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Transgender Models: A History in the Making

The fashion industry is changing its ways to create a normal and acceptable perspective when it comes to transgender models. There are many questions to whether it is a marketing strategy due to the ever-changing and progressive views of generation-Z. However, that topic is for another article.

Perhaps you’re asking why this is so important? Well, I will give you a little look into the history and appalling treatment of transgender models before the industry woke up.

April Ashley – 60’s Model

Born George Jamieson, April Ashley joined the navy at 16. The strain of living as the wrong gender proved too much. Ashley was discharged from the navy after a suicide attempt and was placed in a mental insitute at the age of 17. At 25 years old Ashley had her gender confirmation surgery. Though the operation was a success; it came with a great deal of physical pain and recovery was slow.

Ashley became an extremely popular model and, in an interview, explained her joy about appearing in the British Vogue. She said, “to come from the back streets of Liverpool, and here you are in the most glamourous situations… it as a dream come true”.

The Sunday People outed her in 1961, a year after undergoing the surgery. The modelling career she had worked so hard for was destroyed. Moreover, the picture painted by the media was suggestive of a scandal. Her modelling career was over because she was born a boy.

Tracey Norman – Late 70’s Model

As a 70’s cover star for Clairol Nice ‘n Easy, colour 512, Tracey “Africa” Norman passed as a cisgender female for five years. Note that this is ten years after Ashley.

She had stated in an interview that she knew form a very young age that her biological body did not match her gender. At the start of the 70’s, she began to take hormones and had her surgery. From that moment on she began to turn heads.

Norman is the first African-American trans women model. She achieved a great and booming career modelling for Essence, Vogue Italia and Harper’s Bazaar India. I mean what a sucess story!

At 63, she snapped up a career with Clariol again, inspiring trans women globally.

Twenty First Century Trans Models

After decades of rejection transgender models such as Valentina Sampaio, Jari Jones and Hunter Schafer are the becoming the new movers and shakers in the fashion industry. At 23, Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio has gained more momentum than ever and begins to open more doors for the transgender community.

This “femme fatale” started off her career modelling for Vogue Paris Magazine in 2017. Then ‘The Transgender Beauty’ who stands at 5’9 went on to model for Victoria’s Secret as their first openly trans model. And if this wasn’t enough! In July 2020 Sampaio will appear in Sports Illustrated.

My only question in regards to the photos of Sampaio: Is there an element of conformity in Sampaio’s picture? The Sports Illustrated female models flaunt their sexuality in their swimsuits. I am such an advocate for women empowerment. Express yourself and show off your body; that is your choice.

However, does this not feel a little like female exploitation? After all the target audience is predominantly male. Does sexuality have to be the main selling point for Sampaio to challenge the social norm? or rather to get enough buzz around her to open doors for the future transgender models?

The picture of Sampaio, I think, filters into this societal norm image; just another woman in a swimsuit, on a beach looking at peace. But Sampaio is no “normal” woman. She is transgender, she is proud and wow, she is beautiful. Perhaps in a more realistic and unfiltered setting I would feel like change is more than just having a pretty face.

Change, We Accept You

There is an increased interest and microscopic focus on how the fashion industry is making themselves more diverse. Sampaio and other trans models are changing and challenging the fashion industry’s normal. We love it! In an interview Sampaio states “being trans usually means facing closed doors to people’s hearts” but no more! The space she is creating will open doors wide for such a vast amount of people in the LGBTQ+ community.

I don’t know about you but I welcome this beautiful change with open arms. Form more articles similar to diversity in the fashion industry, click here.


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