In the following posts I will prove to you that gender bending is bang on trend. Whilst many visual artists, photographers and writers alike have explored the turbulence of gender, 2014 seems to be embracing it like never before. Transgender model Lea T is the face of Givenchy and was seen kissing Kate Moss for the cover of Love Magazine’s Androgyny Issue; Andrej Pejic who leaves his “gender open to artistic interpretation” walks in both men’s and women’s fashion shows for Jean Paul Gaultier and poses in both genders for numerous other mainstream fashion campaigns; Lady Gaga has a male alter ego Jo Calderone; fashion designer Marco Marco uses drag queens from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to model his flamboyant garments which are worn by a number of mainstream cisgender celebrities including Katy Perry and Fergie; Barney’s Spring 2014 advertisements featured seventeen transgender models in black and white photographs by Bruce Weber; fashion photographer Steven Klein shot an androgynous Stoya for A5 magazine and Chanel featured models with moustaches for their 2014 cruise campaign. Gender blurring and individuality are bang on trend.
The concept of body beautiful is one that permeates our consciousness on a daily, if not by the minute basis. Visual media constantly bombards us with the promise of quick fix bikini diets, ineffectual products for younger, poreless skin whilst endorsing impressive skills in the art of Photoshop. The sheer volume of the same beautiful faces and one skinny “ideal” inevitably influences our ideas of perfection. Visual media offers only a narrow view of beauty, with its sights set exclusively on the skinny and the young. However, if we open our eyes as well as our minds we’d recognise the changes gathering momentum within the fashion, beauty and even sex industries. It appears that as consumers we have grown tiresome of the editorially saturated images of waif-like adolescents, which engulf our visual lives. We are already seeing more diverse body shapes and identities, which seem to be becoming more and more mainstream, feeding our desire for change.
The skincare brand Dove was one of the driving catalysts behind the recent evolution of bodily attitudes, as discussed previously here. In 2007, Dove with its “Evolution” video revealed how far advertisers and beauty industries manipulate our perceptions of ideal beauty through the magic of Photoshop. In 2009, the brand unleashed the “Love The Skin You’re In” campaign, using women with “real” bodies to promote their skincare range. Within the first six months of the campaign according to Dove its product sales increased by 700%. This proves that both men and women need and want diversity as well as a bit of reality in visual media.
Fashion magazines are also embracing more diverse body types. For example, in an issue of up and coming fashion magazine Pigeons & Peacocks, they feature images by photographer Millicent Hailes, BA Fashion Styling and Photography, with female bodybuilder Sarah Logan. Logan appears strong and confident, but what’s more she breaks the mould of the fashion industries “ideal” body shape for females. Despite not fitting into the fashion sample size, Logan appears happy, beautiful and strong, which is perhaps the most important thing here. We are so used to seeing females with stick thin frames and gaunt expressions, it’s refreshing to see a female with a completely empowering body shape, flaunting both masculine and feminine characteristics which conflict with the everyday images of females within visual media. Darcy Rive, the writer of the article states, “She doesn’t look like women in the magazines, but she doesn’t want to, and she looks amazing”. (p.115)
The images feature Logan in strong poses, resembling the sorts of poses she’d show off whilst competing, her large muscles flexed and firm, her skin shimmering bronze. Her body is one we would “normally” associate with a male, yet it’s clear that Logan is very feminine. She wears tiny glittering bikinis, high heels, red lipstick and over the top jewellery, normative traits for any “beautiful” female. I believe that this conflict proves that Logan’s appearance is just as over accentuated and constructed as the appearances of drag artists. Again, this diverse body shape and identity evidences how gender is a parody and performative, not inherent to biological functions. Logan’s body shape is masculine whilst her make-up, hair and clothing accentuate a level of femininity. This conflict is also reinforced through the blue and pink colour themes within the images: blue meaning boy, pink meaning girl. Logan could easily be deemed a female impersonator because of these conflicting characteristics, and so I propose that bodybuilding is like an act of drag.
Female bodybuilders prove that masculinity and muscles are not inherent to males only, but can be cultivated by anyone, even females (shocking!) Perhaps, more importantly, the representation and celebration of female bodybuilders proves that even such diverse body shapes are “beautiful”. I hope that because of this and because of features like in Pigeons and Peacocks, drag artists will also be deemed “beautiful” and become more and more accepted within society.
