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NZ Model Chiara Aims to Broaden the Definition of Beauty

And blur the definitions between the genders.
By Courtney Sanders, 21 Apr 2015
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NZ Model Chiara Aims to Broaden the Definition of Beauty
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Photography: Chiara Gasteiger
Model: Norina Gasteiger at Clyne Model Management

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Chiara Gasteiger is a young, thin, white New Zealand model – hardly the person you would expect to be challenging the industry standards on beauty and gender. But, following in the footsteps of the likes of Petra Collins and her Instagram stand, and Ollie Henderson and House of Riot, that is exactly what she's doing.

Chiara is also an identical twin, a health sciences student and an amateur (although there's nothing particularly amateur here) photographer, who recently shot her sister in androgynous outfits, complete with armpit hair. (See the furor Miley Cyrus has recently caused for evidence that we're not yet cool with women having armpit hair.) Yuck, right? Well, actually no, and that's exactly the point. These photographs are still beautiful, even though they're quite gender-neutral, and even though they present Norina in a way she wouldn't usually be represented.

Here, Chiara explains the motivations behind the project, and why a young, thin, white model can do her bit to broaden beauty and gender norms.

norina1.jpg

Hey Chiara! How did you get into modelling?

My twin sister Norina and I were scouted by a booker from our mother agency, Clyne Model Management, on the way to a University lecture.

You're identical twins! Are the rumours that, for example, twins can read eachother's thoughts true? What are some things we might not know about twins, that are true about twins?

Even though Norina and I have exact physical similarities including measurement and weight, we are in fact fraternal twins! It's difficult to answer what its like being a twin because it's so normal for me.

Some myths surrounding twin-telepathy are somewhat true. We can look at eachother and know what eachother are thinking or feeling, but we cannot actually read eachother's exact thoughts.

Likewise, we have experienced instances where we were in separate locations and one of us has been in immense pain and the other twin also experienced it. There are some downfalls to being a twin such as continuously being compared and receiving inappropriate sexual comments.

I feel like we often abuse pronouns and sound Gollum-like by referring to our individual selves in plural, as Norina and I are so accustomed to using "we". As you can imagine this has resulted in some extremely awkward situations.

norina5.jpg

You recently photographed your sister, Norina, to challenge the existing standards of beauty in the fashion industry, right? What motivated this shoot?

Norina and I thought about this project for ages, but had to time it around her work and shaving requirements. We aimed to not only challenge the existing standards of beauty in the fashion industry, but in society in general.

As beauty standards and the way we behave are often determined through gender, we wanted to make people feel uncomfortable and think by challenging gender norms.

Unfortunately the fashion industry is quite set on gender binaries so androgyny is not exactly normalized.

However it was cool to see Kate Sylvester's MBFWA show incorporate aspects of androgyny into her Romeo and Juliet collection.

How does being a model affect your self-esteem when it comes to your looks and your body?

Every model in the industry is completely unique, so modeling has made me appreciate beauty in all forms.

For me, beauty goes beyond the physical and I strongly think the most beautiful people also have the most beautiful mindsets and personalities. I believe that everything happens for a reason and my mum always told me not to dwell on things that you cannot change. Because of this, modeling has not negatively affected my self-esteem but opened my eyes to a deeper meaning of perfection as well as encouraged me to look after myself both mentally and physically.

norina10.jpg

While you're depicting yourselves as androgynous and with underarm hair, some would say you're still white, beautiful, thin young women who fit into the paradigms of society quite perfectly. What would you say to this?

I would say that even though I cannot change the way that I physically appear, I can attempt to raise awareness of gender, race and size inequalities and challenge the stereotypes that do surround my appearance.

The likes of Petra Collins and her pubic hair-revealing Instagram post is where you seem to take your inspiration from. Who are you inspired by, or who do you think are doing really interesting things in the realm of body diversity at the moment?

It's hard not to be inspired by Petra Collins and I absolutely adore Ollie Henderson's work! I took a lot of inspiration from the #FreeTheNipple movement, as body hair as well as nipples are depicted as normal for men, but tend to contain negative connotations for women. I believe that if we stand up and fight back when facing inequalities we can make a change. Lets all take a lesson from Rupi Kaur and use our freedom of speech to call out discrimination!

norina11.jpg

From your perspective, as both a model and a young woman, do you think the paradigms around womens' bodies are getting more diverse? Or do you feel the same pressure you think we've always had, to fit certain ideals?

I feel like people in younger generations have more opportunities to explore their physical identities, in which tattoos, piercings, hairstyles and dress diversity are slowly becoming more normalized and accepted. Likewise through discussion there is slowly becoming more acceptance for things that we cannot change about ourselves. Unfortunately, "taboo" things like nipples and body hair still determine expectations and pressure women to behave in a certain way.

In your experience, do you think the fashion industry is becoming more accepting of diversity?

Personally I believe there has been minimal acceptance of ethnic, gender, body-size and age diversity within the fashion industry, however people are beginning to vocalize their concern and I feel like this will stimulate change in the future.

Outside of modeling, what are you interested in, and what do you do?

I am currently in my third year at Auckland University, studying Health Sciences conjoint with an Arts Bachelor (double majoring in psychology and media studies). In my spare time you can catch me in a studio with my photographer boyfriend or exploring the city with my close friends.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

Apart from University assignments I've been photographing people that are close to my heart as well as things that inspire me. I am also currently waiting for some of my other film work to be published whilst brainstorming more ideas.

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Liked this? Read these articles about the representation of women:

1) This Artist is Unpacking How Ads Reflect the Representation of Women

2) This Shop Charges Women Less to Reflect the Gender Pay Gap

3) Artist Discovers Misogyny in all Animated Disney Women Ever

4) It is OK For Women to Criticise Other Women

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