Fashion Rule Breakers: Meet the model challenging gender stereotypes by participating in both male and female runway shows
Most models are revered for their looks before people consider anything else about them — like their hard work, perseverance, or interests. But the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Rain Dove is “activism.”
The androgynous supermodel, who has walked the runway in both menswear and womenswear, has made making a positive impact on the world her MO. In addition to challenging gender constructs with her modeling, she’s been using her platform to raise awareness about LGBTQ issues, gender inequality, diversity, animal rights, homelessness, and social justice.
“I want people to realize that they aren’t their bodies. They are something more than their bodies,” Dove told A Plus. “Clothing shouldn’t be a societal shackle. It should be art and truth and a way for us to show the world what we want out of it. It’s environmental armor. We shouldn’t take anything too seriously. The most malicious humans have often worn the most socially acceptable garments. I hope, by never hiding, I can show there is never anything to be ashamed of when we are being our true selves.”
By modeling both womenswear and menswear, speaking out against injustice, and working hard to redefine beauty, Rain Dove is being a fashion rule breaker.
Initially, Dove wasn’t interested in modeling. She considered it to be a “pretentious, capitalistic, and judgmental industry that excluded those that needed acceptance the most,” and believed it promoted unrealistic body standards and elitist lifestyles. It just wasn’t something she ever saw herself doing.
All that changed the day she lost a bet over a few shots of bourbon. Dove was hanging out with a friend, who is also a model. They were watching a football game when the friend suggested Dove go into modeling. Dove — who was finishing up her degree in genetic engineering and civil law at the University of California, Berkeley at the time, and hoped to be a water rights activist — laughed and declined. But after she lost the bet over the game they were watching, she’d have to make her way into a casting call her model friend chose. It happened to be a runway show for Calvin Klein.
“I showed up the first day and they told me I was there on the wrong day. I looked around and saw only blondes and redheads with long hair and assumed casting was done by hair color,” Dove said.
So, she came back the next day only to look around and realize she was surrounded by men who were there for a men’s casting call. She decided to go for it anyway.
“People mistake me for one thing or the other all the time. It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Little did I know they were casting me into not just any fashion show, but a ‘men’s’ underwear show. The day of the runway — when I realized the mistake — I knew I had two choices. Correct them or walk anyways. I chose the second and went out without any thing other than briefs. No bra either. DDs swinging side to side. The casting director seemed like they were going to have a conniption.”
After that show, many people reached out to Dove to model for them, but she turned them all down. She still didn’t think it was the industry for her. Eventually, she was offered paid work, so she started taking a few modeling jobs. She made more money in an hour than she did in a normal week of hard labor working in construction and landscaping. Dove still wanted to help people acquire basic water rights in arid parts of the world, but she started wondering if the modeling industry could help her do it.
“After a lot of reading and observing, I realized how much people spent on fashion. $1000 for a pair of pants. $3000 for a purse. I figured if someone could spend thousands on a jacket, they could spend a few bucks to help people acquire their basic water rights,” Dove said.
“So, I decided I’ll model and use the platform to speak to those who have the funds and the voices that can create mass change. If society didn’t want me to model, and it didn’t work out, I’d just take my degree and go back to Plan A. Little did I know, this career would be much more than water rights focused — it would be gender, sexuality, diversity, wealth disparity — the list goes on.”
Dove calls herself a “gender capitalist,” a term she coined when she realized she could be perceived as a broad spectrum of genders and sexualities based on her appearance.
“It means literally using people’s perceptions of your ‘gender’ to get the most out of a situation. Or playing into the societal constructs of the most beneficial ‘gender’ in a given situation to gain the most out of it,” she said. For example, she’ll go to any casting call she’s interested in regardless of whether the listing asks for male or female models. In another example, she considers what choices she’d make if she were on board the Titantic.
“I would get a job as a ‘male’ since most of the ‘male’ jobs paid double or more than the ‘female’ jobs,” she said. “But the moment the ship was sinking and they claimed ‘women and children first,’ I would pull out my birth certificate so fast and get to live,” she said.
Dove uses quotes around terms like “male,” “female,” and “gender” because she believes it’s a social construct. She emphasizes the importance of understanding the difference between “sex” and “gender.” While sex refers to the anatomy of a person’s body, such as their reproductive system, gender refers to a person’s social role or personal identification. For some people, their assigned sex and gender do not align.
