Fashion

10.29.13

Working As A Male Model

Elliott Sailors was a blond bikini model—until she decided to cut her hair, change her clothes, and model as a man. She talks to Erin Cunningham about the decision.

“Model... More than just a girl...” is how Elliott Sailors, 31, describes herself in her Twitter bio.

Sailors is – or rather, was – a sultry blonde who was signed by the prestigious Ford Models and fronted a Bacardi campaign. Now, she’s ditched the swimsuit and long locks for flannels and a short, spiky haircut. That’s because Sailors has decided she wants to model as a man.

Almost a year ago, Sailors decided to leave Ford Models in search for a new agency that would represent her as both a female and male model. But unlike other androgynous, gender-bending models including Andrej Pejic, Casey Legler, or Lea T, Sailors does not identify with the opposite sex other than when she is behind the camera. Her movement into the male realm, she claims, is solely career-based rather than sexuality. She thinks that modeling as a man will create more opportunities and earn her more money.

“It was a while ago that I first had the idea,” Sailors tells The Daily Beast of her decision to begin modeling as a man. “It wasn’t until I saw [transgender model] Andrej Pejic in 2011 – not in person, in a photograph – I was just so inspired. I think he’s beautiful. So initially I tried to do it with my long blonde hair. I was like ‘I have long blonde hair too, we can both do it.’ But it didn’t work for me that way.” On October 1, 2012, Sailors decided it was time to cut off all of her hair. “I decided to move full-force ahead and do it all the way. Well, not all the way, I’m not transitioning, but in terms of appearance.”

Sailors makes it clear numerous times that she is no way transgender. Despite her appearance – and her fledgling career in the male modeling industry – she emphasizes that she is married to a man and that the only physical changes she has undergone have been cutting her hair and wrapping her breasts in order to appear flat-chested.  With her thick eyebrows and defined cheek bones, however, Sailors’s androgynous look seems to allow for an easy transition. With the right amount of make-up and styling, Sailor believes she can be whichever gender she is hired to be.

In an industry dominated by youthfulness and looks, Sailors’s decision to start a new chapter of her career at this point of her life is an interesting one. “For me initially, it was really about the fact that I would lose the clients that I already had,” she says. “Obviously in modeling you’re booked on the way you look. Those clients are physically looking for that long blonde hair, so my fear was more about how it would affect my job. Emotionally, when I finally did it, I didn’t know what would happen. It was really stepping into the unknown, because it was bigger than just a haircut. And it’s bigger than just a career move. It’s also the whole presentation of how people see me.”

Although Sailors has lost clients since she’s made the physical transition, making the move into the male modeling realm is, as she sees it, a way to grow her career. While male models are known to make smaller salaries than their female counterparts, Sailors feels the male-modeling industry is more accepting. (She describes it as “very bro-ish, but in a good way.”) The competition of being a female supermodel is less competitive for male models, which she says will create a more equal playing field.

“It is true that men make less than women do,” Sailors says. “I knew that even before I cut my hair, it’s not news to me. I knew that was part of the risk I was taking, but at the same time I know people have used the word supermodel in relation to me, but I’ve certainly never claimed to be a supermodel. I know I hadn’t achieved that kind of status within the industry anyway. You can still make a lot of money without people knowing who you are.”

But now, people certainly know who Eliott Sailors is. The New York Post profiled Sailors, emphasizing her “success as a male model,” while Jezebel even went as far as to ask, “Will this willingness to think outside of the box when it comes to what's ‘fashionable’ eventually extend to seeing more ethnic diversity and more plus size models in fashion?” looking at Sailors as a pioneer in the field alongside Pejic and Legler.

“It’s bigger than just a career move. It’s also the whole presentation of how people see me.”

Others, however, have been less responsive to Sailors’s “transformation.” Slate’s Katy Waldman wrote, “While Sailors may be smartly taking advantage of androgyny’s current chicness in the fashion world, her stunt is at best a canny career move, and at worst slightly insensitive to trans people. She continued: “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.”

Regardless of the mixed reviews, Sailors reflects on her decision as a smart move. And in terms of reinventing herself, it seems that Sailors definitely has that on lock. "There are those that have their concerns, maybe on my behalf," Sailors said. "We don’t always know offhand the best move to make career-wise, but [it seems] everyone is excited about it."