Most of us are familiar with the feeling – waking up a little too late, mouth a little too dry and our heads pounding like the bass of the night before. Some of us may also know the sensation of a solitary tear rolling down our cheeks, recalling some of the decisions made that, somehow, seemed ok at the time. But on a bright Thursday morning, I found myself blubbering on my bed for an altogether different reason. For the second time, I was experiencing the morning after Catwalk. The night before, we had been strutting around 601, parading patently ridiculous clothes, rocking some questionable dance moves to some unquestionable disco bangers, and trying not to trip into the friendly faces that surrounded us below. Now, the only thing that surrounded me was a very sorry and slightly damp pillow.
It is hard to put a finger on exactly what it was that conjured such emotions. No doubt the aforementioned symptoms of the morning after didn’t exactly help. Reflecting a little further, however, the experience was so much more than another night out. The very sorry pillow cradled someone who was the most comfortable in their own gender, skin and sexuality than they had ever been before.
We hear a lot about the difficulties of becoming a woman in our society, and rightfully so. But becoming a man is often not a great deal of fun either. Performing masculinity, social status concerns and raging hormones combine in various formations to – for want of a better phrase – fuck us up. The ways these problems influence our behaviour and sense of worth often stick well into adulthood. Growing up as someone not widely considered masculine, we know these issues only too well. We know the sting of social rejection from other boys. The shame of spilling our mother’s make-up. The discomfort of the changing room. The hatred of our voices and walks. The fear of the very people we may be attracted to. In a society that values masculinity above most other traits in a man, not attaining it, and being completely incapable of doing so, is worse than not being a man at all.
You may at this point be wondering how on earth these self-pitying memories of youth relate to a charity fashion show in the union. Hangovers can’t be the best qualifications in gender theory, not that I can think of a better one. But, as my bleary eyes winced at the light creeping through the curtain, I realised that being a part of Catwalk for two years had mended so much of the hurt inflicted by never being a masculine guy.
Before the show, when the nerves kicked in and the clock counted down, I had volunteered to help the make-up team with the boy’s faces. Although I was not an authority on all things cosmetic, enough break-outs and puffy face days had taught me the basics, and I enjoyed getting stuck in, blending out foundation, brushing brows and contouring like my life depended on it. What struck me was that, just like the year before, the guys got really into it. For some reason, they trusted me, with many demanding I use all the makeup that was there. One channelled true Queen vibes, stating with all the confidence he could muster, ‘I want it all’. The ability to wield a sponge suddenly became a superpower. The lack of masculinity transformed into the tight caped outfit it was always supposed to be.
Looking back, nothing could have helped me feel more comfortable and confident with who I am than these two shows. When your strut, your pose, your love of clothes, and so much of who you are is not only accepted but embraced by so many wonderful individuals, you can’t help but recall a different time and think how far you’ve come. Furthermore, many of the boys made me realise the brilliant and different ways to be a man. The straight, masculine and buff chaps were often even more homoerotic and tactile than the gay ones, with a cheeky flirt and butt grab becoming a regular part of interactions (you know who you are).
It was these teams of beautiful people, inside and out, that proved the ultimate remedies to the nagging insecurities and faded scars that come with growing up deficient in masculinity. They helped me see that the masculinity society seems to value so much is not the rule book on how to be a man. Some were typically masculine and some were not, but they were all kind and confident in themselves and their relationships with others, and it was ultimately these attributes that were respected above all else. So lying in bed, head pounding and with a mouth significantly drier than my eyes, I can honestly say that, for me, student modelling did so much more than create a great night and raise money for worthy causes. And rarest of all, perhaps I am the only person who can say their lives got a little bit better in 601.