Now trending: the transgender model

By Lianne
Toussaint

The May 2015 issue of US Vogue
(Vol. 222) featured the first transgender model in the history (132 years!) of
its existence: Andreja Pejic. That same month, IMG Models – one of the biggest
modelling agencies worldwide – announced transgender actress, writer and model Hari Nef as the
newest addition to its roll. Two months later, H&M sister brand ‘&
Other Stories’ followed the example of brands like Barneys and Make Up For Ever by launching an advertising campaign featuring transgender models Valentijn De Hingh and Hari Nef. And last week, it
was all over the news when Dutch model Loiza Lamers was crowned the first-ever transgender winner of the ‘Next Top Model’ television franchise. Has the fashion industry
suddenly become all trans-friendly?

image

Although the vocabulary used to describe this trend may fool you into believing
otherwise, the presence of transgender models in fashion imagery is not exactly as new as it seems. In the 1960s, after going through the horrors of
bullying, assault, failed suicide attempts, and (electric, drug, hormone)
treatment in a mental institution, April Ashley worked as a professional model in Britain until the
news about her gender confirmation surgery soon made an end to her professional career. In 1991,
the British model Caroline “Tula” Cossey became famous as the first trans women to pose for Playboy.

It may not be
an entirely new phenomenon, but in many ways the recent rise and success of the
transgender model does seem groundbreaking. The increasing visibility of trans
models such as Valentijn De Hingh, Lea T, and Andreja Pejic on the runway, and
in print and media seems to contribute to – or at least coincide with – a broader, cultural and political mainstreaming of
transgender identity
. As there are
but few role models and spokespersons for the transgender community, their
visibility is literally of vital importance in raising awareness and advancing tolerance.

Unfortunately,
the current ‘trans model trend’ also has its downside. Many of the captions,
press releases, interviews, and statements appearing alongside all the
seemingly trans-friendly fashion imagery testify to a less trans-tolerant
climate, to say the least. LGBT (!) news site The Advocate, for example, blatantly notes that the ‘& Other
Stories’ campaign shows “that trans people are beautiful, too”, while Elle headed
that Pejic modelled for a beauty brand “And looks gorgeous doing it”.

As much as I
would love to believe that the recent success of the transgender model is the
definite harbinger of a more gender-diverse fashion industry, I can’t help but
notice the accompanying, stigmatizing discourse of the transgender model as an
‘object of curiosity’. Like Pejic, I nonetheless hope that the trans model trend will
turn out to be much more than just another case of cynical casting, clever
marketing, or fashion tokenism.  

– Lianne
Toussaint is a PhD candidate at the Department of Cultural Studies of the
Radboud University in Nijmegen. Her research is part of collaborative
NWO-funded project ‘Crafting Wearables’.

– IMAGE: Andreja
Pejic for Dossier, Issue 7, Spring
2011. Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by James Valeri, Hair by Holly Smith,
Makeup by Ozzy Salvatierra, Shirts and Pants by Haider Ackermann: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nielleborges/6196657940/in/photostream/

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