A model, not a messiah

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
June 06, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

FHM’s “sick bucket” comment about the fashion press’s newest hobby horse should surprise few. Male anxiety about being tricked, duped or blindsided by the chick-with-a-dick underpins some thoroughly fantastic and some please-poke-my-eyes-out-with-a-stick moments in cinema.

What is however fascinating, is that after months and months of hearing about all the wonders that a Broadmeadows McDonalds can birth, we’re still hearing about Andrej Pejic. New angles, new scandals, new ways to pretend that we’re seeing sexual politics at play.

Let’s not be fooled here.

Journalists and commentators are still waxing lyrical on Pejic’s role in overhauling the face of fashion. Of charting new territory for androgynous models, of blazing a trail for a future of frocked-up men and a postmodern wonderland of gender fluidity and frivolity and fun.

Nup. Pejic’s not doing any of this.

By its very nature, fashion is fickle. Every season we’re taught that every garment we own is passé. Every season we’re peddled tastefully tinkered takes on items we already own. We’re told we’re deficit without them, that we’d be beautiful with them and we’re offered gimmicks and novelty and spectacle to make the whole ruse appear palatable.

Gimmicks, novelty and spectacle are the lifeblood of the industry.

Every few seasons the fashion industry presents us with a model who we’re promised will revolutionise the catwalk. Be it the plus-sized model, the chipped-tooth model, the model from the deepest, darkest depths of Africa, every few seasons we’re presented with the newest “it” girl and told that she’ll shatter our so naïve notions of beauty.

And then, OMG OMG, in the blink of an eye she’s replaced with someone else. Replaced with the next marketing trick, the next media darling. This isn’t news, of course: the industry has a vested interested in cultivating in us attitudes of disposability.

This article isn’t actually a critique of the fashion industry. While sure, there’s a whole lot repulsive about a business that considers size 12 as “plus-size”, but that’s a criticism for another day. Today I’m more interested in the ridiculous prophesies made by fashion commentators who really should know better.

Why would anyone think that the flash-in-the-pan antics of a catwalk could do anything to revolutionise politics?

Fuelled by air-kissing, lip service, self-importance and delusion, the catwalk is at most a theatrical press conference. It’s an elaborate performance, it’s a big glittering promo but at absolute best, it’s art, and art of the department store kind at that.

A twenty-first century Stonewall it is not.

This isn’t however, a criticism of Pejic. He’s carved out a nice niche for himself and I applaud his success. Pretending he’s anything more than a model however, is ridiculous.

Pejic has been hired to strut around in ball-gowns and skinny jeans and towering heels. Sometimes all together. He’s been hired to front labels, and mostly, to draw attention to brands.

And that’s it. While his gender-bending shtick might underpin his celebrity, let’s not pretend he’s anything more than a curiosity. God forbid, let’s not pretend he’s some kind of firebrand.

Pejic’s curious appearance on a “most beautiful women” list does nothing to ease the sting of a boy called a girl in a schoolyard. His presence on a catwalk does zilch to pave the way for acceptance for those who don’t sit comfortably in gender categories. At least certainly not when we’re pointing and rubber-necking as though we’re at a freak show.

Like many, I was delighted when the US got a black president. When at home we got a woman prime minister.

I like firsts, I like precedents, I like change. No, they’re never enough on their own, but I appreciate symbols.

But in fashion, firsts don’t open doors. Firsts don’t serve as aspiration. In fashion, firsts are merely testimony to an insatiable appetite for newness, for difference. They’re ploys, they’re tokens, they’re publicity stunts.

All the very best to Pejic: I’d be delighted if he has a long and rewarding career. But I won’t hold my breath. New and different can only be new and different for so long. The clock’s ticking.

© Lauren Rosewarne