Andrej Pejic, “The Prettiest Boy in the World,” Models Through It

When female models do drag we think it’s hot and edgy or a whole new kind of beautiful. We love the girls in suits and suspenders, the girls with dirt on their faces or ties around their necks. We like girls in “boyfriend jeans” and girls posing like boys next to girls dressed like girls. We put them in ads and we put them on the runway and we put them on our tumblrs and on our walls and it’s mostly okay. People are always saying that female models have bodies like teenage boys, which probably has something to do with why the mainstream can handle a wiry female fashion model in a cumberbund but is generally disturbed by real-life displays of female masculinity, which are treated as subversive and often frightening.

model Maryna Buniak

But where is the love for men who fuck with gender on their own terms? Where are the effeminate men? They’re plentiful behind the runway, but in mainstream culture male cross-dressing is almost always treated as a punchline or a perversion and effeminate behavior or attire is scorned and ridiculed. (Thank you, patriarchy!) This leaves fashion somewhere in the middle — though it plays with gender fairly liberally at times, male models are far more limited in their gender expression than females are.

Enter Andrej Pejic, who appears on the cover of New York Magazine’s annual Fashion Issue in a story entitled “The Prettiest Boy in the World.”

model Andrej Pejic

Pejic, 19 and the son of a Croatian father and Serbian mother, was born in Bosnia and grew up in Australia. As a kid Pejic liked to “play dress-up with the girls” but eventually he learned that behavior was “unacceptable” for boys and began to reign it in. But at 13 he changed his mind, went “Fuck it” and “let the platinum blonde out.”

Because he lacked the muscle mass and macho stylings of most male models, it took Pejic a while to break into the modeling industry but now his career is taking off. During February’s Fashion Week, he modeled in five men’s shows and four women’s shows. Pejic was signed to Storm Agency by Sarah Doukas, who also discovered Kate Moss, and she posts Pejic on both the male and female boards. Doukas remembers:

 “When I first met ­Andrej, I didn’t think, What a beautiful boy or girl, I certainly didn’t want to put him in one particular box.”

Pejic doesn’t really consider himself male or female but doesn’t care what you call him — he uses male pronouns but is also perfectly content passing for female and being treated as such. “I guess professionally I’ve left my gender open to artistic interpretation,” he explains. I feel like Judith Butler would really like this guy.

The article’s author, Alex Morris, points out that although “androgyny has been a selling point in the fashion world since Coco Chanel jettisoned corsets in favor of sailor suits… it’s always been a trickier, and more sexualized, endeavor with men.”

Although I personally have nothing but excited feelings about any time a man fucks with gender and dares to go femme, the world’s reaction to Pejic has been varied — comment threads on Pejic-related articles online include vile comments like “Yuck!”, “He’s beautiful, but I prefer my men to look like actual men” and “He’s a BIG ICK to me. I wouldn’t want to look like that.” Good to see that misogyny is alive and well on the internet, much to everybody’s surprise.

Haters gonna hate, but Pejic is getting a lot of work these days — magazine covers, runway shows, and shoots with top photographers. In his homeland of Australia, he’s famous enough that he has to wear sunglasses to go outside! He jokes:

“I don’t get out of bed for less than $50 a day,” he deadpanned. “I want to make that clear to America. This is a new age of androgynous supermodels. We don’t get out of bed for less than $50 a day.”

There have been a few high-profile incidents of gender-related discrimination in Pejic’s career thus far — like when Barnes & Noble allegedly mis-identified Pejic as female when Pejic appeared topless on the cover of Dossier and required the magazine wrapped in opaque plastic.

Then there was the heinous misstep by lad rag FHM, who referred to Pejic as a “thing” when ranking him the 98th sexiest woman in the world. Their description of him couldn’t possibly be any more revelatory of society’s discomfort with femininity:

“Designers are hailing him as the next big thing. We think “thing” is quite accurate… The gender bender has jumped the gun in hoping he might one day be signed as a Victoria’s Secret Model (pass the sick bucket).”

