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Is Man the Ultimate Woman?

For years, I believed that most fashion designers of women’s clothing actually meant to dress men. The ultra-thin runway models, almost devoid of breasts, with their above-average height for women resemble men.

Now there is proof to support my theory.

The Associated Press reported that transgender (male to female) individuals are being used as models in Brazil. While I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of transgender people in the limelight receiving positive attention versus ridicule or harassment, I find it difficult to accept this from the fashion industry. As if it weren’t already nearly impossible for the majority of women to meet the runway model ideal, that standard is now becoming entirely impossible due to the fact that most women were not born more bio-chemically male than female.

I find it difficult to protest the “use” (and I choose that word purposefully) of trans-models because I understand gender identity itself as more fluid than fixed, and have sincere empathy for any person who feels entirely in the wrong body, like some kind of “Freaky Friday” accident. I am wholly comfortable in my female body, and cannot imagine how foreign it would feel for my brain to be transplanted into a male body. I imagine this as the situation transgender people face. Not only do transgender persons feel out of place in their own bodies, but there is also a long history in many cultures of discrimination against anyone who is transgendered. That we may have advanced to the point where transgender individuals find a place where their status as transgendered is not merely accepted but rather embraced should be celebrated! That said, I claim the fashion industry is using transgender individuals.

The fashion and modeling industries sometimes seem like Halloween all year long. The majority of the population cannot afford what is shown in the pages of Vogue, for example. For that matter, many of the designs are impractical for everyday wear. Additionally, the styles may look fabulous on a 5’10” 110 pound seventeen year-old female, yet fail to enthrall when a 110 pound 5’5” tall woman dons them. (For some perspective on the heights and weights listed, normal weight with a BMI between 18.5 and 25 for a woman 5’10” is 132 to 174 pounds. For a 5’5” tall woman, a weight between 114-150 pounds puts her BMI at 18.5 to 25. Thus, a 5’5” woman weighing 110 pounds is actually below the normal BMI range. The average model height for runway fashion is 5’10” with an average weight of 110 pounds.)

Thus, while I’m glad that some transgender individuals have found work rather than face discrimination in the workplace, I do not believe they are being truly accepted, but rather used for their bodies. The use of bodies that are predominantly male in their genetic, biological and chemical make-up creates a woman’s body that is scientifically impossible for people born genetically, biologically and chemically female to emulate. Feminists have long-criticized the fashion industry for its objectification of women. We are now subjected to the male body turned female, an ideal no woman who was not once male can achieve.

Most men do not have the bodies of supermodels, and in a perverse way, the fashion industry has created gender equality by objectifying the male body in the same way they’ve done to women’s bodies. The disembodied “abs” of men grace shopping bags, store décor and billboards, for example. Body dysmorphic disorder is gender neutral, and boys represent the growing number of people who suffer from anorexia. My own fifteen year old son, whose body is not quite through growing and developing, fears that women will reject him if he doesn’t start looking like Captain America soon.

I hope this latest move by the fashion industry opens the minds and hearts of people so that transgender individuals find an accepting and understanding world ready to support them. I cannot help but also lament the impossible ideal male-to-female transgender models put forth for women and especially girls as models of women’s clothing. I still hold onto my fashion fantasy: real women, of all heights and weights wearing practical and flattering designs!

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Kate Robinson
Kate Robinson, M.A. adult learning and development, is a Master's in Social Work candidate at Bridgewater State University. She lives south of Boston with her family. Kate enjoys writing, reading, collage and felting. She also works in medical education and as a counselor at a women's health clinic.
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One Comment
  • Lorrie B

    Kate, I think you are wise to bring up this issue and create more awareness for transgender individuals; it would be nice to know if they feel that they are being exploited by the fashion industry, or whether they are grateful for being employed, regardless of their gender, on the basis that they are being recognized in a feminine stereotypical role. I recognize your compassion, but’m not sure on what you base your assumption. I suspect these are two very old conversations (skinny models being one, respect for transgenders as individuals being the other) that are now colliding. It’s quite possible that there is exploitation going on, but perhaps we should ask the question first before assuming the worst? Otherwise, it seems to me that this is an example of free will, and that the fashion industry should be applauded for giving these individuals access to jobs that they didn’t have otherwise. We as consumers don’t have to follow fashion, particularly the elaborate creations that are paraded down runways by a small cult of fashion followers who are playing an elaborate game. And nobody is forcing anyone to be models, so presumably the people who choose to be fashion models are getting something they want out of it. I hope your message reaches some of these very special people, because I’m one with you in terms of compassion and would like to know the truth. Kudos for a great little essay from your point of view.

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