Friday, February 3, 2012

Andrej Pejic: Gender-Bending Supernova

Ah, the feminine sensuality of a lingerie ad. The model is what society deems the cultural norm of beauty within the present age (albeit not all do, however this is the model set up by the media and fashion industry)—waif-thin, bones protruding from the skin, leggy and long, blonde hair.  But do you want to know a secret about the woman in this advertisement? She’s actually a man. The person you see here is Serbian male model Andrej Pejic. Pejic is rising to fame within the modelling industry for his unique ability to model both men’s and women’s clothes. Interestingly, most of his work involves gender-bending; he is a man favoured amongst women’s retailers and often hired to represent these companies over female models.              
Pejic challenges the myth that certain physical characteristics are exclusive to a particular gender simply by embodying the stereotype of the woman while physically being biologically male. This is what has created the hype around him and his career and catapulted him to celebrity status in the fashion industry—but what is it that the lingerie company has done to create an ad that embodies the very idea of femininity using a male model? The answer is simple: they have played upon the conditioning of the masses that already inevitably exists within any audience and manipulated stereotype to meet their own needs.
Perhaps the biggest indication of gender has to do with the tone of the advert. What are they selling? The product is push-up bras. This is the most obvious indication of the “gender” of the ad (to provide a personification). There is very little text on the page and the minimalism of the text is what draws the audience’s vision towards it. The reader, then, is quick to notice the phrase “mega push-up bra”. Immediately, the wires of the mind connect to associate this with femininity, for only females wear bras. In addition, the minimalism of the ad draws the viewer’s attention to the model who is thin, wearing a dress and has long hair—all symbols that society has deemed to translate as “woman”.  A quick glance at the text combined with the main images would produce this assumption quickly with little analytical skill required.
As most clothing ads strive to do, the push-up bra company, Hema, displays its product within the photograph (hence the requirement of a model). The fact that a Hema push-up bra gives the illusion of breasts on a gender biologically disinclined to produce them—or if false breasts were added just for the ad—is what highlights the breasts in this situation; however, one would have to be aware of the real gender of the model at hand for this to be realized. For those who are not familiar with Pejic, the shadowing and lighting of the ad would highlight the breasts, as would the cut of the dresses, both of which provide an elongated v-neck commonly known in fashion to highlight this area of the body.
Additionally, the clothing that has been chosen for Andrej, like much of women’s clothing in modern day, leaves much room for the bare flesh to be exposed. Another aspect of femininity is nudity, nudity being associated with purity, innocence and vulnerability. This is further advocated within the photograph as a certain delicacy is projected from the image where we see Andrej’s bones protruding from his flesh. Bones are fragile and in females are frequently seen as having the consistency of porcelain, therefore prone to breakage. The color of the skin adds to this doll-like effect, Andrej being quite pale in complexion.
Aesthetically, the length and color of Pejic’s hair denote a cultural paradigm of youth and innocence commonly associated with the female gender.  The nearly white-blonde that has almost certainly been achieved with the use of chemicals (and therefore intentional in affecting an audience) serves to create these associations and to further even more the illusion of a doll. Pejic closely resembles a Barbie, one of the most popular icons of femininity in American and even world culture. There is also the idea that the longer the hair, the younger the individual. Many older women today have cropped their hair or cut it into a bob whereas the younger generation grows it long. Culture connects youth with beauty and beauty with femininity.
The body language in the ad is also a key indicator of the persona that Andrej projects. In the image to the far left, his hip is thrust out to the side. The female hips are worshipped by the male gender and the flaunting of the hips is indicative of sex. In the image to the right, Andrej slouches his shoulders in an attempt at submissiveness (i.e. that the female should submit to the more dominant gender of the male) and gazes at the camera with a hypnotic and enticing stare.
That the concept of the “male model” is a contradiction to society’s gender rules should be considered. When you think of a model, what immediately comes to mind? The image of a woman, for most. The idea of the model is rooted in sensuality and the use of the body as an object; as something to sell. Sex, sensuality and the human body (in this sense) are all attributes of modelling and all attributes of femininity. While some models are not as androgynous as Andrej, the concept of the “male model” as a rule, is a situation in which a contradiction to the mythos of masculinity occurs.
In ‘Gender Role Behaviors and Attitudes’, Aaron Devor says: “…both males and females are popularly thought to be able to do many of the same things, but most activities are divided into suitable and unsuitable categories for each gender class.” The very essence of a male model illustrates this concept: he is a man doing a woman’s job. In this advertisement, Andrej is a man doing a woman’s job to an extreme degree going so far as to impersonate a female. Thus, we can conclude that gender is not conducive to whatever an individual’s sexual organs may be. Andrej does just as good a job modelling female-specific garments as a woman would. He just happens to have a penis. 

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