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Isn't He Lovely: Androgyny Is So Haute Right Now

Warning: This post quotes an article that used slurs against androgynous people.

andrej pejic on the cover of schon magazine smoking a cigarette and wearing a red blazer with a chanel broochNew York magazine called him the "Prettiest Boy in the World" in this year's fall fashion issue.

RadarOnline headlines him as that mystical "Transvestite Model."

FHM readers voted him the 98th Sexiest Woman in the World.

The FHM editors, however, caught their male audience's gender gaffe and clarified that androgynous Andrej Pejic wasn't a woman, but a cross-dressing "thing" who happened to look a-mazing in ladywear. Charming.

The magazine later apologized. Not for the "thing" snark, but for requesting a "sick bucket" after quoting Pejic as saying that he'd love to be a Victoria's Secret model someday. All in a day's insecurities, fellas.

Most commonly referred to as the current "face of androgyny," Andrej Pejic is provoking questions among the fashion media about whether he (Pejic uses male pronouns) represents some sort of seminal moment in gender politics on the catwalk. The Bosnian-born, Australian-reared supermodel's star really skyrocketed earlier this year, starring in top-tier womenswear and menswear runway shows during New York's Fashion Week this spring. Jeal Paul Gaultier, for one, sent Pejic down the catwalk in suits, then suited him up a few days later as Gaultier's bride.

In the wake of Pejic's modeling success, androgyny is totally haute right now, folks (just ask James Franco and Giselle). The term "femimen" has even circulated fashion blogs to describe the trend. Then again, the very fact that Pejic's look is framed as a trend implies to me that this is more about selling clothing than exchanging the gender binary for a broad spectrum. Nevertheless, it's an interesting case study in how more mainstream media confronts such conundrums (see: Barnes & Noble) and how Pejic straddles masculine and feminine constructs.

super model andrej pejic in dossier journal with hair curled on top of his head wearing an unbuttoned white shirt and dark trousers Unlike Lea T (NSFW below the fold), Givenchy's openly transgender super model and muse, Pejic distances himself from queries about gender and sexual identity. When speaking to New York, he referred to his androgynous beauty as "the situation," (which is a "situation" far preferable to Mike Sorrentino's six pack, yes?) and clearly is more focused on climbing the fashion ranks than challenging gender norms:

I know people want me to sort of defend myself, to sit here and be like, 'I'm a boy, but I wear makeup sometimes.' But, you know, to me, it doesn't really matter. I don't really have that sort of strong gender identity—I identify as what I am. The fact that people are using it for creative or marketing purposes, it's just kind of like having a skill and using it to earn money.

Pejic began dressing in girl's clothing in his childhood, and rather than being ostracized for cross-dressing, it's launched a dream career. And while he isn't denying the androgyny, Pejic simply makes no big deal out of it, which is also refreshing in a way.

It's not like, 'Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman.' I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.

For instance, when he met the Queen at Buckingham Palace a couple weeks ago and told Vogue UK:

I'm wearing a Paul Smith blazer, because I wanted to wear at least one British designer, with a vintage Versace pencil skirt and just some heels. I wanted to just be myself—androgynous—and play with the masculine blazer and pencil skirt. It's also a bit Nineties, which I love.

And while it's a good thing that Pejic's modeling prowess has sparked a larger conversation about androgyny and gender constructs, Pejic isn't pushing the boundaries as much as adhering to them, at the end of the day. Yes, designers feature him in a mix of men's and women's clothing and juxtapose the gendered representations in provocative ways that make us look twice and possibly arouse us, as in the case of the FHM audience. Yet, by virtue of being a womenswear mannequin, Pejic had also conformed to those unhealthy, unrealistic standards that aren't so good for women—or anyone. He told British magazine Grazia:

Let's be honest. You can't eat much if you want to do this. To do women's wear I have to be disciplined.  My waist has gone from 29 to 25 inches, my hips are 35 inches.

The New York magazine profile handled Pejic's strict weight management by recounting how Pejic ate a meal before a photo shoot. A meal of pasta, no less! With shrimp scampi! Down to the last bite! Just like a guy, the writer seemed to imply, despite what, on the outside, might look like a gorgeous woman. I've read that scene in I don't know how many profiles of thin, attractive female stars. 

Is this a brave new world of open androgyny we're exploring—thanks to Pejic, Lea T (despite her protestations) and others—as the fashion media has opined? Or are we merely fetishizing Pejic's gender ambiguous status and sticking with the same old gender logic that certain qualities and physical characteristics automatically put you in one of two categories—man or woman—and you must pick a side?

