Mr ‘Thing’: Pejic and his Prophet

All truly beau­ti­ful things are a mix­ture of mas­cu­line and fem­in­ine.’ So said the late Susan Sontag. And she would know.

I’ve only just read a recent pro­file of the tran­sexy Serbian model Andrej Pejic in The New Yorker called, with only a soupçon of hyper­bole, ‘The Prettiest Boy in the World’.

Pejic, who some­times mod­els women’s fash­ion, some­times men’s (though guess which gets more atten­tion), is the chap mem­or­ably described by US FHM in a widely-reported hissy fit as a ‘thing’ that prompts them to ‘pass the sick bucket’ — des­pite his pop­ular­ity with their own read­ers. And more recently as a ‘creature’ and ‘a fake’ and sym­bol of ‘abject miso­gyny’ by out­raged female colum­nists cit­ing him as the ‘final proof’ that they were right all along, that high fash­ion is run by an evil gay paedo con­spir­acy against women that wants to do away with ladies alto­gether and replace them with ‘young boys’.

Though per­haps the out­raged fem­in­ists of both left and right should wel­come Pejic with gar­lands since he means that women can finally opt out of the fatal gay embrace of high fash­ion alto­gether and leave the gays and their Ganymedes to it.…

Whatever Pejic does or doesn’t sym­bol­ise about the world of high fash­ion it seems to me that he and the scandale sur­round­ing him def­in­itely, dra­mat­ic­ally per­son­i­fies some­thing that is going on in the wider cul­ture that fem­in­ists, along with every­one else, are often far less keen to notice.

The way that in the last couple of dec­ades the male body has become ‘objec­ti­fied’ in main­stream media as much as the female vari­ety. The way that ‘beauty’ and ‘pret­ti­ness’ is no longer the sole pre­serve of women. The way that glossy magazines with men’s air­brushed tits on the cover have become the most pop­u­lar kind — with men. (Which lends a spe­cial irony to the ban­ning of a mag that fea­tured a top­less Pejic on the cover by Barnes & Noble — they knew Pejic is male, and don’t ban top­less males, only females, but were wor­ried the image ‘might con­fuse their cus­tom­ers’.)

And the way that col­ours, clothes, accessor­ies, products, prac­tises and desires pre­vi­ously thought ‘fem­in­ine’ have been greed­ily taken up by men  – and often re-labelled ‘manly’ in a way that only suc­ceeds in unwit­tingly sat­ir­ising the very concept of ‘mas­cu­line’ and ‘fem­in­ine’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

The way, in other words, that gender is undress­ing itself. Or at least, teas­ing us with an elbow-length glove or two and an unhooked bra-strap.

In the NYT pro­file ‘It’, alias Pejic says he’s largely indif­fer­ent to gender. For him, it isn’t about being a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ it’s about being true to his own tastes, to him­self. Though he seems to have few illu­sions about how he is being used and pos­sibly exploited by the fash­ion industry:

It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’ ” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so hap­pens that some of the things I like are feminine.”

I know people want me to sort of defend myself, to sit here and be like, ‘I’m a boy, but I wear makeup some­times.’ But, you know, to me, it doesn’t really mat­ter. I don’t really have that sort of strong gender identity—I identify as what I am. The fact that people are using it for cre­at­ive or mar­ket­ing pur­poses, it’s just kind of like hav­ing a skill and using it to earn money.”

I identify as what I am.

How very dare he! No won­der people rush to call him ‘it’ and ‘thing’.…

Pejic has been described, usu­ally deris­ively, as a ‘gender bender’. Which is inter­est­ing because, while I’ve not seen it poin­ted out, there does seem to be some visual and and philo­soph­ical par­al­lels with the ‘gender bender’ of my youth, the preter­nat­ur­ally pretty Brit pop­ster Marilyn, alias Peter Robinson. Who was, for a few moments in the early 80s the most beau­ti­ful boy — or girl — in the world.

Marilyn, 1980s

A Bowie fan with an obses­sion with a dead blonde American act­ress, Marilyn became the king-queen of the Blitz Set, fam­ously describ­ing him­self as “Tarzan and Jane rolled into one” – in addi­tion to the 1960s Hollywood star­let (dread-locked) glam­our, he spor­ted impress­ive shoulders which would have made it rather dif­fi­cult for him to model women’s fash­ion, or most men’s high fash­ion for that matter.