Stoya, an American pornographic actress, writer and dancer, also pushes the boundaries of acceptable femininity. On the one side, Stoya is a porn star whose work is aimed at heterosexual couples. Her lovemaking is romantic and buys into heterosexual “ideals” which permeate our culture. Stoya’s appearance in this case is ultra feminine and sexy: heels, immaculate make-up, long hair, flawless skin and beautiful lingerie are the “norm” whilst expressing a ravenous desire for a male. Her petite figure is contorted in ways, which accentuate ideal femininity whilst her little giggle and soft voice suggest vulnerability and submissiveness. Stoya also performs aerial hoop which features her doing acrobatics in glittering lingerie for masses of predominantly male fans. Stoya in these senses is the epitome of acceptable femininity: petite, beautiful and sexy.
However, Stoya’s appearance is two-fold. Due to her dance training Stoya is extremely muscular and thin, breaking the mould of the normally curvaceous and surgically enhanced porn sample size. Stoya has had no surgery, her breasts are minute and her entire look is not that of an average porn star. Her hair colour is forever changing, from bright blue to coal black, her complexion is almost translucent and her face Lolita-esque. Stoya’s entire persona revels in breaking the mould. But Stoya pushed the boundary further in images for fashion photographer Steven Klein where her masculine side was accentuated to the maximum. Klein, a homosexual, wanted to transform Stoya into an image he would find attractive, thus accentuating all masculine characteristics, transforming Stoya every inch into a handsome man. The images show Stoya flexing her muscles, with hairy armpits and genitals. Her muscles and bone structure are enhanced through make-up and lighting, reinforcing a sense of masculinity. These images provide evidence that even a female whose whole career is fuelled by feminine ideals and beauty and is herself a beautiful female masculinity can literally be mimicked and adapted by anyone. That masculinity can be deconstructed to parts. These images show Stoya as an act of drag. Even her performances in porn films or aerial hoop show how femininity is reduced to parts. In fact, I may suggest that even Stoya is a drag artist.
Buck Angel is another American porn star that is breaking new boundaries in regards to gender identity as well as ideas of porn performers within the industry. Buck Angel is transgender. Whilst being transgender is different to being a drag performer, Buck’s appearance evidences the instability between sex and gender in the same way. Buck has used hormone treatment to enhance her masculine characteristics. In fact, until you see Buck’s genitalia from outer appearances she is the epitome of an “ideal” masculine identity: large, strong and muscular with strong masculine facial features. Her entire persona is masculine, no questions asked! Buck Angel is a successful transgender porn star, which has paved way for other aspiring transgender individuals to enter porn as well as proving that being transgender is a liberating thing. Buck is a motivational talker also and her prestige and celebrity has helped many individuals gain more esteem and confidence in which they are. The fact that Buck is also a porn star shows how the industries ideas of “normal” sex and genders is changing and evolving.
Even current icon Lady Gaga pushes the boundaries of the gender binary by appearing in both masculine and feminine identities. These conflicting representations within mainstream media evidence how drag performance really is a celebrated and sought after source of entertainment and intrigue for the masses. Having such a world-renowned celebrity gender bending reinforces the changing perceptions we have on “normal” and “beautiful” gender identities. Lady Gaga’s ever-changing personas conflicts with the hegemonic norms, which overwhelm our entire lives, yet we still buy into her image and deem her “beautiful”. Again, this shows how gender bending and drag is becoming more and more mainstream and hope that drag artists as well as transsexuals will benefit from such exposure.
Menswear is also in a state of transformation and not in a “fashion is always changing” sort of way but in a socially challenging and boundary breaking way. Everywhere you look, pages in magazines, collections on catwalks and even men you pass on the street, “ideal” masculine style and menswear are not what they used to be. Today, the traditional rules of menswear-the colours, the silhouettes, the materials-are being broken and evolving by a new generation of designers with a hunger for something new and provoking. Season after season the boundary of acceptable menswear is being pushed further and further. We are left with more than just the outlandish prints and daring combinations to consider, we are faced with overt sexuality and femininity.
Versace explored gay sexuality in their Autumn/Winter 2014 show. Versace’s show characterized ‘camp’ with a fierce edge by taking stereotypical homosexual symbols such as cowboys and bondage, the collection displayed male sexuality with models dressed in studded leather jackets, bottomless leather pants and skin-tight, ripped jeans. Tom Strangwick, a model in the Versace show, states that the collection conveyed “the idea of being gay and proud of it, mocking the absurd situations going on in gay rights in countries such as Russia and Uganda.” I believe that the acts of drag reveal how ridiculous social norms and expectancies of gender identities are. By over accentuating feminine or masculine characteristics, drag reveals the performative and imitative nature of gender. I feel Versace by accentuating all things “gay” prove how ridiculous our ideas of what a gay man are. It shows how gender, sexuality and acts are all free-floating, that the normative formula of sex=gender=sexuality is truly flawed.
