In the black and white photograph on the right, model Erika Linder poses against a white backdrop. She wears loose-fitting jeans, open at the waist, which slip from her hips to reveal the band of briefs beneath the pants. The outline of a star is tattooed on her muscular stomach. Her arms are held in front of her chest and her hands grip a t-shirt; this pose conceals a seemingly sunken chest. Her face, devoid of makeup, grimaces. Her short hair is in disarray. In the color image below, male model Andrej Pejic wears a black wrap dress, long blond bedhead, and subtle, feminine makeup. The dress has slipped off of the left shoulder, and a bra strap is visible. Text lines next to Pejic’s silhouette convey that the image was produced for a Dutch lingerie advertisement, selling a bra that claims to add two cup sizes.
Are these images intended to be humorous? Perhaps – but only those in the know. Linder, a woman, frequently works as a male model. Pejic, a man, frequently works as a female model. Linder is not a drag king, and Pejic is not a drag queen; neither model caricatures, exaggerates, or lampoons gender norms. Instead, each model conceals himself or herself within the costume of the familiar. Each model works the parameters of gender to his or her professional advantage. Linder and Pejic conform exactly to current standards of masculine and feminine beauty. They simply don’t conform the beauty standard expected of their respective sexes.
Erika Linder and Andre Pejic force us to reconsider how we recognize and react to male and female bodies. I suggest that we looked at these bodies as sexed (if not gendered), and ask why we recognize Linder as “male” in the image on the left (when she is recognizably “female” in other images) and Pejic as “female” in the image on the right (when he is recognizably “male” in other images). Which elements of Pejic’s wardrobe and makeup tell us that he should be read as she? Which aspects of Linder’s outfit and physiognomy categorize her as male? Further, do we consider these distinctions useful and expedient? Are they visually or erotically attractive? Which norms are disrupted by these images? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are norms disrupted at all if no further explanation is attached to the images?