Transgender Models Are The Next Step In Embracing All Kinds Of Beauty

by Emily Arata

In the fashion industry, it pays to be one step ahead of the latest trend. Fall fashion week takes place during the spring before, and the truly stylish players are done with a hot-ticket item by the time it hits retail stores.

As the greatest minds in fashion look to innovate and evolve our collective understanding of style, they consistently search for new inspiration.

Traditionally, artists have always been among the first to embrace new ideas and lifestyles, like Keith Haring’s AIDS-relevant pop art, which brought a long-tabooed subject out into the open air.

And now, while many still feel ill-equipped to discuss transgender identity, the fashion industry is embracing it head on. Through casting choices and editorial spreads, it's helping to spread the trans movement — one model at a time.

Fashion values fluidity.

Unquestionably, 2015 is becoming the year of gender identity. Actress Laverne Cox of “Orange Is The New Black” fame holds a place in history next to trans icons like Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner graced a news-stopping cover of Vanity Fair.

While the average person still struggles over customized pronouns and terminology, the high-fashion industry dove head-first into the pool of gender fluidity.

It should be no surprise, considering androgynous models with flat, rectangular bodies have long been highly valued in both editorial photography and on the runway. People who look unique bring new and unexpected flair to the art of modeling, and unconventional looks are coveted in the editorial world.

Transgender models aren't just a publicity stunt.

Case in point: Beauty darling Andreja Pejić, the 23-year-old face of Make Up For Ever, first made a name for herself as a male model. After transitioning last year, she’s risen to the top a second time.

Pejić has recently been a coveted interviewee for media outlets like Vogue, making her a kind of authority on gender and its relationship to modeling. But, other transgender faces are making their way up the fashion ranks without benefiting from exclusive interviews or press releases.

Consider Lea T, the Brazilian hair model who is a favorite of Givenchy artistic director Ricardo Tisci. She underwent surgery in 2012, although she already had a successful career as a male model. Since then, T's seen major success as the first trans face of Redken.

Talent doesn't change, even when gender does.

It’s with a matter-of-factness that the fashion industry accepts these changes and the frank discussion of people who feel as if they’ve been trapped in the wrong body. In a community based on art, it’s a person’s merit and look that’s important – not whom they love or the person they return home with at the end of the night.

As T put it in a Huffington Post interview from 2014: "Doing a sex change, you're gonna change a part of your body... That's all... You're gonna still be the same person. When I [woke] afterwards, I was still me, liked the same things."

It’s a simple statement but one that seems especially noted in the fashion community. A model who can walk the runway with confidence will do so, regardless of gender.

And the effect of a valued transgender presence in the fashion industry doesn’t end where the runway does. Photographs in magazines might mean the world to a transgender person who’s never seen anyone like him or herself in real life. Editorial imagery can serve to unite a community.

Body positivity champions seek representation of all body shapes and weights, arguing the absence of variety harms self-image. The same statement is true when it comes to gender identity.

It's possible fashion's creative forces have taken the trans movement as an opportunity to right some of its earlier wrongs regarding representations of all kinds of beauty.

Trans has many faces, and we need to see them all.

In a thoughtful response to Caitlyn Jenner’s glamorous Vanity Fair cover, Cox pointed out that many transgender people never have the opportunities and support Jenner relied on to make her transition.

They don’t have the benefit of endless beauty teams and as many surgical procedures as they’d like. And with good reason: Sex reassignment surgeries can total up to $75,000, according to an estimate from the Washington Post.

They don’t conform to cisnormative (people whose bodies and gender identities align) beauty standards, showcasing a wide variety of bodies and faces. Some wear makeup, others choose to go without. In fact, Cox even invites trans people to share their own image with the community using the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful.

And, that’s just it: A trans person is just as beautiful as any cisgender peer, although he or she may not conform to exactly the same standards. The more transgender and gender fluid models pose for Vogue, stomp the catwalk and model couture clothing, the more visible all these types of beauty become.

Fashion is setting an example for the rest of culture. Transsexuality is something to be celebrated.