(FHM later issued an apology.) Pejic doesn’t care though, he says “my whole life is controversy, what can I do? I’m like Britney Spears!”

According to Morris, Pejic is, then, doing something very different. We haven’t seen male models quite this androgynous before. She links this to an overall industry trend with more expansive ideas about gender — for example the recent success of transgender model Lea T — and cites the case of April Ashley, a 60’s model whose career was “destroyed” when her trans status was revealed as evidence of how far fashion has come. Pejic describes the style of transgender fashion icons like Candy Darling and Connie Girl as a “We’re fabulous; fuck off” look. What’s Pejic’s look? Pejic’s look is however you want him to look.

Here’s how Pejic describes his gender identity:

“When I started experimenting, it was to make myself feel happy, to look in the mirror and be satisfied. I never did drag or anything like that. It was always that I wanted to be pretty, to look beautiful, as a girl would want to.”

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

+ “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.”

Also, this:

+ “Though he once joked to a reporter that he’d get a sex change if that would secure him a Victoria’s Secret campaign (“You’d kind of have to, wouldn’t you?”), he knows his look will never become commercial enough to command that kind of money, nor is a sex change something he’s really considering. “Obviously, as a kid you’d think about it—”What would life be like if I was born a girl?” and stuff. But at this point, I’m happy with the situation as it is.”

[The usage of the term "sex change" is so very retro, isn't it? Way to go, New York Magazine!]

Photographed by Marcin Tyszka

So he’s pretty and witty, but is he gay? Either Pejic is saying he’s asexual and Morris is ignorant, or Pejic is just being sassy:

Pejic is surprisingly cagey about his love life, and especially so about his sexual orientation. He says he tends to attract straight men and bi-curious women, “like the wilder girls,” but in keeping with his philosophy that, for him at least, gender is irrelevant, he won’t get specific about who attracts him. “You know, I wouldn’t say that I’m really a sexual person,” he said—a statement that’s almost impossible to believe. “But I do appreciate love, and I would love to experience it someday. I don’t think I have yet.” When pressed, the only trait he’ll admit he finds alluring is humor. “I find myself to be quite sarcastic, and I wouldn’t want to be with someone who didn’t get that.”

Morris suggests that his success has more to do with fashion’s preference for hipless/curveless women than it does any kind of social sea change — like the world wasn’t necessarily ready for a male model who could model womenswear and then they found Pejic, it seems like they found Pejic and then had to become ready for a male model modeling womenswear. But thank G-d they did, because it’s long overdue.

But Pejic’s not blind to the various incarnations of sexism/trans-misogyny controlling discourse and gender expression in the world today. In fact, when I read this part of the article…

..though he may not exactly bristle at the gender distinctions made by others, he does question their underlying assumptions. “In this society, if a man is called a woman, that’s the biggest insult he could get.” He arches his eyebrows skeptically and asks, “Is that because women are considered something less?”

…it reminded me of a Patrick Califia quote I found in Julia Serano‘s Whipping Girl:

“I seems the world is still more titillated by a man who wants to become a woman’ than it is by ‘ a woman who wants to become a man.’ The first is scandalous, the latter is taken for granted. This reflects the very different levels of privilege men and women have in our society. Of course women want to be men, the general attitude seems to be, and of course they can’t. And that’s that.”

At the end of the day, Pejc’s inclusion might change fashion’s gender problem a bit, but unfortunately it isn’t going to change the world for gender non-conforming or transgender kids. Pejc is lucky: he was born beautiful and model-thin, and unlike the 61% of transgender and gender non-conforming students who reported significant abuses at school, Pejic attended an artsy progressive high school in Melbourne where he was encouraged to be himself. Maybe that contributes to his confidence and ability to brush off haters while confidently rising to #11 on the Top 50 Male Models list. But now Andrej is visible, and we can see him and hopefully some of those kids who feel like they don’t fit in can see him too and visibility is important across all media platforms — especially when it looks this good.

photo by Marcin Tyszka

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1760 articles for us.