“Gender can only be measured societally, regionally, [or] culturally. Therefore, I don’t believe gender exists as a physically scientific thing,” she said. “I believe it is only a social science and that it is unnecessary. Superfluous. A shackle that divides our expectations and possibilities in half at birth — and keeps dividing us. It allows for people to make less, live less, express less, speak less, BE less. Gender is a shackle. And I have too much good to offer this world to stand by and be a prisoner.”
Dove has also said she doesn’t care which pronouns are used to identify her, so long as they are used with respect. “A pronoun is just a sound to me and all I’m listening for in that sound is positivity!”
Instead of letting gender, and even pronouns, limit her, she studies her environment at any given moment to determine if there’s an advantage to being perceived as a man or woman. Then, she’ll reflect the cultural norms of that gender to get the best treatment possible.
“I shouldn’t be treated differently either way, but if I’m going to be, then I damn sure will do my best to be treated the best. Through my success garnered via this method, I am able to acquire more resources to educate and eradicate these oppressions.”
However, her androgynous appearance has also brought up challenges along the way. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself because of the struggles she’s faced, but it certainly hasn’t been easy.
“My appearance leads to a lot of designers, photographers, or viewers calling me ugly, or saying I should kill myself. A lot of people will laugh at me for showing up at castings or get offended,” Dove said. “And other models can get very catty. Many telling me in line that I won’t fit the clothing because of my size, suggesting a glorified version of anorexia that requires juicing and exercising vigorously, or saying that I’m just a fad right now, but they are everlasting.”
These comments are hurtful and can make it difficult for Dove to get her work done, but she continues moving forward because she understands how important it is to be true to who you are.
“My purpose is bigger than their perceptions. And so I move on. It’s OK for not everyone to think I’m beautiful. Beauty is an opinion and, as a supporter of free speech, I want you to speak freely. Not every designer will want me and that’s OK too. They have a right to create the art they want, and I won’t always be that art. It’s just business,” she said. “I do my best to answer the questions and the hate in a way that will invite those people to see me as more than someone who has an element of their life they hate.”
Through all of this, Dove takes comfort knowing her career path has been made slightly easier thanks to the efforts of other “great and handsome people, such as Casey Legler and Elliott Sailors,” who have helped pave a path to challenge gender constructs in the industry and beyond.
“I don’t model my personal style or perspectives after them, but our continued stance together makes me feel stronger and more capable than I had on my own.”
Dove currently has tons of exciting projects in the works. She’s developing a “diversity driven” TV series, using Instagram to promote things people can do to improve the world around them, and will be featured in an upcoming Sisley campaign in conjunction with Vogue Italia.
“I’m also going to be spending seven days living at the whims of the world by allowing society to vote on and choose how I live my life. From what I wear, to what I eat, to what I do,” she said. “The goal is to determine if society truly wants me to have what I want out of life. Or if they want me to be miserable”
She also regularly participates in social experiments that showcase the difference in treatment she gets when she’s a male versus a female. You can check some of these out by following her on Instagram.
In addition, she works with several different organizations to highlight their efforts and support their voices.
“I let people take over my Instagram stories to share their own journeys and causes. I travel a lot and do everything from working at wildlife refuges building animal enclosures to running blanket and food drives for the homeless people of the area. I also speak at colleges about identity and freedom,” she said.
Dove hopes to continue to shake up the fashion industry by simply being herself — and hopes to inspire others to do the same. In particular, she hopes to help adolescents feel more comfortable in their own skin.
“For anyone who is a minor and having a hard time feeling safe to live as they authentically feel they are, I offer this. Your time under the rules of your parents, school, coaches and generally adults — it won’t be forever,” Dove said. “You will be free soon, no longer a minor, and you can live how you want to. Wear what you want to. Love who you want to (with consent). Be who you want.”
“There’s a whole world out here filled with people who will accept you and love you and celebrate you being you. Just hold on, don’t give up hope. Almost every good book involves a character who experiences a conflict they must overcome to evolve. You are just at the beginning of a very good story.”
Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.
By A Plus’ Ariana Marini