My Day with a Centerfold

July 10, 2013

Photos by Damien Maloney

Who among us can be indifferent to physical beauty or immune to its paradoxical effects? On the one hand, beholding the beautiful is pleasurable -- we are drawn to beauty and in its midst, our hopes and yearnings quicken. On the other hand, beauty can also cause certain psychological (and maybe even visceral) discomfort, tinged with either or all of the following: (a) intimidation, a fear of the beautiful one’s superiority; (b) resentment that stems from the societal truth that beauty gains one (arguably unfair) advantages and bestows unmerited admiration upon people who had no hand at all in their own creation; and (c) suspicion or disappointment toward one’s own sense of uncertainty in the presence of beauty. We also extract from beauty other favorable qualities. For instance, don’t we often trust the beautiful more easily and equate their looks with the good and moral? “Beauty itself doth of itself persuade,” Shakespeare said.

Being a girl with not-bad average looks (ok, perhaps “cute” at most), such thoughts swirled in my mind as I prepared to meet Fabio Periera, the centerfold model featured in Hyphen’s latest issue, “The Sex Issue.” You would think I was going on a first date by the way I readied myself, so eager to impress. I planned my whole ensemble (hair, makeup, outfit) down to the very black gold-studded sandals I wore to show off my newly-pedicured pink toenails.

In my nervous eagerness, I arrived 30 minutes early to pick up Fabio from Berkeley, CA, and drive to the photo shoot at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz. While waiting outside his apartment building, I played music in my car to calm myself. Apparently, I needed too much calming and used up the small battery of my Toyota Yaris.  As a result, my car would not start. It was as though my Toyota fainted at the sight of Fabio’s emergence from his home with his bright, early-morning, sunshiny, model-perfect smile. I apologized profusely in hopeless embarrassment, but Fabio simply shrugged an elegant shrug and offered to drive us there instead.

And indeed, Fabio is more beautiful in person than any photo can capture. All 6 feet and 2 inches of him are covered in lean muscle and rich brown skin. And the face -- yes, of course the face -- is perhaps the most hypnotic of all. His unconventional features and ethnically ambiguous look, a result of his mixed heritage, defy the cookie-cutter Eurocentric standards of beauty that still dominate popular opinion. It’s the very ambiguity of Fabio’s looks that recalls Walter Pater’s definition of beauty as “[a] certain strangeness,” as the unexpected and unusual combination of his multi-ethnic features draws one into keener observation. Even this colored girl found herself playing the “race guessing-game,” and I couldn’t help but keep staring because his features are so unique.

I originally scouted Fabio from a networking website for models, photographers, and makeup artists called Model Mayhem. I was surprised when he graciously accepted the invitation to pose for Hyphen, with no diva-esque questions or demands that other potential models had made. Without much persuasion other than an explanation of Hyphen’s goals of serving the Asian American community, Fabio, to my delight and relief, agreed generously to give his time.

As I’ve encountered more than a few attractive people who were vain and self-obsessed, I thought I’d pass the 1-hour commute to Santa Cruz with Fabio by asking him my prepared questions. To my surprise, the one-way question-and-answer interview I had foreseen became an actual conversation, an equal exchange of ideas and stories. Fabio and I ended up having endless subjects to talk about, which quieted my worries caused by one particularly sardonic graphic editor who, playing into the dumb model stereotype, cattily asked during a staff meeting if I was at all able to find an “interesting enough person” for the centerfold after I pitched this profile.

In fact, Fabio is not only a fine specimen of male beauty, but a writer, a teacher, an artist, and an all-around do-gooder. A native of Los Angeles, CA, he graduated with a degree in rhetoric from Bates College. He has traveled widely not only across the US but in other countries, especially in Europe, where he studied German and “polished [his] high school French.” He studied at the University College of London on a full scholarship during his junior year, and found himself taking a break from school to stay an extra year in London to work various jobs and be with his then-soul mate. “It’s crazy what you’ll do for love,” he says with a sigh. I try my best to only swoon on the inside.

After working as a writer for The Hollywood Reporter which led to blogging gigs for The Huffington Post, Fabio currently works in elementary schools as a substitute and “kindergarten field trip specialist.”

“Teaching reminds me of how much I want to be a father,” he says. “My childhood was so hard … being a teacher is my chance to set things right with my inner child and be a good example. It’s as educational for me as it is for the students.”

While working as a teacher, Fabio continues to freelance as a writer and blog about travel, culture and politics for his “journalism-ism side project” The Public Wire, while producing Making It, a screenplay he wrote about his experiences playing the Hollywood game.

And if looks and talent weren’t enough, Fabio also helps raise money for HIV/AIDS causes and supports emerging artists by publicizing them.

While deciding whether I was more fascinated by his conversation or his looks, I pry into his childhood. He wasn’t always so beautiful. He was a chubby teenager. His parents divorced when he was seven years old, which added another layer of self-doubt to his already complicated identity. “[The divorce] … really contributed to my claiming a mixed race identity,” he says,  “Having grown up with mixed race cousins, I understood at a young age how being perceived as exotic was both a blessing and a curse.”

 “Our national discussion about race lacks nuance because we forget that America also has a pervasive class system in which race signals status and value. I remember kids in school often asking me to pick which race I really was: white or black? It set up a trap I fell into time and time again, defining myself as one over the other.”

It wasn’t too long ago that fuller lips and darker skin like Fabio’s were not considered as attractive as more white features. (As a child, Fabio’s favorite color was blue: “[T]he reason behind it is sad: as a boy, I wanted blue eyes. I thought my own were ugly.”) The rising popularity of the “ethnically ambiguous look” can be seen in media representations, mainly through high-profile mixed-race celebrities like Tiger Woods, Jessica Alba, and Paula Abdul. And perhaps it is the very ambiguity of these celebrities’ looks that draws more ethnic self-recognition and admiration from fans.

While the lack of diversity in representation in the media persists, in part because of outright resistance against it as recent racist reactions to a Cheerios commercial showing a mixed family reveal, many are heralding the increase in multicultural representation as a shift away from Eurocentric “universal standards” of beauty. Others argue that popularity of the multi-ethnic look is not so much a shift in standards as it is more an assimilation of multiple, varying standards. Still, others believe that the taste for “ethnic beauty” is merely a passing fad, with Eurocentric beauty standards still reigning supreme. Let’s hope, though, that Fabio’s particular brand of beauty remains a staple -- an inner and outer beauty drawn from its own unique amalgamation of histories, experiences, and great and small victories.

As we drive back toward Fabio’s street after a long day of shooting, I realize that the day’s experiences led me to re-learn an old lesson, which is that only by spending time and sharing experiences with others do we overcome limiting stereotypes and expectations. This man is physically beautiful, yes, but what truly overwhelms and makes me swoon to no end is his character and kindness. And just like that, the swirling thoughts in my head at the beginning of the day were now replaced by the swirling leaves in my tea that Fabio had prepared as he waited with me by the sidewalk for the mechanic to arrive and jumpstart my car.

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Abigail Licad


Abigail Licad is one big FOB and damn proud of it. She grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to San Leandro, CA at age 13.  She has a BA from University of California, Berkeley and a master's degree in literature from Oxford University. Her poetry and book reviews have appeared in Calyx, Borderlands, The Critical Flame, and the LA Times, among othersShe has formerly served as Hyphen's editor in chief.