Stripped

This is a woman. Her name is Casey.

This is a man. His name is Andrej.

Beautiful people, aren’t they? Did you do a double take? I did.

Casey was recently signed as the first female menswear model for Ford Models. And Andrej was named the 98th sexiest woman in raunchy man mag FHM’s list of the 100 Sexiest Woman in the World. (Not linking to it for ethical purposes as I don’t support the clear exploitation of women featured in this article – sorry I’m not sorry.)

Diesel’s latest fashion campaign, #DieselReboot, plays with gender and other expectations in the fashion industry, including model shape and size. The fashion director searched for models on Tumblr and through word of mouth to get the most unique looks. I was introduced to Casey Legler, pictured above, through the campaign.

Playing with gender is a popular pastime for the fashion industry these days. And with good reason. Bringing into question a person’s gender with a first glance forces a double take. And even a third take. As I paged through images of Casey and Andrej, I searched their faces for signs of gender. They’d been almost completely erased, either through lighting or makeup or clothing.

Remember when Lady Gaga became Jo Calderone for the cover of Japan’s Vogue? She tried to create a bit of mystery around it, and she may have had a few people fooled. It was another wild Gaga publicity stunt, but it got attention.

It becomes a strange mental game, searching for gender and being awed by the inability to locate it. It’s that feeling you get when you’re watching a magician make something disappear. Incredible! How did you do it? Where did it go?

The intrigue, the puzzling mystery draws you in. But it’s an empty mystery.

When we lose our gender, we lose our essence.

I’m not here to define in black and white what is male and female. I’ve been searching for definitive answers to this for a decade and a half. Is it biology? Is it genetics? Is it personality or other predetermined proclivities? I am terrified to oversimplify it.

But there is an essence to a man, to a woman. There is something about raw strength in a man, and something about beauty in a woman. A man, fully alive, and a woman, fully alive. The double take occurs not from the mystery of trying to figure out, “Is she or isn’t she?” but in the power of a person who is fully himself. Fully herself.

Our gender essence is what makes us who we are. And the rest of our life flows from there. When we embody our true selves, we liberate others to be themselves completely.

Our bodies are gendered before birth. Before the world touches, bruises, wounds us. We are given an identity as a male or female. It’s the first thing we announce when a child is born, or what we look for on a sonogram. It’s a boy! It’s a girl! While this knowledge informs our naming and raising and socializing of our children, it is more than that.

We look forward to a boy in a different way than we look forward to a girl. Why? Because they bring different things with them into the universe.

They are not the same. And playing with gender isn’t just a fun gimmick to attract more readers, buyers or gawkers.

Boy is a not a synonym for girl. Neither is girl is not a synonym for boy

Gender confusion is not merely a wardrobe change, or 30 minutes in Hair and Makeup. It’s a problem. Ask anyone who has struggled with gender identity and they will tell you the excruciating pain of feeling like they are not themselves. Rachel Held Evan’s blog series “Ask A… “featured at least one transgendered Christian explaining the complicated and debilitating life inside a body he did not feel belonged to him. Lisa is now living as a woman and feeling more like herself.

Hearing Lisa’s story breaks my heart because I see that gender play and lights-makeup mysteries are not simply a show for the camera. These reveal the deep inner struggle faced by many people. “Am I a man or a woman?” (I am purposely not commenting on the morality of gender change, in case you’re waiting for my approval or condemnation. I’m using Lisa’s story merely as an example to portray the pain of living in-between gender.)

While playing with gender may be fascinating, it’s a dead end. It strips dignity from humanity. It cheapens gender and sexuality with its audacious assumption that what is male and female can be swapped in a quick wardrobe change. It undermines the value of our humanity as starting first from gender and developing from that point.

It does not glorify the most foundational design of the human frame, but instead suggests the masterpiece may be at worst a mistake. Or at best, something to be manipulated.

Instead of using our creativity to blur gender lines, let’s elevate humanity by living fully alive, male and female.

Let’s make our lives a declaration that we, male and female, were fashioned with his hands and made alive with his breath while he gazed in the mirror so we might perfectly reflect His image. 

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
        reflecting our nature
    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
        the birds in the air, the cattle,
    And, yes, Earth itself,
        and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
    God created human beings;
        he created them godlike,
    Reflecting God’s nature.
        He created them male and female.
    God blessed them:
        “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
    Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
        for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28, from The Message.

What do you think about gender-bending models and fashion media’s promotion of androgyny as a new beauty? No matter your stance, I promise to respect you. Please do the same and keep your comments respectful. If you can’t do that, you will be deleted from the thread. Thank you.

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7 thoughts on “Stripped

  1. 1/3

    I found this to be a very interesting read. I do, however, feel like you’re perhaps mashing together two very different discussions into one. Sex identity versus gender roles:

    “Gender… is a social construct. Girls aren’t born with an innate longing for the color pink or a lifelong desire to wear high heels, and boys aren’t born loving blue and playing with cars and trucks. Rather, they learn very early on that such traits are expected and defined for them by society. While “male” and “female” define biological sex, “masculinity” and “femininity” are designated by gender roles. These gender roles affect the mental and physical health of a person.”

