Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Transgender Bodies on the News Stand

Had to start this post with this magazine cover image. How do you interpret the image? How would you feel about seeing it on a news stand next to naked-chested men on Men's Health and GQ and everything-but-the-nipple women on the covers of Maxim?

The Society Pages has an excellent analysis here about all of the hullabaloo about this image. The cover model is Andrej Pejic, who identifies as male, with his hair and makeup done up like an old-school female movie star. His chest is ambiguous, causing some stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble to make the call that the image cannot be shown on magazine racks; they put plastic over the image.

Lisa Wade's analysis in The Society Pages (linked to above) is quite interesting:

"It’s not true that women have breasts and men have chests. Many men have chests that look a bit or even a lot like breasts (there is a thriving cosmetic surgery industry around this fact).  Meanwhile, many women are essentially “flat chested,” while the bustiness of others is an illusion created by silicone or salt water.  Is it really breasts that must be covered?  Clearly not. All women’s bodies are targeted by the law, and men’s bodies are given a pass, breasty or chesty as they may be.
Unless. Unless that man’s gender is ambiguous; unless he does just enough femininity to make his body suspect.  Indeed, the treatment of the Dossier cover reveals that the social and legislative ban on public breasts rests on a jiggly foundation.  It’s not simply that breasts are considered pornographic.  It’s that we’re afraid of women and femininity and female bodies and, if a man looks feminine enough, he becomes, by default, obscene." 


  1. I hadn't seen this! Thank you for drawing our collective attention to it, Judy. I would echo Lisa Wade's thoughts by saying that many people find ambiguity in general to be threatening. Dominant society portrays gender in predetermined either/or boxes, and assumes choices along those lines: bathrooms, style of jeans, first names, recreational interests, body type, etc. are all portrayed as reflections of gender. When what we assign to certain genders mingle or downright coexist with a trait of the "other gender" (in this example, we know female nipples are not allowed to appear on magazine covers, so how can someone with Marilyn Monroe hair and makeup also be bare-chested?), society flips a shit. It shows how inflexible, inhibiting, and misinformed such boxes are.

  2. I am totally with you Emily, thanks for your post.