Elliott Sailors and Gender Expression

On November 9th, CNN published a video article entitled “Female model’s shocking transformation“. Model Elliott Sailors is interviewed about her recent decision to abandon her old looks and adopt a new, more masculine appearance – a transformation we, according to CNN, should find “shocking”.

The anchor man begins the segment by asking, “Why would Sailors make such a drastic decision?” as if there must be some big secret provoking or scandal surrounding Sailors’ choice. The other anchor states how “[Sailors] had a supermodel body, supermodel looks, you know – long hair, big, pretty eyes.” From the very beginning of the video, Sailors’ change-in-appearance is presented as a significant disturbance to the greater fashion world equilibrium – a world that cannot seem to see the differences between the female and the feminine.

Elliot Sailors

Sailors articulates that androgyny isn’t new to the fashion industry. But, Katy Waldman of Slate.com questions Saliors’ motives: “…her stunt is at best a canny career move, and at worst, slightly inscensitive to trans people. To appropriate the trans/transition narrative when really all you intend to do is playact a different gender for the camera is just silly. Cut it out.”

Sailors argues that her “move” simply represents her desire for people to “be fully self-expressed”. She tells how her husband and fans are supportive of her just as she is “in support of anyone representing who it is that they know themselves to be.”

Elliot Sailors

“I’ve never been a really super feminine girly, girl … this is actually very accurate on the outside now how I’ve already felt on the inside” – Elliott Sailors

For me, this CNN video brings up two big issues: 1. how the news and society in general feel the need to get to the bottom of one’s gender expression (or change in gender expression) with the purpose of uncovering some and, 2. how integral gender expression is to one’s sense of true self.

CNN video aside, I am still struggling with Waldman’s point that Sailors’ change may have been motivated by career rather than self. That would disappoint me greatly.

Regardless, I still wish to give Sailors the benefit of the doubt, for I believe that’s how we should approach things such as this. The reasons behind Sailors’ choice to dress her body and express her gender in certain ways shouldn’t be the world’s business.

Another video on Elliott Sailors:


4 thoughts on “Elliott Sailors and Gender Expression

  1. They keep asking her about her job like she must have done it to reap some financial benefit. The question about mental transformation was just so brief, it is shocking.

    • I actually appreciated that they asked about her job, and not a “what does it feel to be a man?” But maybe I am buying into the idea that the argument becomes more weighted when it crosses into the economy. If this was a show that focused on gender in society (say like, if it was an interview by a student from GirlPower class), then I would expect more questions on mental transformation and the changed societal attitudes towards Sailors. But for the Today’s Show, I wouldn’t.

      I am not certain if my attitude towards this is a problem. I might need to be banished into a corner to revisit readings on gender.

      • Haha no you make really valid points. I didn’t consider it enough from that angle. I just thought that they made it seem like she did it to book more jobs. It just made it seem like they were disregarding her mental feelings to justify it economically in a way that they could understand it

  2. Pingback: French short film about being a woman in a male-dominated society | Girlpower

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