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Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Androgyny

Great piece! Androgyny IS haute!!

Good article. Well done!!

Good article. Well done!!

Food for Thought

Wow, beautifully written article! And you pose a great question: does the fashion industry's obsession with androgyny reinforce gender norms or challenge them, or, potentially, both? I'm going to pose this same question on my own blog! Thanks!

Or...

It seems to me that Pejci is just being himself, and if part of being himself is what looks like adhering to gender binary constructs because he happens to like both traditionally male and traditionally female glamorous clothing styles? More power to him!

The point is that we should all be free to wear and present as we most feel comfortable. And if Pejic is most comfortable in what he is wearing, who are we to judge that as somehow not doing enough to push the boundaries or forcing the public to explore other angles of androgyny? He's doing what HE likes. And that's okay by me.

We can question the fashion world and their unrealistic standards without adding extra burdens of expectation on those individuals in that world who are already marginalized for other reasons.

Agreed

Totally agree that the issue is with the fashion industry and mainstream media. In interviews with Pejic, he seems clearly comfortable in his own skin and is enjoying his moment, thanks to "the situation." It's also interesting to contrast how he publicly deals with his gender identity and sexuality, compared to Lea T.

This is an insult to women

This has nothing to do with Androgyny and whether it is haute or not - Pejic's modeling is the ultimate in woman hating, to create a half-man, half-woman creature because the girls are simply not up to the job. They’re too, let’s face it boys, womanly, even when they’ve been starved to within an inch of their lives.
What an act of abject misogyny this is! This betrayal of women has been brewing in the fashion world for decades now. People point to the Sixties and Twiggy, the skinniest model in the entire universe, but she was a one-off, not a trend-setter.

How did we ever get to the stage where we allowed a small group of designers — however talented — to determine that this is what is beautiful in a woman? So step by step the elite of mostly gay designers has been creating catwalk designs for pre-pubescent teenagers, and each year wanting models who looked less and less like women.
And the ridiculous thing is no woman can maintain a body mass index of around 18 — which is what a tall woman needs to look like a skeleton — without abusing their body. The designers were wanting women to look more and more like young men. That, I am afraid, is the uncomfortable truth. So it was not a big step for them to start replacing women with teenage boys then, was it? And so step forward Andrej Pejic.

So who drove this obsession to strip women of their femininity? It was an edict by the fashion mafia — buyers, trend-setters, photographers, but especially the designers. They decreed that to look good in their creations a model couldn’t look like a woman. She had to be flat-chested, devoid of hips, with collarbones you could hook a clothes hanger on. In fact, she has to look less like a woman and more like a boy. Size zero turned out to be an apt term as the most feted designers, mostly brilliant gay men, effectively tried to squeeze women out of the fashion equation. And now they have. Who could have predicted that the ultimate solution to the Size Zero Debate would be Zero Woman. Because that’s exactly what has happened now!

Interviews with Pejic clearly

Interviews with Pejic clearly indicate that he, at the very least, doesn't harbor hatred for women. In fact, he's always emulated femininity, and his mother is also a big supporter of his career -- androgyny and all. And referring to him as a "half-man, half-woman creature" is degrading and dehumanizing. Is the fashion industry's insistence on size-zero frames unhealthy for women? Sure. But that has nothing to do with how valid Pejic is as a person.

Valentijn de Hingh

Maybe a bit off topic since she's not that androgynous any more, but have you heard of Valentijn de Hingh? Dutch transgender fashion model. Born male, felt at an early age that she in fact was/wanted to be female, had a sex change operation and is now female. The Dutch filmmaker Hetty Nietsch followed Valentijn from age 8 to 17 and documented the life and thoughts and feelings of Valentijn and her family, friends and doctors and their thoughts about Valentijn and how they responded to then-his-now-hers transgenderism and gender dysphoria. The documentary is from 2007 and is called Valentijn.

Valentijn de Hingh

Maybe a bit off topic since she's not that androgynous any more, but have you heard of Valentijn de Hingh? Dutch transgender fashion model. Born male, felt at an early age that she in fact was/wanted to be female, had a sex change operation and is now female. The Dutch filmmaker Hetty Nietsch followed Valentijn from age 8 to 17 and documented the life and thoughts and feelings of Valentijn and her family, friends and doctors and their thoughts about Valentijn and how they responded to then-his-now-hers transgenderism and gender dysphoria. The documentary is from 2007 and is called Valentijn.