Marilyn denied want­ing to change sex, or being a trans­vest­ite, he just knew what he liked — and used words that sound very sim­ilar to Pejic’s today:

I’ve never taken much notice of gender. How you can take the same bit of cloth and cut it one way and it’s ‘for men’ and another way and it’s ‘for women’? If it looks nice I’m gonna wear it!”

A favour­ite tar­get of the Brit tabloids, who seemed to get sexu­ally aroused by the phrase ‘gender bender’, using it repeatedly, his pop career was a per­fect, orgas­mic explo­sion that was over before it began — after an infam­ously sul­try appear­ance on Top of The Pops in 1984pro­mot­ing his second single ‘Cry and be Free’. Giving good pouty face and flash­ing his mus­cu­lar arms in a glit­tery top Madonna would have hes­it­ated to wear, a nation gasped and the single sank without a trace.

The 1980s hast­ily decided it wasn’t ready for Marilyn or real gender bend­ing, or indeed sex — Marilyn’s whole per­sona shouted SEX!!!! — and instead opted for the safe, Mumsy charm of his Blitz Club chum and kabuki pale imit­ator Boy George, who didn’t really bend gender so much as tickle its tummy a bit. And make it a nice cup of tea.

Nearly thirty years on, des­pite Pejic’s unpop­ular­ity with some fem­in­ists and the closet-cases who write for US FHM, 1980s Marilyn and his shame­less, shin­ing desire to be desired looks more like a glam­or­ous prophet, pre­par­ing the way for the met­ro­sexy 21st Century.


Justin Bieber likes to wear women’s jeans:

I’ve worn women’s jeans before because they fit me. It’s not a trend; it’s just, whatever works, works.”…

Bieber was respond­ing to a ques­tion about Kanye West’s decision to wear a women’s sweater. “It wasn’t (so he’d) look like a woman in a sweater; it was just a reg­u­lar sweater that happened to be a woman’s.”


Metrosexuals Continue Their Terrifying Global Take-Over

These reports just in.…

In the Far East young men con­tinue their rush head­long towards a totally met­ro­sexed soci­ety. According to the Korea Times, South Korea, young men, includ­ing sol­diers, are now wear­ing ‘col­our lotion’ (a messy com­bin­a­tion of found­a­tion, ‘lotion’ and sun screen). Over in Japan my spy on Japanese met­ro­sexu­al­ity Daniela K informs me that many Japanese men are wear­ing skirts and dresses on a daily basis.  Similar things are reportedly hap­pen­ing in China.

Over here in the UK, skirts are rather less com­mon,  but a blog at so-called ‘lads’ mag’ FHM admits that their read­ers are met­ro­sexual — along with, in fact, most young men today. I hap­pen think the con­fla­tion of dan­dies with ‘new men’ and both with ‘met­ro­sexu­als’ in the piece is mostly spe­cious, but it’s a refresh­ingly dir­ect and hon­est piece that you would never find on the Men’s Health web­site.  Unless they were hacked.

But slowly, slowly even America, the coun­try that gave the world the oiled male tits of Men’s Health magazine, seems to be finally recov­er­ing from the gigantic national nervous break­down it had over met­ro­sexu­al­ity a few years back. But this being the God-fearing USA where Bush won an elec­tion on an anti-metro/anti-fag ticket in 2004, make sure you don’t use the ‘m’ word, espe­cially if you’re an American marketer mar­ket­ing met­ro­sexual products.  ‘Metrosexual’ makes too many Americans think of ‘homo­sexual’. And that’s not good when you’re in the holy busi­ness of selling things. Besides, mar­keters are gen­er­ally hap­pier with euphem­ism.  When they’re not just lying.

Nevertheless it turns out — sur­prise! — that the mar­ket for male van­ity products  has con­tin­ued to grow very strongly indeed in the US, even dur­ing the anti-metro ‘menais­sance’, and the sub­sequent reces­sion. To try and cash in Madison Avenue is about to unleash a record-breaking ad blitz — try­ing to per­suade American men that what they’ve really been miss­ing in their lives is Dove and (manly, techno-styled) buff-puffs.

One of the more inter­est­ing things to emerge from the Advertising Age fea­ture is that Marlboro, as a filtered low-tar cigar­ette, was ori­gin­ally designed for women in the 1920s, but when evid­ence moun­ted in the 1950s that tobacco caused can­cer Philip Morris com­mis­sioned Leo Burnett to change the ciggie’s gender.

Arguably American fags did this again them­selves in the 1970s when they appro­pri­ated the clone look, mod­elled on the butch Marlboro Man ads, per­haps uncon­sciously pick­ing up on the slightly camp, er, drag king qual­ity that it turns out the Marlboro man had all along.

