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Dorris ’15: Heroin chic is back

By
Opinions Columnist

Fashion and style are more than just clothing – they’re a way of representing yourself. And Brown is probably the most fashionable school in the Ivy League.

But as the weather gets nicer, take a minute and look around campus. Yes, there are many different styles and body types, but do you see a trend of baggy clothes and emaciated limbs – a waifish, androgynous, broken-doll sort of look? We all know someone like this. Think of a young Kate Moss. They call this “heroin chic,” the forerunner of “hipster.” 

The original models were often strung out in crumbling poses, wearing the blank stares of glamorized drug addicts. The fashion industry was forced to give them up after the ’90s and the arrival of healthier-looking models like Gisele – when abs became cooler than atrophy.

But I think atrophy is back at Brown, and there is a new model representing the resurgence. He has no hips or curves. He has long white hair and pale angelic skin, and he wears a size 11 shoe. He is all angle and bone, with the smallest hint of an Adam’s apple.

They call him the most beautiful girl in the world.

With the face of a woman and the body of a young boy, Australian model Andrej Pejic has had rich success modeling women’s clothing. Last spring, he walked in both the men’s and women’s Paris fashion shows. He appeared in numerous Vogue editorials and was even the poster girl for Hema’s pushup bra campaign. 

Pejic was named the 98th “Sexiest Woman in the World” by FHM men’s magazine last year. Even though the title was a hostile joke aimed at transgendered individuals, some see this as something positive – that the fashion industry is becoming more sexually progressive. 

But the fashion industry is delusional. 

Pejic doesn’t represent a new type of man: confident, powerful and flexible with his sexuality. Pejic represents the resurgence of the fetishized Kate Moss look that may have spawned millions of eating disorders on campuses nationwide. He is a more perfect anorexic woman. The industry is using severe androgyny to cheat the issue. 

Think about it. What does it say about our cultural body expectations when a guy is the best model for clothing created for women? Because even though he diets and exercises daily, 20-year-old Pejic still has the metabolism of a college guy. Though difficult to maintain, his threadlike figure doesn’t challenge biology. Men can maintain exceptionally low body fat percentages without slaughtering themselves. Their bones won’t thin from early osteoporosis, and they don’t have periods to lose. They usually don’t have to resort to purging or cocaine and amphetamine abuse to stay thin. 

People were outraged when the Daily Telegraph reported that weeks before a show, Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima consumed only liquids and worked out twice a day. Twelve hours before the show, she claimed she consumed “no liquids at all – sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that.”

But Lima’s tactics are not uncommon. We would like to think that anyone could achieve a model’s look with proper nutrition and exercise. The reality is not so comforting. Some models are constantly fighting with their bodies to stay dangerously underweight.

As I look around College Hill, it disturbs me to think some of us are trying to emulate these models. We forget about some recent anorexia-related deaths in the fashion world – like French model Isabelle Caro, who died at 68 pounds last November. We forget that heroin chic owns its name for a reason – the models are beautiful but fleeting. They die at the end.

That is why Pejic’s timing is perfect. He can provide the fashion world with the body they want without putting his health at risk. But real women can’t do that. 

What’s unsettling is that some think Pejic’s success will inspire more male models to start crossing over. According to the New York magazine feature on Pejic, fashion journalist Cator Sparks doesn’t “think it’s a shtick anymore. The white girl is dead – or at least she needs to amp it up a little bit.” 

If models like Pejic further influence the fashion industry, what will real girls at Brown have to do to compete? How far will they go to “amp it up?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled Pejic can wear women’s clothing without being labeled transgender or transvestite. I don’t think he should even have to identify with the male or female gender. However, until the world runs out of women, we don’t need to ask a skeletal man to model bras.

It’s a sticky issue. Yes, models like Pejic may be role models for those who feel imprisoned by the gender binary. That’s very positive. However, just look around campus. I am afraid Pejic will also become a role model for anyone who is interested in fashion. I am afraid he represents the resurgence of a disturbing trend on College Hill: bony, hipless, and curveless – the ideal girls must have the impossible bodies of boys. 

