The fashion world got a slap in the face this week when Barnes & Noble told amagazine it had to wrap its new issue in opaque plastic because it featured the nude torso of an androgynous male.
Usually reserved for porn magazines, the wrapping was requested for Dossier because Barnes & Noble was concerned customers would mistake the cover model for a shirtless woman.
Fashion news sites Jezebel.com and Styelite soon speculated that the bookstore chain censored model Andrej Pejic because he doesn’t have the kind of muscular body typically featured on magazine covers. But the fashion news sites are missing the point.
Jezebel.com wrote: “He’s not a fitness model, a well-muscled leading man actor, or a buff musician. Does the Barnes & Noble newsstand have a minimum biceps standard, no skinny dudes need apply?”
Styelite agreed: “Need we remind you that a crazily buff (and pretty much shirtless) Aaron Schock graces the cover of June’s Men's Health? If Andrej were muscled instead of waif-like, would this be an issue?”
But listen to how Barnes & Noble defended the directive. They said that while they knew Pejic was a man, “the model is young and it could be deemed as a naked female.”
From the retailer’s words, it’s clear the issue is far less about muscles or macho-ness and far more about keeping a clear divide between male and female. Retailers would probably be okay with a skinny man on their cover, but they become less comfortable when their cover model blurs the lines between man and woman.
Dossier co-founder and creative director Skye Parrott identified that discomfort as the reason for the directive, telling Jezebel.com: “We knew that this cover presented a very strong, androgynous image, and that could make some people uncomfortable. That's partly why we chose it. I guess it has made someone pretty uncomfortable.”
Pejic is known for his lack of discomfort in blurring those lines. Not only is he comfortable modeling both men’s and women’s wear for the sake of fashion, but he has also maintained that androgynous appearance since childhood. As a child, Pejic played with dolls and dressed in his mother’s clothes.
Pejic said of the negative response to his appearance: “I'm sure most people think of me as a woman. It doesn't bother me anymore and I feel fine about it.”
But while Pejic may feel comfortable blurring the lines between male and female, retailers like Barnes & Noble still have a long way to go.