It is not hard to notice a slight change in the model industry in the recent decade; gender-blurred models are becoming more marketable. Out of curiosity, I found out on models.com that among the top 15, two of them are very famous for being androgynous; Saskia de Brauw and Freja Beha Erichsen. [i]
(Saskia de Brauw [ii])
(Freja Beha Erichsen[iii])
In a traditional sense, female models should have bosom breasts and round booties, which are perfect representations of femininity. However, the time of androgyny has arrived; models who can express both femininity and masculinity are doing better in the fashion industry.
In the Saint Laurent Spring 2013 MEN’s campaign, Saskia de Brauw, who now ranks number 4 in the Top Female Models[iv], was hired instead of her male counterparts. In a series of black and white shots for the campaign, Saskia’s strong bone structure and short hair brought a sense of intriguing confusion about her gender. [v] Without heavy makeup, a fancy hairdo or a curvy body shape, she was definitely not femininely beautiful in the traditional sense, but with a strength empowered by her look and a softness coming naturally from her gender, she looks perfect, to me.
(THE SAINT LAURENT BOY IS A GIRL[vi])
This type of androgynous beauty is somewhat different from what we had been focusing on in class. During class discussions, we talked about how female body features were constantly scrutinized by the gaze. For example, how Jennifer Lopez’s extraordinary sexual appeal as a woman came from the exotic and excessively sexualized body shape, especially her large and well-rounded buttocks.[vii]
This creates a gender spectrum in my mind that changes from masculinity to androgyny to femininity. If Lopez is a representation of one extreme of the spectrum: being very feminine, then Saskia will be situated at the middle of the spectrum: in-between masculinity and femininity. As the fashion industry favors models who are androgynous, does this imply a change in the society’s norm? Why is this happening?
Wait a minute; this is so similar to the concept of mix-racial beauty. When we have a racial spectrum with two different races at two separate extremes while the mix-raced group in the middle. Biracial group is different from the racial groups that their parents represent; it is possible that the difference and exoticness make the biracial group more attractive when they incorporate beauty from two different racial groups.[viii] I’m not 100% sure if this works the same way with gender-blurred models in the fashion industry, but I feel that the idea of androgyny does blend the beauties of masculinity and femininity together. This may not be considered “exotic”, but it provides a sense of novelty for viewers of both genders. What’s more interesting is how the sense of novelty can lead to an element of mystery in the picture or the commercial. Check this push up bra campaign shot:
This may look like another female model who’s so into being boyish. Nope! This is a well-known male model called Andrej Pejic featured for a Lingerie ad.
(Push-Up Bra Uses Male Model[x])
Now, I guess, you’ll never be certain of a model’s gender. This is the fun part because this sense of mysterious uncertainty that androgyny can offer is just what’s needed for the fashion industry.
[vii] Beltrán, Mary C. “The Hollywood Latina Body as Site of Social Struggle: Media Constructions of Stardom and Jennifer Lopez’s “Cross-over Butt”.” Quarterly Review of Film&Video, 2002: 71-86.
[viii] Sims, Jennifer Patrice. “Beautiful sterotypes: the relationship between physical attractiveness and mixed race identity.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, January 2012: 61-80.