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That Asian Girl: The Changing Room.

Writer, model and content creator That Asian Girl (aka Zoya Pon) flips the switch on hypersexed-hetero fashion ads in the last cover for the Sex, Etc issue and asks: Does sex still sell?

Writer Glenn O’Brien opens their piece for VICE ,‘Fashion and/or Sex – A Primer in the History of Looking the Part’,with a statement that seems at first false and yet obviously true: “Sex isn’t about fashion. Fashion isn’t about sex”. Why then, does sex sell so well?

The accepted advertising adage creates an instant connotation to fashion campaigns. Images of women laying submissively under men, between men, in the clutches of men with product clasped between their breasts and legs come to mind. Think Tom Ford’s 90’s Gucci, think American Apparel and co.

O’Brien goes on to clarify: “Fashion is one world and sex is another… But then again, there is sexy fashion and there is fashionable sex.” ‘Fashionable sex’ is where we reach the crux of The Changing Room.

Sexuality, Styled

While fashion advertising is one channel where the message of ‘sex, sex, sex’ has been dominant (at its height in the 90s and early 2000s), it’s only one way we’re expressing and being fed a certain idea of the act itself. The traditional angle of ‘sex sells’, when used in fashion, manifested in a demeaning, misogynistic, exclusive and extremely homogeneously heterosexual way. This lamented that any kind of sex or sexual orientation that sits outside of that is labelled as taboo or shameful.

In everyday ways we ourselves – whether or not through conditioning- use fashion as an expression and marker of sexuality in how we dress ourselves and how we judge the way others dress. We use it strategically in who and what we dress for. Yes, I’m talking about the idea that women dress for men. An idea that is tied into – and which has been dismantled following the discussions around- sexual assault, the causes thereof and the lack of real ownership of responsibility surrounding it.

“Where I thought I might see a very uncomfortable man, I saw intimacy and vulnerability.”

While we can all agree (hopefully by now) that the way we dress does not turn men into rapists (the simple incapability of men to control themselves in the presence of a scantily-clad woman is a problematic misunderstanding and over-simplification of why rape happens), still we can’t deny that most people – even if only occasionally- dress to feel sexy. For who, is irrelevant.

In these simple everyday ways fashion becomes not just an expression or rebellion against gender, politics, personal taste and more- it is also an extension of our sexuality. Sex and style remain synonymous and non-exclusive concepts.

Love + Sex NOW

The concept of this shoot was to switch the traditionally heterosexual roles displayed in the aforementioned fashion ads of the 90s/2000s. To visually represent the intense objectification of the hetero female in oversexed campaigns by swapping the model poses of popular ads. To add another perspective I tapped queer visual artist, Elliot (@they_elliot), who is known for their thoughtful, tongue-in-cheek collaborative edits. The final product was actually something that immediately hit me and touched me in an entirely different and unexpected way…

I relished how symbolic the image of Jamila grabbing Matthias’ ass was.”

Where I thought I might see a very uncomfortable man in a submissive role, I saw intimacy and vulnerability. What happened was something far more healthy and relevant to the social climate we currently occupy sexually as a society. It was a more real, balanced portrayal of love and sex now: A woman who is sexually strong, dominant, and confident (portrayed by Jamila Faba) and a man (Matthias Lang) who is comfortable with that. A man who sits with a pot-plant between his legs and displays a confident, masculine sensitivity that is still quite rarely portrayed.

Self-Sensuality Sells

Thoughts around the male role in feminism we are starting to open up to came to mind- conversations around the necessity for men to join the feminist movement, conversations around how feminism empowers men too, and how patriarchy disserves men (male suicide rates are higher, especially here in SA, due to depression and the stigma around male mental health).

I still saw the great irony and shock that I expected at having the two switch roles visually. It illustrated and questioned the incredulous ignorance behind the industry’s success of objectifying women this way for so long (because, yes selling the idea that men want you and women want to be you/women want you and men want to be you if you wear this fragrance worked guys).

” It appeared, to me, to be a celebration of a new direction of sex in fashion.”

I relished how empowering and symbolic the image of Jamila grabbing Matthias’ ass was. But, ultimately, what I saw was something that extended the conversation to a territory perhaps more relevant than my original intention. It appeared, to me, to be a celebration of a new direction of sex in fashion; one that is more healthy, open, inclusive and consensual. In a way, when viewing the images, that idea seemed surprisingly even more controversial in its softness, understanding and rawness.

As for sex in fashion now? Refinery29 writer Charlotte Gush puts it quite succinctly in ‘Sex Is Back In Fashion – But This Time, It’s On Our Terms‘: “[It’s] about feeling sexy, rather than … an anxious quest to look sexy.” Fashion today is shifting to ‘self-sensuality’ and ‘sex on our terms’. And that’s style inspiration that everyone can tap into.

3Qs with Elliot

Elliot is a queer visual artist that plays with mediums with the desire to disrupt the spaces we occupy and the mindsets of viewers.

1. How would you describe your medium? It’s difficult to describe but my vision is adding subtitles to stills and make them look like it’s a snapshot from a film; a glimpse into a larger story.

2. Why were you attracted to it? People view photographs in isolation but the creative behind the image is always working with a larger narrative that inspires it. I wanted to communicate that.

3. What came to mind when working on The Changing Room? In today’s society, capitalism dictates everything and people have become just bodies and products. I wanted to tap into the inner thoughts of the “products” and make them human again.

CREDITS: Concept, direction and styling: Zoya Pon / Photography: Allister Christie / Art: Elliot / Models: Jamila Faba + Matthias Lang / Shot in collaboration and in studio with Cartel Studios / Shoes: Jeffrey Campbell from That Shoe Lady.


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