    [http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/difference-between-gender-sex / source: Monash University].

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  2. 2/3

    On the gender roles tract:

    I feel like the reason playing with gender roles is so intriguing and impactful is that it cuts through societal expectations imposed on men and women by millennia of very strict stereotypes. Through shaking these up, presenting the bizarre and uncomfortable, we elicit an emotional response, perhaps even an inner dialogue which leads to a bigger question: “Why?”

    Why do we make women wear makeup?
    Why do we make men work 9-5 and cut their hair short until they die?

    Artistically, this trend moves us through these questions, and I for one, have found a very intriguing answer of my own:

    We are all so beautiful, no matter our sex, no matter how we portray or rebel against a gender role.

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  3. 3/3

    Projecting these gender-bending images and ideas into the mainstream can lead to a very positive trend:

    What if we were all free to be who we really are?

    We could be free to pursue our passions without fear of condemnation. A man would be free to express emotion, or stay home and raise his children and cook and clean. Women could present their true physical selves without the fear of repulsion or judgment. We could wear smart or comfy clothes in any color and work in careers and take up hobbies previously dominated by the opposite sex.

    We could be free to be simply whoever we are. Just humans.

    Strong, fierce, vulnerable, fragile, powerful, complex, humans.

    Fearfully and wonderfully made.

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  4. I can’t help but think that this article is steeped in wishful thinking and romanticizing genders. Have you never met a person and been unsure of their gender, not because they choose to be a ‘mystery’ but because they have no defining male or female features? It’s pretty awkward during the conversation, but it’s not as if they have a chiseled chin and flat chest but wear makeup and a cocktail dress. That’s just how they are.
    This sounds good on paper, but I’m afraid it’s just not applicable in reality.

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    1. I agree that the post romanticizes genders. The ideal of strong men and beautiful women in particular seems culturally rather than Biblically or spiritually derived. Even Proverbs 31, which is so often held up as the gold standard for Christian womanhood, never mentions the woman’s physical beauty, but says that she is clothed in “strength and dignity.” (It also says that she wears “fine linen and purple,” but that is in the context of her ability to provide for her household.)

      I love that we were created in God’s image, but God is far more vast and complex than we can possibly know, and the incredibly diversity of human beings reflects that. I believe that living “fully alive” means living fully into whatever God made you, even if that doesn’t quite line up with culturally prescribed gender (or other) norms.

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  5. What is the primary reason that God created them “male and female”? For reproduction, of course. Only a woman can carry a fetus, and God designed her to nurse him.

    True, gender is a social construct, but at its absolute core it is rooted in sex. Boys might be ridiculed for playing with dolls because women are viewed as caretakers of the young. Is it right to ridicule? Of course not.

    But no matter how confused a man might be mentally, psychologically, or hormonally, it doesn’t change the fact that he cannot give birth.

    Nevertheless we should be sensitive to the confusion or differences, and approach people with the love of Christ, just as we would like to be treated.

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  6. Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I see that several people disagree with my perspective and I was prepared for that. This was a controversial topic I was afraid to bring up, but it really struck me this week as just so sad. My heart was just hurting. I felt like it was such a loss for people to give up their genders and trade them or at least to be confused about them. Several people have commented on the post that people should be free to “be who they are”, and of course I agree with that in theory but not in reality. What does that even mean? I believe Jesus came to give us back what was stolen from us because “the way we are” is hurt and not okay, and I believe that includes our ideas about gender. In no way do I want to romanticize gender, as if I want to go back to rescuer men and doe-eyed damsels in distress. Hardly. I know people come in all shapes and sizes. I love that. But I am talking about the question many people ask themselves, Am I a boy or a girl? that I find to be troublesome and heartbreaking. Gender confusion should not be seen as a normal part of the development process. It’s not.

    The reality is we are all broken and bound and that sometimes includes how we feel about ourselves and the gender we most identify with. Gender should not an untouchable social topic where we let people alone to figure it out. I disagree with the notion that we should give people the gender menu and let them try them on for size, again suggesting genders are essentially the same and interchangeable. This doesn’t mean I have an idea of what men and women should be wearing or length of hair or skirts vs pants. Nor do I have presecribed jobs or duties for men and women. I’m not an ultra-conservative here. I just think people should have the right to know what gender they are and feel good about it. And suggesting a person can go back and forth between genders, to me, creates more confusion than is helpful.

    In my mental health and church counseling work, I meet women who feel they should’ve been a boy because a parent would’ve loved them more. This is just one example of gender confusion resulting from a wound. Should we agree with this girl that she should’ve been a boy and help her along or should we help her replace the lie with the truth about the beauty she is? That’s what I am getting at here. Please hear and know my heart is not to judge. I want to love everyone where they are, I truly do, but I don’t want us confusing wounding for freedom.

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