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Gender on display: performativity in fashion modelling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Joanne Entwistle, Ashley Mears

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-335
Number of pages16
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number3
Early online date21 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013

King's Authors


Gender performativity has had significant influences in cultural studies and sociology, yet empirical cases of the theory remain scarce. While some analysis examines performativity in work, the focus is on organizations and how gender ‘gets done and undone’ within them with little attention paid to bodies outside organizations. Based on two empirical studies of freelancing fashion models, we extend Butler’s gender performativity to analyse the routine bodily practices and gender performances of men and women in fashion, investigating what happens when men and women perform the same work but under different gendered expectations. Fashion modelling presents a case that reproduces heteronormative definitions of femininity while potentially challenging traditional notions of masculinity and work. Observing ‘everyday transgressions’, we evidence how gender performativity, while largely reiterative of normative heterosexuality, may subtly confound the conventions. Observing how models ‘do and undo’ gender extends the analysis of gender at work to non-organizational bodies that tend to be under-represented within the literature.

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