Rick Genest, also known as “Zombie Boy”, was recently launched into success in the fashion sphere as a male model due to his entirely tattooed body. As muse of Nicola Formichetti, actor in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video, former circus freak and model for Tierry Mugler, Rocawear and L’Oreal, Zombie Boy has transformed the aesthetic of an industry that typically seeks to represent the idealized and perfected human body. As the fashion industry also influences how society defines the ideal body, Genest’s manifestation as one definition of the ideal enables us to question the role of the body and the role of the freak in fashion. While his art establishes himself superficially as a walking symbol of death, his tattoos are also a tribute to his youth. By defying the laws of nature through his body art and embodying this liminality between life and death (both through the tattoos’ significance and through his very existence), Rick has allowed his tattooed body to be used as the icon of modern freakery. His tattoos are a symbol of bodily excess, and his permanent portrayal of the grotesque through body modification allows him to exist as the dead just as much as he exists as the living. Through art, Rick Genest has transformed himself into the ultimate freak.
While the essence of fashion is ephemeral and always exists just out of the consumer’s reach (as to propagate fashion’s success), Genest’s tattoos here again pose a threat to fashion’s nature. Their existence as a permanent state and their inclusion in the fashion sphere renders the human body to be both eternal and transient. Genest disrupts our notion of a linear timeline in regards to the human body through his suggestion of simultaneous stages of life and death, and he exists as the corporealization of yet another liminality.
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