Travis Kong Shiu-ki, a sociology professor at Hong Kong University says there is a hierarchy of so-called “beautiful bodies” in the West that places black bodies at the top as being “super-sexy”, followed by white bodies and, at the bottom,yellow, or Asian bodies. Under this system, Asian males are considered to lack sex appeal or be feminised.
Kong says Hong Kong is a highly westernised society where people have adopted western standards for the ideal male body type. The media tells us that the ideal male should be young and always slim, fit and muscular with six-pack abdominal muscles. “We are marginalizing a lot of bodies,” says Kong, who asks us to rethink whether we should only have one definition of beauty.
However, this remains the yardstick against which A&F’s Asian models are measured and against which they measure themselves. Kong says it is hard to say whether A&F models are demeaning or empowering themselves.
Whatever the case, Karl Cheung, Eric Ng and Nicholas Tang are all proud of their work. “All of a sudden, people queue up and take turns to take photos with you. After that they look so happy. It’s like I’m helping them. I feel happy as well,”says Cheung. Ng goes even further. “Only those whose bodies don’t look good are unwilling to go topless,” he says. “Being here is an endorsement that you are the best. Everyone wants this job.”
Tang certainly does want the job. For starters, at HK$200 an hour, it is far better paid than being a clothed model, whose job is much like that of a regular salesperson and who gets paid HK$40. Secondly, Tang thinks that being a topless A&F model can help him to become famous.
But the response from the general public is mixed. Some are critical of the shirtless models. Michael Lam, a 21-year-old student, does not understand why guys would willingly become “toys” for women and pose for photos with them. “People lose their control over the models,” he says, while Wilson Yau, a 31-year-old I.T.technician, suggests the job is no different from that of being a male escort.