Final Triumph of Metrosexuality: Men’s Tits More Popular Than Women’s

Men's Health

It’s offi­cial. Men’s tits are now more pop­u­lar than women’s. With men.

Men’s Health, the met­ro­mag with the pec-fest, ab-tastic cov­ers is now the best-selling men’s magazine in the UK, selling more than 250,000, com­pared to 235,000 for pre­vi­ous best-seller so-called ‘lad mag’ FHM with its fam­ous cover babes sport­ing udders almost as big as those of Men’s Health models.

The truth is of course is that FHM is as much a met­ro­mag as Men’s Health (or ‘Men’s Hypochondria’ as I like to call it). It just used the ‘lad mag’ tits-and-booze for­mula as a beard for its met­ro­sexu­al­ity. When it was attacked by female journ­al­ists for being ‘sex­ist’ FHM’s pub­lish­ers secretly cheered because this meant that these mass-circulation magazines ped­dling male van­ity, fash­ion and self-consciousness might be mis­taken for some­thing traditional.

The real money shot in FHM – and the reason for its very exist­ence – was never the ‘High Street Honey’ spreads but rather the pages and pages of glossy ‘high-value’ ads fea­tur­ing pretty male mod­els in vari­ous states of designer undress.

But fif­teen years on from the launch of the first ‘lad mag’ - and also fif­teen years on from my first use of the word ‘met­ro­sexual’ in an art­icle for the Independent which pre­dicted that male van­ity was ‘the most prom­ising mar­ket of the dec­ade’ - the mois­tur­ised future has arrived.  A gen­er­a­tion of young men have grown up with met­ro­sexu­al­ity, see it as ‘nor­mal’ — and don’t need the hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity of lad mags.

In a sense, lads mags have done what they were inven­ted to do: met­ro­sexu­al­ize men on the sly.  So they aren’t really needed any more.  And argu­ably, post YouTube/iPhone, magazines in gen­eral aren’t needed any more either.

Men’s Health by con­trast was always the most nakedly metro of the met­ro­mags - and as a res­ult of those cov­ers the most openly nar­ciss­istic and homo­erotic. In a post metro world, men are most inter­ested in them­selves — and can down­load hard­core porn 24–7. So they choose the life­styles mag that puts men’s (shaded) tits and abs on the cover, rather than hid­ing behind women’s.  (In one issue earlier this year, hav­ing noth­ing bet­ter to do on a train jour­ney, I coun­ted 73 male nipples and 4 female ones, the lat­ter partly obscured by ‘superfoods’).

But no revolu­tion is ever com­plete.  And everything is rel­at­ive. Precisely because every­one knows what it is, Men’s Health are still try­ing con­vince you that none of their read­ers are gay or bisexual — or even met­ro­sexual.  Instead the deputy editor reas­sures The London Times all their read­ers ‘have kids or want to have kids’, and and are ‘het­ero­pol­itan’ — an uptight mar­ket­ing inver­sion of the word ‘met­ro­sexual’, with HETERO in place of any­thing ambigu­ous and with that dan­ger­ous ‘sexual’ part sur­gic­ally removed.

As I noted a couple of years ago in a piece lam­poon­ing their prissy denial, I sus­pect that most of even their straight  read­ers (and most of their read­ers are prob­ably straight — just not very nar­row) are way ahead of them. But then, mar­ket­ing tends to be instinct­ively dis­hon­est even if there’s no par­tic­u­lar reason to be any more.

Whatever, I think it will be a while before male homo­erot­ics and ster­oids, those unspoken staples of every single issue of Mens Health, get a strap­line on the cover — even if female-on-male strap-on sex appar­ently already has (see the cover pic­ture at top).

By the way, a sim­ilar trend has emerged in Australia, with MH also out­selling FHM down under.  This recent piece in The Age, com­plete with rather amus­ing mock-up of what a men’s mag might look like in the not-too-distant future (which I thought for a moment was an pub­lic­a­tion cur­rently avail­able), provides a rather bet­ter ana­lysis of what’s going on than much of what appeared in the UK press.

Shame then that The Age, along with its sis­ter pub­lic­a­tion The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘bor­rowed heav­ily’ from — or in Australian: pla­gi­ar­ised — my 2002 Salon essay ‘Meet the met­ro­sexual’  for a fea­ture it ran in 2003 called ‘The rise of the met­ro­sexual’ — with no men­tion of me or my Salon essay they thieved from.  I’ve yet to receive an apology.