70 Comments

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    I’ve been hoping you’d do an article on Andrej for a while now; he is absolutely beautiful and I love that he is sarcastic and intelligent and more than aware of what he brings to society, in terms of being a now-mainstream androgynous model cast as both a woman and a man. Thanks Riese! You raised some good points and covered this story perfectly, as always.

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    Wow, he is beautiful. And he seems interesting and smart, too. That “we don’t get out of bed for less than $50″ bit was hilarious!

    I wish the popularity of models like Pejic and Lea T meant there was a growing acceptance of the diversity of gender expressions, but I just don’t think that’s the case. It’s just a small part of an industry that’s always hungry for novelties. But maybe some visibility is better than nothing?

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    “In this society, if a man is called a woman, that’s the biggest insult he could get.” He arches his eyebrows skeptically and asks, “Is that because women are considered something less?”

    I love this quote from him. Oddly enough, women don’t tend get offended if they’re told that they act or think like a guy, but men get extremely offended if they’re told that any aspect of them is feminine. What does that say about our society and gender roles?

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    I had seen pictures of him but I hadn’t heard much of what he had to say.
    I was a little pleasantly surprised by reading this. He seems quite interesting and intelligent.

    I tend to find a lot of models too much of blank slates to find them particularly attractive…

    I was amused that he mentioned who he tends to attract. I find it interesting who people tend to attract and it gets talked about so much less than who people are attracted to. (I haven’t quite placed who I tend to attract, I do not have a large enough sample size to draw much in the way of conclusions.)

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    first of all, great article. I think it’s great that some femininity is being brought to male modeling, bring down the patriarchy and subvert male fashion and all that.

    however the converse was only touched upon slightly but I am curious about what everyone thinks. ‘Morris suggests that his success has more to do with fashion’s preference for hipless/curveless women than it does any kind of social sea change’. playing devil’s advocate, doesn’t his modeling women’s fashion just serve to reinforce the ‘ female models have bodies like teenage boys’ mainstream that riese mentioned in the first paragraph? and therefore further alienating (and everything else) women in real life who are not shaped like that but who are constantly being told that these are the standards of beauty to which they are held/that they should aspire to?

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      I thought about that too and although most images of fashion/models are *major* triggers whether I like to admit it or not, Andrej doesn’t make things any worse on the ‘thin’ front. He’s doing his own thing and I don’t blame him for the entire industry being effed up.

      Btw he’s super interesting, and I do agree that it sounded a bit like he was hinting at asexuality.

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    well mon, that was my 1st thought. so tall, thin, blonde and white! i think transqueering any workplace is awesome but this narrative of ‘queering the mainstream’ always comes with a price to, you know, folks who are never gonna pass.

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    He is absolutely amazing and so is this article! I agree with everything. Also what the fuck magasines? Putting someone on a list of sexy women and then referring to him as a thing doesn’t even make sense and was obviously done for shock value and maybe humour

    I also like the thing about being comfortable with your physical sex but not really having a strong gender identity and that this article is saying that this is OK, this is a thing. I think I may go back to telling people that this is how I identify, because, well, I do. And this demonstrates that my doing so is not just my glaring ignorance of gender theory. (I identify with the physical aspects of my body but not at all with any of the social constructs of any gender and treat them all as drag depending on the way I feel at the time, and explaining that I feel like a centre spectrum woman never really feels right because I don’t and it feels like super imposing something that doesn’t really fit onto me).

    I keep sharing overly personal shit on autostraddle, which is kind of horrifying to me, only your articles keep basically telling me hey, this thing you are is OK, its real, and that’s actually really fucking amazing and I end up feeling the need to say this to each one.

