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Transgender Models Are Breaking Boundaries

  • Melissa Keen
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Gender fluidity is now being explored in fashion campaigns worldwide. Transgender models are finally being accepted into the industry, with specialist agencies helping to launch aspiring transgender model’s careers.

The inclusion of transgender models is a move towards diversity, eradicating gender stereotypes, and a few key people have been leading the movement. But although gender ambiguity is starting to be welcomed into the industry, there is still a long way to go.

What Is Transgender Modelling?

‘Transgender’ is the term used for those whose gender identity does not match their physical gender at birth. Transgender people opt to live as the opposite sex because they feel they were born in the wrong bodies.

The fashion world has always been notorious for its strict and often narrow-minded views, but it has recently begun to accept transgender models. This is likely due to the pressure from non-high-end designers, who have recently begun showcasing a more diverse range of models in their own marketing campaigns.

This has caused a new niche to be created for transgender models with agencies, photographers and designers responding accordingly. It is a shift in the industry to accommodate a diverse, modern society that is certainly a step in the right direction – but has a lot of room for improvement.

What to Do If You Are Questioning Your Identity

Many young individuals growing up end up questioning themselves and feeling insecure at some point. Young people are constantly developing and may want to experiment with their gender and sexual identity.

It’s important to remember that there are many options available to those who feel confused about their identity. The most important first step is to talk to someone about your feelings, whether that’s a parent, doctor, friend or teacher you trust. If you’d prefer to talk to someone who doesn’t know you, you can reach out to MindOut.

While feeling confused is normal, feeling wrong in your body is more uncommon. You may want to work through your feeling with an expert, at which point they can advise whether you need further assistance to help you feel better about yourself.

Acceptance Is Important

Transgender modelling is increasing the awareness of gender and sexual concerns, and this has meant that young people feeling the same way are more able to reach out for help.

While many are now able to receive the help and advice they need, others have shown concerns that the rise in transgender culture will further confuse teens and young people who are questioning their identities. However, there is no research that suggests people will find it easier to get gender reassignment surgery; patients must undergo a rigorous psychological assessment before even being considered.

Transgender model Andrej Pejic explains: “I understand how difficult it is for parents when a child wants to do something so drastic, especially if they’re under 18. But the percentage of people who go back is very small. And you have to ask, are people really going to see psychiatrists, take medication and undergo complicated, expensive surgery just to be on-trend?”

Transgender Modelling Agencies

Currently, the demand for transgender models is small, but specialist agencies are working to find more opportunities. Organisations are easily signing talent, but unfortunately the amount of work is very limited.

Author of ‘He or She?’, Vikki Le explains “It is like back in the ‘80s when they had one black model on every runway and that’s it.”

It seems that, while transgender models are indeed being seen more regularly on the runway, there is still a long way to go before individuals are chosen regardless of their background. For the time being, transgender models are seen as more of a statement rather than a regular fitting. We hope there is a time soon when transgender models are hired without the need for designer’s to highlight their backgrounds in order to gain more exposure.

The type of agencies helping boost the opportunities for transgender models range from small niche establishments to larger companies tho all recognise the importance of representation in the industry.

With support from these professionals, the likelihood that transgender models will continue to feature on the runway and in campaigns on a regular basis is very hopeful.

Successful Transgender Models

Andrej Pejic

Picture: Justin Poland / The Society Management

Becoming one of the most recognised transgender models in the world, Andrej Pejic has broken many boundaries. She has experienced a lot of firsts as a transgender model and has carved a path for others to follow in her footsteps.

  • At 17, Andrej was scouted as a male model.
  • Three years later she featured in both Jean Paul Gaultier’s male and female collections in Paris.
  • Pejic featured in the FHM 100 Sexiest Women in the World list.
  • She has become the first openly transgender model to be profiled by American Vogue.
  • Her Make Up For Ever campaign is known as the first cosmetics ad to feature a transgender model.

Laith-Ashley de la Cruz

Laith-Ashley de la Cruz. Picture: Nelson Castillo/Caters

“I want to show the world there’s not just one way to be trans, just like there’s not one way to be anything.”

Laith-Ashley de la Cruz is well-known for his chiselled abs and brooding stare, but what many don’t know if that Laith was actually born a girl.

  • His muscular physique, designer stubble and emerald green eyes have secured great opportunities for the 31-year-old.
  • During New York Fashion Week he walked for Adrian Alicea and Gypsy Sport.
  • He featured in Barney’s New York campaign with fashion photographer Bruce Weber.
  • His success as a model has allowed for people to recognise him, which both excites and shocks him.

Valentina Sampaio

Photo courtesy of The Lions
  • Valentina is the first openly transgender model to work with Victoria’s Secret.
  • She landed the front cover of French Vogue’s March 2017 issue, becoming the first transgender model to grace a Vogue cover.
  • She has a beauty contract with L’Oréal.
  • She’s worked for Dior, H&M, and Marc Jacobs.
  • She is signed with New York modelling agency The Lions.

Hunter Schafer

Hunter Schafer – Image from IMDB

It’s really wild to be at this new level of visibility,” Hunter said to Marie Claire. “It’s something I’m still adjusting to and trying to understand. I’ve received quite a few messages from trans people who are excited about the representation on the show.”

  • Hunter was a transgender model before bagging a role on HBO’s “Euphoria” opposite Zendaya.
  • She was signed with was signed to Elite Model Management.
  • She’s worked for Dior, Helmut Lang, and Miu Miu.

Nathan Westling

Photo: Collier Schorr / Courtesy of The Society

It feels like I’ve been wearing like a mask my whole life,” Nathan told CNN. “Once I removed that mask, it was like I was finally … I don’t know. I’m not wearing a skin that I don’t feel I am anymore.”

Nathan is one of the best-known male transgender models in the industry.

  • Back when he was female, Nathan’s career launched when he dyed his hair red in 2014 for a Marc Jacobs campaign also featuring Miley Cyrus.
  • He was the star of the Spring 2014 Marc Jacobs & Saint Laurent Paris ad campaigns.
  • He’s worked with Marc Jacobs, Versace, Prada, and Chanel.
  • He started transitioning in 2019

Transgender Modelling Opportunities

The high-fashion industry is where transgender models have been seen to be most successful in the modelling world. Featuring a transgender model is original, unique and rare, which will publicise a brand further and demand attention.

While it’s certainly a positive move, more opportunities are required to inspire those looking for similar success. Fortunately, we are starting to see more unique models in both high-street and high-fashion:

  • H&M famously hired transgender model Andreja Pejic in 2016
  • In 2017 ASOS created a gender-neutral collection in collaboration with GLAAD
  • In 2019, Teddy Quinlivan became the first openly transgender model to feature in a Chanel beauty campaign
  • Aaron Philip, a disabled trans model, has worked for ASOS and H&M and has now signed with Elite Model Management

And with more brands coming out in support of LGBTQ+ rights, we hope to see many more transgender people in magazines and on the runway soon.

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Posted by Melissa Keen

Melissa's experience in the beauty and fashion world as a writer and blogger spans over five years. Her other interests include reading, yoga and music.