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Dorris '15: Heroin chic is back

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.


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