I sus­pect I’ll get a column in Men’s Health before I do.

Tip: Sisu

Shock News: Mens Glossies Promote Metrosexuality

According to yesterday’s The Sunday Times, the so-called ‘lad­dish’ cul­ture pro­moted by men’s magazines has spawned a new med­ical con­di­tion: ‘ath­let­ica nervosa’, or an obses­sion with exercise:

New research shows that the magazines, whose tit­il­lat­ing dis­plays of female flesh were meant to lib­er­ate their read­ers from polit­ical cor­rect­ness, may be trap­ping them into an unhealthy obses­sion with their own bodies.

Rather than, pre­sum­ably, a healthy obses­sion with women’s bodies.

Some read­ers become so anxious about their own physique that they embark on excess­ive exer­cise, spend­ing hours run­ning, swim­ming or in the gym. Athletica nervosa is already known to affect young women, but this is thought to be the first British study to link the phe­nomenon to men.

The piece, head­lined ‘Lads’ mags inflict preen­ing curse’, quotes David Giles, a psy­cho­lo­gist at Winchester University, who co-wrote the research, say­ing: “We found that the more such magazines a man reads the more likely he is to be anxious about his physique.” The study car­ried out inter­views and sur­veys of 161 men aged 18–36 to find out how many lads’ mags they read and for how long. They also scored them for diet­ary habits, exer­cise regimes and atti­tudes towards appearance.

“Men who read the most lads’ mags seemed to inter­n­al­ise the appear­ance ideals por­trayed by them,” said Giles. “Models in these magazines are impossibly good-looking and see­ing them can make read­ers anxious about their own bodies.”

Really? You don’t say.

Pardon me for point­ing out that this is the whole glossy point of them. And the only research you have to do to dis­cover this is flick through them. Describing these met­ro­mags as ‘lads mags’ or ‘lad­dish mags’ is to fall for their men­dacious mar­ket­ing and the beard-like breasty covers.

The reason they exist at all is to deliver the hyper-fit, near naked male-modelled fash­ion and van­ity product advert­ising within to men who until the 90s were immune to it because they were too busy being actual lads with other lads to buy a magazine selling them a sim­u­lated, lonely ver­sion of ‘lad­dish­ness’ while encour­aging them to to look with a mix­ture of envy and desire at ideal­ised images of other men pro­duced lov­ingly with all the latest tech­niques and tech­no­logy of consumerism.

The desire that ‘lads mags’ are selling isn’t het­ero­sexu­al­ity. It’s met­ro­sexu­al­ity.

And don’t think stay­ing in and becom­ing an online gam­ing geek will save you. The art­icle quotes a sep­ar­ate study at the University of Illinois two years ago which showed that the mus­cu­lar male bod­ies in com­puter gam­ing magazines drove boys as young as eight to try to build their muscles. Which is not very easy if you spend your time play­ing com­puter games. Another reason why ster­oids, the met­ro­sexual hor­mone, are the dysto­pian future.

For all this, men’s magazines, how­ever, have had their day.

Loaded - the magazine that inven­ted the phoney ‘lad mag’ beer-and-tits-and-designer-underpants for­mula but which was quickly emu­lated, improved on and over­taken by kit-and-clobber-happy FHM - lost nearly 30% of its cir­cu­la­tion in the second half of 2007 as cir­cu­la­tion dropped by 47,000 year on year.

Even FHM shed 56,114 sales while Maxim lost 53,034 sales. However, sales of Men’s Health are said to be ‘stable’. Probably because, des­pite its laugh­able recent attempts to het it up, it’s the most obvi­ously metro of the met­ro­mags — and puts mens tits on the cover. And also the one with the most hard­core hypo­chon­dria. Men’s Health is ‘stable’ because it’s the most neur­otic title, doing its best for equal­ity of the sexes when it comes to eat­ing dis­orders and sup­ple­ment addiction.

Men’s magazines have peaked not so much because they have so many gad­gets now to play with when they’re bored and alone — Ipods, Podcasts, port­able DVD play­ers, the Interweb, Fleshlights - but because men’s mags have largely done their job.

They slyly con­ver­ted an entire gen­er­a­tion of young men to met­ro­sexu­al­ity so suc­cess­fully — partly because they were aching to be con­ver­ted any­way — that now, with the pos­sible excep­tion of Men’s Hypochondria, they’re more or less redundant.