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Androgyny and its Connection to Societal Upheaval Throughout History


Androgyny, the combination of male and female characteristics, can appear in
multiple facets within a lifestyle: fashion, sexual identity, and sexual life. Androgynys
relation to gender identity, however, is responsible for the prevalent paradigm shift from a
segregated, sexualized advertisement model and culture to androgynous marketing.
Correlating directly to time periods in history that signified social change or rejection of
previous constraints, androgyny came to represent an adjustment in societal norms. The
1920s, 60s and 90s are the most notable decades in which androgyny took main
precedence throughout culture, being notable in marketing, advertisement, and society.
Androgyny has once again become ideal to appeal to most of society, as the shift
occurs to compliment the times and to allow a visible representation of the change in
feelings, actions, or norms. Androgynys prevalence parallels times in history in which
society demands a more complete and accepting representation of the modern day.
The first apparent time androgynous body types were desired and prevalent were
in the 1920s, when Flapper girls acted as the heroines in the new age of sexual and
economic revolution (Mazur). Specifically, it was their thin, lanky, and ultimately boylike figures that set them apart from the women of the previous centuries who
accentuated their women-like features with tight corsets and fitting dresses. Instead, the
Flapper girls broke out of the constraints previously placed before them and took back
their body image as womens rights sparked into what would form to be the womens
rights movement later in the century. The shift towards slenderization allowed the new
age of women to become more than just their bodies and found their strongest place in
society yet, in which they were taken more seriously amongst a ruling class of

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predominantly men. Similarly, mens style was constructed in the same fashion. Tailored
suits fitted to long, lean bodies were ideal for young men, where they showed their
elegance and style simply by the clothes they wore and the lack of muscle visible through
the clothing. Their lack of manliness was, for the first time, a reflection of a lifestyle in
which physical labor was less prevalent, and less respected, than in previous times
(Conor). The 1920s represented the golden economic age in America, and the first time
in at least a century that young Americans had power and control over their financial,
societal, and cultural standings. The American dream blossomed in this decade, and the
noticeable change between the strict constraints of the previous hundred years and the
then-modern-day freedom caused a shift in what the perfect society would look like, and
how the change could be represented.
In the 1960s, the 1920s prototype reemerged as the ideal body type, following
the long time period of curves in women being idolized and yearned after. The Swinging
Sixties brought about a stark change from the previous decade post The Great
Depression and World War II, quickly after the baby boomers and in the midst of many
cultural revolutions, including womens and civil rights. The trauma from the major
economic downfall and devastating world war dwindled away as America made
restorations and strengthened itself in an attempt to reenter a golden age. Civil rights
movements and the emergence of the free love period acted as motivation for a change
in body types, once again (Wilson). No longer was the standard body of a housewife
deemed normal as women broke out of constraints and took actions towards freedom
originally hinted at in the 1920s. Women attempted to be seen as no less than equal to
men, and the androgynous body type returned as feminine features were downplayed and

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replaced with slim, pre-pubescent boy-like bodies. The stifling of femininity encouraged
a growth in androgyny that correlated directly with the growing strength of the womens
movement (Wilson). Men, on the other hand, displayed lower levels of androgyny in the
1960s than women, likely due to their opposition against the social turmoil of the time
and the lack of direct affect it had in many of their lives (Heilbrun, Shwartz). Mens
androgyny rose in the 1970s in direct correlation with the increase of the hippie
movement and the continued momentum from the previous decade (Heilburn, Shwartz).
The fluctuation between the two body types of long and lean versus curvy and
voluptuous continued to shift as being defined as ideal until the emergence of the
modern supermodel in the 1990s, when icons like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell took
over fashion runways and advertisement campaigns. Their androgynous, lanky body type
was suddenly deemed as perfect, and quickly became what every young person sought
after and identified with. The increase in androgynous models and body types, once
again, corresponded to the social context of the time, in which the LGBTQ community
established itself as a prevalent minority and consumer market, raising awareness to the
growing population of homosexuality and the like. Androgynys prevalence in media
skyrocketed in the 90s with everything from runway models to higher viewing audiences
for TV shows that featured openly gay characters and shows with openly gay hosts, like
the Ellen Show (Becker). For the first time, not only was androgyny representative of
change through individuals and their dress or appearance, but the prevalence also carried
over to pop culture and advertisement to signify understanding that the consumer culture
responded directly to social times. The marketing and advertisement industries made
changes as well, using more androgynous models to cater to a greater population that no