If the fashion industry names Andrej Pejic the ideal girl, heroin chic is back. The ideal girl is a guy. 

 

 

Cara Dorris ’15 can be reached at cara_dorris@brown.edu.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad someone finally has said this. I see this all the time. I see girls sharing diet tips, working out like crazy, and just basically just obsessing over their bodies. All the time I see girls with underlying eating disorders praised for their willpower. It’s sad.

  • Anonymous

    Andrej Pejic does crash diets and works out to loose muscle, and the average man isn’t even skinny so it could be impossible for men to look like him too, i mean, anorexic men also do exist.

    I really like him, he’s beautifiul and all that, but he’s unhealthy. I don’t want him to die soon, it would be sad.

  • Anonymous

    Great article! I’m a mom with three 20-something daughters, each of whom has had to navigate body image issues for 10+ years. It’s human nature to assess ourselves against one another, especially during the vulnerable teen years, and when the fashion and movie industries glamorize the unnaturally thin, inevitably airbrushed model as the ideal, it leaves the average teen/young adult/adult feeling deficient. If the girl is a high achiever with a sense of self-determination, which describes many of the young women on your campus, she will work to achieve this ideal, whatever it takes. The cost of pursuing this societal lie is too high.

  • Anonymous

    Great article! I’m a mom with three 20-something daughters, each of whom has had to navigate body image issues for 10+ years. It’s human nature to assess ourselves against one another, especially during the vulnerable teen years, and when the fashion and movie industries glamorize the unnaturally thin, inevitably airbrushed model as the ideal, it leaves the average teen/young adult/adult feeling deficient. If the girl is a high achiever with a sense of self-determination, which describes many of the young women on your campus, she will work to achieve this ideal, whatever it takes. The cost of pursuing this societal lie is too high.

  • Anonymous

    Meh. I’ve seen this article written in various forms about a hundred times since I was 12. And I must say, as one of the naturally thin but healthy women that (apparently) can’t possibly exist, I’m just as offended now as I was as a teenager to hear that “real women” are curvy. I’m not sure someone who uses the term “real women” can even fully understand how great it is that someone who is biologically male can be taken seriously in women’s clothing in the mainstream media. There are ways of talking about having a healthy body image that don’t marginalize anybody.

  • Kimmi

    I agree with your main point but I wish you would have consulted someone with more knowledge about eating disorders before publishing this, because there is a lot of misinformation. I’ve been working with eating disordered individuals for over a decade and have anorexia myself (managed). I can tell you absolutely that eating disorders cannot be caused by jealousy or pressure from the media/hollywood/fashion industry. No no no. those factors CAN cause a healthy person to CHOOSE to crash diet in order to change their looks, and that is not an ED. Sufferers of EDs have an observable difference in their brains. They are actually predisposed to it. Factors that contribute to ED are hereditary, CHILDHOOD development / environment, and trauma. Fashion industry/media, seeing skinny girls on campus, or looking at skinny models are not causes of ED. If someone blames their ED on these things, they either dint actually have a REAL ED or they were already developing one and the pressure from these “catalysts” we’re the straw that broke the camel’s back, as they say. unfortunately the general public is highly misinformed in the topic of mental illness, including eating disorders. They hear “anorexia” and think of a supermodel living off of heroin and salad in order to look beautiful. A more accurate visualization would be a 22 year old girl still living with mom and dad because she can’t go outside long enough to keep a job because she’s so ashamed of her looks. and she has no friends because she thinks she is a horrible person who deserves nothing, and she copes with her self hate and depression by starving and puking and cutting her skin open, and the underweightness is a side effect but isn’t the focus of her disorder, though every time she hears someone on tv talk about thin/fat or weight or ugly/pretty she goes and purges because she feels like its targeting her, and she has a 10% chance of dying from her disease and an almost 100% chance of getting some nasty side effects like infertility, tooth cavities, hormone imbalances, gastrointestinal issues, etc. So yeah, it’s not about looks or fashion or weight. I liked your focus in this article, I agree with ut, but some of the details about the ED is off.