Others, like 25-year-old teacher Jacky Yuen Man-leuk, do not have a problem with women openly admiring half-naked men. However, that does not mean he would consider being an A&F model, even if he could.
For Jonathan Yip Shing-cheong, a third-year university student who works part-time as an A&F model, this reflects a deeply entrenched conservatism about bodily exposure in Hong Kong.
Yip does not need to go shirtless for his job, but he says that when he first told friends about his job offer from A&F, they were worried. Some of them asked him seriously if he would have to be half-naked in public. One of his friends even sent him a message which included various news clippings on the controversy over A&F’s perceived racial discrimination in the U.S. and on how society views A&F models.
When Yip explained he would not have to take his shirt off on duty, they all seemed to be relieved. “It seems that Asians cannot show their bodies in public,” says Yip. “People will look at you differently.”
Karl Cheung is not bothered by what people might think about his job. He has been modelling since he was a teenager and is used to baring his torso. He sees landing the A&F job as an affirmation of his body and his looks. Unlike events such as the Mr. Hong Kong Pageant, where candidates are mocked to amuse the audience, he thinks the A&F job is very professional. What is more, he says his parents are fine with it and his male friends think it is cool.
But just as it is considered “improper” for women to look at men as sex objects, there are also double standards when it comes to who can show their flesh. Cheung may be proud to bare his body but he says he would “tell my sister off if she wears shorts that are too short, I am a traditionally-minded boy. I think girls should be more conservative.”
At the end of the summer, A&F’s foreign hunks moved on to conquer another corner of the global market. But the questions they raised are still being discussed. In a society where desire, gender and race are intertwined with the marketplace, the question of who can bare and who can look is far from clear-cut.