Vogue is being hit with a deluge of criticism with regards to their latest cover story featuring supermodel Gigi Hadid and her musician boyfriend Zayn Malik.
The story, which intended to celebrate the duo for being “part of a new generation embracing gender fluidity”, puts the couple front and centre of a complex conversation, with text on the cover that reads: “Gigi & Zayn shop each other’s closets.”
Gender fluidity, which is a term used to describe someone who does not identify as having a fixed gender, is a concept the magazine appears to suggest should be spearheaded by a couple who, in the past, have not identified as anything other than male and female and who simply and occasionally swap clothes.
As per the piece:
“I shop in your closet all the time, don’t I?” Hadid, 22, flicks a lock of dyed-green hair out of her boyfriend’s eyes as she poses the question.
“Yeah, but same,” replies Malik, 24. “What was that T-shirt I borrowed the other day?”
“The Anna Sui?” asks Hadid.
“Yeah,” Malik says. “I like that shirt. And if it’s tight on me, so what? It doesn’t matter if it was made for a girl.”
Hadid nods vigorously. “Totally. It’s not about gender. It’s about, like, shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment…”
According to Micah Scott, the CEO of Minus18 – Australia’s largest youth-led network for gay, bi, lesbian and trans teens – regardless of intention, a feature story that suggests being gender fluid and sharing designer clothes are the same thing will always be the focus of attention and criticism.
“In cases like this, there are a lot of sensitivities around identity and using other people’s culture and their identity for personal gain, whether that be selling magazines or music or art,” he tells Mamamia.
“People’s lived identities, particularly in this community, are the reason for discrimination, prejudice and violence, so when other people use these identities for their own personal gain, that’s when people begin to take issue.”
However, Scott is quick to stress that on the flip side of this, who are we to tell someone the community is closed, and that they are not allowed to identify as gender fluid?
“On the other hand, it’s not up to us to own the identity. If someone identifies at gender fluid, that’s theirs to own as well.”
Scott says there are a few key things Vogue could’ve done better, in this case, to effectively create a conversation about gender and identity.
“What would’ve been better was if they had used a diverse range of people, not the people who live a more polished view of gender diversity,” he says.
In short, perhaps in these conversations, it’s more productive to reach out to people from the community to spearhead the chatter, or, in Scott’s own words, the less “palatable version” of what we perceive as gender fluid.
After all, these are the voices that should garner greater gravitas than a celebrity couple with a wardrobe full of expensive clothes and good intentions.