Boys will be girls

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Why have a problem with Andrej Pejic when Chloe Memisevic is on the runway?

AndrejPejicA reader wrote in recently to ask if I was going to sound off about the latest modelling sensation, Bosnian Andrej Pejic, who modelled the wedding gown in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Jan 2011 catwalk show.

Well, the thing is, no, I’m not. 

I couldn’t care less whether Andrej is a bloke any more than I care whether Caster Semenya is a girl or that androgyne beauty (more correctly epicene, I feel), is currently the big flavour in fashion. 

Nor am I spectacularly annoyed that Jean-Paul Gaultier has dared to dress up ‘a man as a woman’. Gaultier has always enjoyed a bit of gender-bending, and I think a: he’s having a laugh (and fashion should have a little humour after all, which is why Milan is so unbearably tedious) and b: if Pejic is a new icon of beauty, then good luck to him – because he IS beautiful. In fact, other than the hair and the makeup, he looks exactly like the bloke I lost my virginity to. (The wedding dress, incidentally, looked every bit as good on Rihanna at the Grammies.)

andrej-weddingRihannaI don’t really care what anyone’s sex is and even the idea of having ‘a sex’ is primarily cultural. Science has no real way of telling what anyone’s sex is (witness the recent debacle over  Semenya’s testosterone levels), even if it can tell you what chromosomes you have. The Ancient Greeks believed that the division of humanity into two sexes was something of a mistake and that the hermaphrodite – with characteristics of both sexes – was a more ideal form of humanity. I’m fine with that.

Fashion fads also come and go, and this is just one of them. I’ve lived long enough to remember when it was a big whoop back in the 70s when David Bowie and Freddie Mercury got right up the nose of the establishment with their ‘feminine’ appearance (just like the Puritans got annoyed with the Cavaliers). And again in the 80s with Boy George and Steve Strange. Back then, when I swanned around with my boyf, Graham, he was wearing more mascara than I was. 

Long before that, in the 1920s it was women’s turn, and ‘la garconne’ with her cropped hair and flat chest shocked her elders, then Marlene Dietrich turned up in the 30s wearing trousers (ooh, shocking at the time).

It will pass. 

Gender differentiation by clothing is also culturally dependent – there are many cultures where men show their masculinity by wearing skirts and women show their femininity by wearing trousers. So I can’t get all airated about Pejic wearing a wedding dress: he can wear a hula hoop and a top hat for all I care.

To deny him the right to do so, in any case, would be to undermine my own right to wear trousers, or jeans, or any other items of supposedly masculine clothing (it’s usually women who’ve stolen clothes from men in our culture, so maybe we shouldn’t jump on this particular bandwagon). 

It would, of course, be possible to infer that this young man is meant to represent a paradigm of female beauty – ie: we should all be flat-chested, long-haired, young and beautiful. But I don’t really think that’s the issue at play here. To start with, I think he’s being held up as an ideal of non-sexually specific beauty and secondly it is an easy argument to make that ‘real’ women have curves, but the truth is that they don’t. Real women come in all shapes and sizes from the flat-chested and angular like my old friend Dom, whose every rib you could count, to the absolutely rotund – it is lack of diversity in height, weight and ethnic origin that is so sadly lacking on both the catwalk and in fashion editorials.

Let us also remember that there have been decades and decades and decades of history that favoured the fuller figure – to such an extent that the majority of women had to pad out their breasts and hips with wadding in order to be considered attractive. The current obsession is with skinniness is part of the obsession with youth, and it’s annoying for those of us who aren’t either, but really – it’s only a phase. We only think of it as important because we are the ones living through it. 

MartynamemisevicThe really disturbing trend noticed at London Fashion Week (though not so much in Paris or Milan) was the return of the anorectic, gauntly skeletal model, preferably made up to look like a drug-addled zombie. Of this, needless to say, I do not approve because it glamouries ill-health, like the heroin-chic models of yesteryear. Wasn’t the fashion industry meant to be getting rid of this kind of crap?

When models with the BMI of Chloe Memisevic and Martyna Budnya are once again appearing on the catwalk, whether they are male or female, now that really IS worrying.

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