Transgender Models in Fashion

Article by Meagan Wilson

In the last 10 years, conversations around gender and sexuality have made a steady and positive change. Once, radical ideas, like gender fluidity, sex reassignment and non-binarism, are now generally seen to be common knowledge, and the amount of public figures identifying as trans or nonbinary have increased. Television shows, movies and other forms of media are showing more gender diversity than ever. Even in fashion, trans activists and artists are creating a space for themselves through modeling.

There is a delicious irony in trans individuals becoming models and muses in fashion, an industry that has always accepted only the most rigid beauty standards and gender roles. Even Victoria’s Secret Chief Marketer recently said that he would not allow trans models in his fashion shows because they don’t fit into the “fantasy” that the famous lingerie brand apparently represents (Out.com). However, his comment doesn’t seem to be stopping trans models from becoming extremely successful in the fashion industry. Hari Nef, the first trans person to be signed to IMG Worldwide in 2015 (the same agency that boasts models like Gisele Bundchen and Gigi Hadid), has opened Gucci shows in Milan and starred in L’Oreal skincare campaigns. She has also recently embarked on a successful career in acting, starring in films like Assassination Nation, and as the recurring character Blythe on the popular Netflix show You.

Another trans model that has gained press is Hunter Schafer, a 20-year-old North Carolina native, who began her activist career fighting the notorious “bathroom bill” that forced state residents to use the public bathrooms which matched the gender they were assigned at birth. Since then, Mx. Schafer has walked hundreds of runways and most recently starred in Vera Wang’s bridal campaign. She is not only a model but a visual artist, frequently posting sketchbook pages and handmade clothes. Her work seems to always be in dialogue with gender fluidity; her dream is to open a gallery in New York specifically for trans artists, and she is currently attending Central Saint Martins in London to create a genderless clothing line (NYT).

Not only individual models, but designers themselves are pushing for more inclusion of trans individuals in fashion. Most recently, Los Angeles designer Marco Marco featured all trans models for his September 2018 show, some of which included YouTube-famous Gigi Gorgeous and actress Trace Lysette. The designer said he wanted to “create a space to celebrate trans bodies” (Cosmopolitan).

As small as the impact may seem, representation of trans individuals (especially in such an influential industry like fashion) has and will change the lives of men, women and nonbinary people around the globe. Although there is still a significant lack of representation of trans and nonbinary individuals in popular media, these trailblazers will continue to pave the road for more representation in the future.

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