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longer thought in concrete, separated, sexually driven campaigns. RuPaul, the well
known drag queen who made a name as an actor, drag queen, model, author, and
recording artist, became a MAC girl in 1995, in an advertisement campaign that
challenged the cosmetics industry advertising conventions and narrow definitions of
female beauty, (Benoit). The campaign came at a pivotal time in society, where
political, cultural, creative, and economic changes were occurring. The brand used the
changing structures to their advantage by highlighting the differences between a standard
definition of beauty and their new and improved version (Benoit).
The prominent thoughts from the 1990s are still present today, as androgyny is
represented in everything from media to fashion campaigns. Both widely attainable stores
like Desigual and Topshop to high fashion brands like Givenchy and Chanel use
undifferentiating models, proving that social and liberal change sustains a society
malleable enough to allow androgyny to occur and remain the most prevalent visual
representation.
Androgyny is not a new concept; the idea of changing personal characteristics to
fit the social context has been around since change has shifted societal norms and forced
humans to conform. No longer are industries pushing strictly separated advertisements,
aimed towards highlighting stark contrasts between the sexes and playing towards
gender-accepted commonplaces. Rather, androgynous models with undifferentiating
features and slim bodies are featured on billboards, in movies, and on runways. Members
of the LGBTQ community have representatives in the faces of Ruby Rose and Ari Fitz as
icons and resources for the use of androgynous models in different aspects of society and
culture (media and fashion, respectively). The societal presence of the LGBTQ

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community since the 1990s has encouraged an adaption around the paradigm shift,
similar to those that have occurred every time there is tension in what is solidified as a
societal norm.
The aforementioned dates, corresponding to when the androgynous body type was
found to be ideal, line up to the times in history when the most social change and reform
were occurring. The Roaring 20s were the first time women and men were able to break
out of a construct that held them for at least a hundred years, the first time young people
felt free as adults, able to make their own money and therefore life for themselves. The
60s introduced the love era, where people experimented with equal parts differing loves
and drugs and began to feel as though the constraints of the 1950s wore off with the
increasing strength of civil rights movements. Finally, the 1990s became the time when
the LGBTQ community established its relevance and power. The paradigm shift in
androgynous people in different aspects of society, including marketing and media, have
always occurred at a time in which social change was visible. The time periods have built
on one another, always returning to the central idea that androgyny represents a greater
community as a whole, and shies away from clich, starkly sexualized and segregated
advertisements. The shift has been so successful because androgyny has continued to
symbolize change, as a persons outwards appearance is the first thing seen in comment
on their relation to the world. Ultimately, the presence of androgyny in society reflects
and signifies a large change that constantly leaves a lasting affect on the time periods to
follow.

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Sources Referenced or Used:
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Benoit, Andrea. "" An advertising world gone completely haywire": MAC VIVA
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Conor, Liz. "The flapper in the heterosexual scene." Journal of Australian Studies 26.72
(2002): 41-57.
Cusumano, Dale L., and J. Kevin Thompson. "Body image and body shape ideals in
magazines: Exposure, awareness, and internalization." Sex roles 37.9 (1997): 701721.
Faderman, Lillian. "The return of butch and femme: A phenomenon in lesbian sexuality
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Glogorovska, Kristina. "EXPLORATION OF THE GENDER MYTH VIA FASHION
MEDIA: ANDROGYNY AND DANDYISM IN CONTEMPORARY FASHION
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Heilbrun Jr, Alfred B., and Harvey L. Schwartz. "Sex-gender differences in level of
androgyny." Sex Roles 8.2 (1982): 201-214.
Jagose, Annamarie. "Queer theory." (1996).

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