult life, from Prince and Boy George (double ugh!) and Pete Burns for the guys to Grace Jones and Sinead O'Connor for the gals (and that's just what came off the top of my head). Annie Lenox was such a master of genderfuck that her I Need A Man vid is her being a drag queen.

    To a certain extent, this has paralleled advances in LGBT visibility and acceptance even though no one can seriously question Prince's heterosexuality, nor that of the myriad Hair Bands of the 80s (which were as draggy as anything Bowie ever attempted). There's not really any specific causation, just an interesting overlap. And such unambiguously gay acts like Marc Almond and Jimmy Somerville never attempted any overt genderfucking as regards their appearance (though Marc *loves* his eye make-up); they presented, instead, typical masculine paradigms, albeit stereotypically gay ones.

    Kurt Cobain, for all his facial scruff, always struck me as androgynous and sexually ambiguous; kd lang is legendary for her delight in skewing traditional feminine imagery, to the point of occasional self-parody. Robert Smith's look, however else it might be categorized, is definitely not traditionally masculine.

    But, even as I was writing this all out, it became quickly apparent that my examples were from popular music, and not fashion. Until very recently, most menswear was notoriously conservative (excluding outliers like, again, Gaultier) and self-consciously, traditionally masculine, from fabrics to cuts and tailoring. The Fashionista thread you posted earlier this year really opened my eyes as to the new direction (and risks) that designers are willing to attempt to appeal to men yearning to break free of hidebound and puritanically limited choices in apparel.

    Perhaps Andrej's time has come because the world of menswear is ready to move beyond gray, navy, black and brown. I found his caginess in discussing his own sexuality kinda odd, though. At one point he seems to say that he's still a virgin; given his opportunities and the natural hormone-driven horniness of a typical 19-year old, it seems disingenuous. Maybe he's just asexual, or maybe he prefers to keep such things private.
     
  5. D_Tim McGnaw

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    In fact despite the thin upper crust of Haute Couture and Couture designed for the shows in Paris and London, the Fashion industry in general is incredibly conservative.

    Unlike the Music industry or the more general Art world in which innovation is king and the avant garde and experimental play a central role (and can have a wider effect on society at large) the Fashion industry tends to follow and reflect changes in society rather than help provoke that change.

    Fashion is perhaps the most business orientated of all the creative industries because no matter what the fashion world's genii may get up to clothing is essentially a utilitarian and practical necessity which can be (though in the main is not) elevated firstly to a luxury and thence to an art-form. People need clothes, they don't need paintings or music in quite the same way.

    That means that when a phenomenon like Andrej Pejic appears in a Fashion industry context I think it says something really interesting about our society.

    Models are essentially mannequins, sometimes bewitching and fascinating in their own right, but their function is to reflect our inner aspirations about our self image back at us. Marketing interposes itself to some degree in helping to shape what our aspirations might be, but that can only manipulate us so much, and to have an image like Andrej's presented to us across the board as an image to which the ordinary and the extraordinary alike can aspire and relate is remarkable.

    All the more remarkable because this aspiration seems to set so many of us ill at ease. It probably is the summation of the last few decades of social change, and the examples of gender-bending cultural icons like those you listed from other fields, which have set the scene for Andrej to become a mainstream figure, and I imagine he could never have been so successful had there not been so many forerunners in other areas of culture.
     
    #5 D_Tim McGnaw, Sep 18, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2011
  6. fmysub

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    He is probably intersexed and doesn't know it. Some intersexed people reach middle age before they find out.
     
  7. D_Tim McGnaw

    D_Tim McGnaw Account Disabled

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    Yeah I suppose he might be, the lack of body hair might suggest that. I know an intersexed person who didn't really finally establish their intersexed status until late in life.


    If Andrej is intersexed that only increases how cultural significant he is, I mean the amount of famous intersexed people one can name are vanishingly small. And to have an intersexed individual be lauded internationally as an icon of beauty is even more extraordinary.
     
  8. Redwyvre

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    This thread reminds me of a movie I saw years ago called "Paris is Burning". It worth the while to watch this movie if you're interested in androgyny, the performing arts, fashion, ect. It is I think safe to say beautiful boys and fashion have always been with us.
    Andrej is a very talented young man. I thought it was so funny to hear the comment that he was discovered working in a fast food restaurant! AS IF he went from flipping burgers to flawlessly walking in a haute couture fashion show. Even if he is a quick study he has done alot of hard work. Guess I'm a little bit jealous and inspired by anyone who looks great in a video or out on the stage.
     
    #8 Redwyvre, Sep 20, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2011
  9. travis1985

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    I'm not qualified to speak on this from a modeling/fashion perspective, but I will say that I'm bi, and few things are more unattractive to me than a man who looks like a woman or vice versa. I find angrogyny a huge turnoff.
     
  10. D_Tim McGnaw

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    Yeah, I don't tend to find androgyny in men attractive, but boyish girls I sometimes find extremely beautiful and attractive. I suppose the point about Andrej is that it just goes to show you that the actual definition of what a man looks like (or what a woman looks like for that matter) is faulty. Even the term "androgyny" is essentially a misnomer. Andrej is a man, he therefore looks like a man, it's just that we are conditioned to recognise some of his features as feminine.
     
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