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    the only problem i have ever had with men and long hair is that they never take care of it, and it always tends to look super greasy.

    Andrej, however has beautiful hair and you can tell he takes care of it.

    all i can say is finally, and that he is fabulous.

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      To fjkds

      Re: “the only problem i have ever had with men and long hair is that they never take care of it, and it always tends to look super greasy” comment. This is, feel, something of an over-generalisation.

      My sex is male and I had long (below my shoulder blades) blonde hair until after I turned 40 years old; it was always taken care of beautifully, washed and conditioned every day & given a weekly hot oil treatment. Many women would comment about what beautiful hair I had, with a number saying that it was impossible to tell from behind if I were male or female. Despite being a dedicated metal rocker, I always took this as a compliment.

      I do agree that there are many long-haired men who don’t take enough care with their hair. This is also true of short-haired men, it is just less noticeable; however, I had many long-haired friends who went to great pains to ensure their hair was clean and well conditioned.

      =80)~

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    As an intersexed person I appreciate you posting this, it’s always good to see someone in the mainstream bending the binary gender rules society works so hard to enforce. Plus he is absolutely gorgeous!

  10. Pingback: Andrgoynous superstar Andrej Pejic opens up to NY magazine | StyleFavs

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    Wow.. I guess the reason I like him so much is that for me as an art lover he represents the ideal – a blend of both archetypes. I have always loved androgeny. He really is the most stunningly strong looking woman, its in the eyes in the set of the jaw, the shoulders.. No one is going to walk all over him. And then the beauty in that he is male yet so achingly lovely and soft.. gotta love that he also makes members of our patriarchial society (FHM?) who don’t know what to make of him, so uncomfortable. Stop trying to label people and stick them in little boxes!

  12. Thumb up 0

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    he has the poutiest (thats totally not a word) lips! they look so kissable.. anyone know if thats natural or botox induced? I can’t get over how delicious they look.

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    That penultimate photo is just stunning.
    I find it amusing that Barnes & Noble so subtly touches on the way society views a woman’s body. Because they thought Pejic was female, his genderqueer bird-chest was suddenly declared obscene.

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    I am disgusted by the numerous articles (like Morris’ or the NY Times piece on ‘trans as a new fashion’ which included Andrej) which conflate trans women models, of which there have been many and none of which really have anything to do with androgyny, with someone who, despite his gender bending, still lives as a man, and uses male pronouns in real life. That’s not respecting either grouping of people. Trans women aren’t automatically statements on androgyny and people joking about ‘sex change operations’ aren’t forward thinking or liberating. SRS isn’t a statement of gender expression, it’s a medical procedure.

    New York Magazine has a horrible history of dealing with gender expression in an exploitive way. I’m glad Andrej has found success but I suspect he’s a flavor of the month and I hope he’s planning for his future. His career is really only about 10 months old and he’s already getting kind of overexposed.

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    i’ve kind of been slamming my head into walls for the past few years over fashion’s ongoing slightly off-base ‘androgyny’ fetish — because it is fetishy and, like, as a queer lady who works in fashion i find it baffling how disparate attitudes about both of those things are in both worlds. watching coworkers and magazines fetishize and freak out over lea t, etc — even people kind of get all gaga over my girlfriend, who makes as pretty of a boy as andrej does a girl — it’s weird, honestly, in that insensitive circus sideshow way that my industry loves to do. (“asian girls! fat girls! black girls! androgyny! it’s so IN right now!”)

    at the same time though, my main comment was that this NYMag profile was significantly LESS stupid than most of the recent ones have been — the W profile on Lea T last year was particularly heinous, and most other coverage of Andrej has been homophobic at best and explicitly transphobic and misogynistic more often than not. there were points in that article that i was like yes! thank you! this is almost a somewhat correct assessment of gender fluidity even if you say 18 other things that made me facepalm! maybe things are getting better! at least if this is cool for someone that attractive maybe it will give those who are less lucky a little bit more acceptance or hope or ‘wait, woah, i’m not alone’ or something! okay!

    also the whole article i was just waiting for someone to say “queer” but oh well, it didn’t happen. but there was some understanding of that! like that was definitely a concept i was getting out of it! congratulations! it is not a Fashionable Word yet but those ideas are not totally alien! we are not totally losing!

    also, from numersou, um, insider reports: andrej does it with both boys and girls, but mostly boys.