Menswear designer Joseph Turvey a LCF graduate delivers collections that find a foot in masculine tailoring decorated with his hand-drawn illustrations. Shocking floral prints, crocheted sweat pants that reveal as much as they cover, an exploitation of Dalmatian print and sheer-accented tops are some of many highlights from his collections, which pay testament to the changing attitudes in men’s fashion.
Alexis Housden, another LCF graduate, displays an exciting and decadent attitude to menswear in his graduate collection, invigorating the male wardrobe with lace, organza, leather and new cuts and silhouettes. Stand out pieces include an ostrich feather jacket and an elaborately beaded trench coat. His designs are flamboyant and feminine. The dichotomy of masculine and feminine sexuality was one of the forces behind his collection, “The sexes shouldn’t be as divided as they are, especially in dress. What I was trying to do was create a third sex in between the male and the female, one that allowed men to be as feminine as they want, and women to be as manly as they want, in the vein of androgyny. With current androgyny, women are able to dress as men but for men, it’s not the same thing. You can put Marlene Dietrich in a man’s suit, but you can’t put a man in a dress” says Housden.
With designs like these I feel our perceptions towards drag and gender-bending identities will evolve for the better toward a more open minded and exciting future for non-conforming identities and styles. These changes in menswear are not about feminising men; it’s about emancipating men to wear and express their individual masculinity in as many beautiful ways as possible. It pays testament to drag artists, and whilst these styles and fashions are challenging, they are very exciting. Below is a feature entitled, “Urban Ritual” from fashion magazine Pigeons and Peacocks, which evidence current and provoking trends in menswear right now: transparent tops and bear skin appear to be all the rage!
I feel these revolutionary changes within the beauty; fashion and sex industries will definitely have a positive impact on our perceptions of “ideal” beauty as well as normality. In relation to my subject of drag, these changes within everyday media should help alter our perceptions of drag artists and no longer deem them as “outside the box”. I hope people will realise that drag performers are like everybody else, in fact they are over-conforming to what we view as normal. These changes within visual media reinforces how gender can literally be mimicked and adapted by one person and that these identities can still be deemed “normal” and beautiful.
For example, Sarah Logan and Stoya, whilst they are not drag artists, present masculine characteristics conflicting with their biological sex. Whilst breaking away from the fashion sample size, they are both successful, beautiful and their diverse bodies are gaining the prestige they deserve. These empowered ladies reveal how there is no default gender for the sexes. And so, drag queens and drag kings I believe are just as “normal” as the rest of us. Gender is free-floating, “ideals” and “normalities” in the eye of the beholder.
Rive, D (2014) ‘The Beholder’s Eye’. Pigeons and Peacocks (6), 115
Rive, D (2014) ‘London Calling. Pigeons and Peacocks (6), 17-18
Dirty Mag (n.d) Buck Wild [online] available from <http://dirty-mag.com/03/ent_buck.html> [28 February 2014]
Buck Angel (n.d) Buck Angel [online] available from <http://www.buckangel.com/> [28 February 2014]
Tumblr (n.d) Stoya Tumblr [online] available from <http://stoya.tumblr.com/> [28 February 2014]
Steven Klein (n.d) Steven Klein [online] available from <http://kleinstudio.us> [28 February 2014]
Refinery (21 January 2014) Meet (And Love) Porn Star Stoya [online] available from <http://www.refinery29.com/2014/01/60993/stoya-interview-pictures#slide-1> [28 February 2014]
IB Times (29 August 2011) Lady Gaga’s VMA 2011 Outfit: A Man Known as Jo Calderone [online] available from <http://www.ibtimes.com/lady-gagas-vma-2011-outfit-man-known-jo-calderone-photos-708328> [28 February 2014]
NME (8 August 2011) Lady Gaga dresses as a man for her new single ‘You And I’ [online] available from<http://www.nme.com/news/lady-gaga/58514 >[28 February 2014]
Pigeons & Peacocks (22 January 2014)Men’s Fashion: Re-Appropriating Stereotypes [online] available from<http://www.pigeonsandpeacocks.com/2014/01/mens-fashion-re-appropriating-stereotypes/>[28 February 2014]
The Huffington Post UK (23 January 2014) Selfie-Esteem: Dove Launches New Real Beauty Campaign, But Is It Effective? [online] available from<http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/23/dove-real-beauty-selfie_n_4650573.html> [28 February 2014]
Advertising Age (22 January 2014) Ten Years In, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ Seems to Be Aging Well [online] available from <http://adage.com/article/news/ten-years-dove-s-real-beauty-aging/291216/> [28 February 2014]