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      as a side note though i would think andrej pejic was cooler if he was jenny shimizu

      i am tired of freja beha in suits with her tits showing being as ‘edgy’ and ‘androgynous’ as we get, like be-still-my-heart but still, eyeroll. can we like get a lady to walk in menswear or something or like even in a suit without a crappy ‘genderbender zomgz’ pun title for the magazine, this is never going to happen is it

      obviously i have a lot of feelings about this oops

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    Excellent article, I had read the NY mag article previous to this but this was a really nice complement to it.

    quick typographic note, the model in the first picture is Maryna Buniak, NOT Michelle du Xuan!

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    My friend showed me photos of Andrej Pejic a while back and I just thought that he looked gorgeous as both traditionally male and female. I love how he’s so happy to fuck up gender norms. Thank you for the article, Riese!

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    i am so attracted to him, i can’t handle it. i feel like if i would know someone like him, i’d be unable to function around him. i’ve labeled myself lesbian my whole life, but THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. i’d go straight within a second for andrej. goddamn.. Y U SO HOT?!

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      Or would you be going straight at all if Andrej doesn’t conform to gender norms even as he uses male pronouns?

      Sexuality can be so complicated that it’s best just to love.

      And ohhh yeah, I am EXTREMELY attracted to him as well. *mind blooooown* So fine. So funny. So fly.

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      Uhm, well my best friend thinks that me going mad for him is an ulterior proof that I’m a lesbian. As in, you only like boys who resembles girls, so basically you’re attracted by female physical charachteristics, more than traditionally manly ones, indipendently from what hides in his pants.
      So I’d say screw whatever I am, I always had a thing for serbjan people.

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        My mother has the same theory about me being a lesbian, “you only like boys who resembles girls, so basically you’re attracted by female physical charachteristics, more than traditionally manly ones.” Except her theory hinges more on my fascination with Brian Molko than anything to do with Andrej Pejic.

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    WOW…. so hot… //fans self.

    My only comment is that I do wish we had a more respectable pronoun for people who choose not to identify via gender. And, I might still be mildly blushing from the awe of stunning photos (and such…)

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    Interesting article! I do have to take issue with the word “misogyny” being used to describe the nasty comments that he attracts, though. He self-identifies as male, and so these comments, seeking to limit the ways in which men appear and act, must surely be called misandrist!

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    I’m glad he decided to “let the platinum blonde out” since Pejic is:
    A. Bloody gorgeous
    B. Has a wicked sense of humor, and
    C. Seems very aware of what’s going on in the fashion world regarding gender and fluidity and acceptance and sexuality and yeah I have lots of feelings about this, ha

    So pretty much, triple bonus points!

    Love this.

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    i love when someone challenges what is society’s idea of ‘the norm’ and does it so freely. bravo to Pejic for having the to confidence to do what he wants, his way, and not let anyone tell him he is wrong. this is the type of role model our LGBT kids need!

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    androginia is only an illusion, after 25 y.o. the effeminated male begins to show signs of virilization final, but since these people generally tend to women inside, find themselves 30 years with the appearance of effeminate males without anything more feminine. brian molko is an example.
    the problem now is that if these people do not feel the weight of a female identity unresolved, they hear from adults when they see harden their appearance to the male. the ones that are passed yesterday were like andrej today are women.

  26. Pingback: Androgyny Is The New Black | All Things Queer

  27. Pingback: Androgyny Is The New Black | All Things Queer

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