The positivity that has surrounded the very public transformation of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner is a sign of an ever-increasing acceptance of the transgender community. It should come as no surprise, then, that modelling agencies are also reflecting this attitudinal change. In fact, it’s something we at Talent Management have followed and supported for a long time.
Earlier this year IMG, the agency behind the likes of Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss, made the headlines after signing 22-year-old transgender woman Hari Nef. She is not the first transgender model taken on by IMG (Valentijn De Hingh has that title) but she is first to go on the company’s international roster.
De Hingh is represented solely by the IMG branch in Paris but Nef’s global signing is being seen as an indication of recognition that transgender people are members of society worthy of reflection within the world-wide modelling industry.
Embracing and Prompting Society’s Changing Attitudes
Modelling as an industry has long been talking about its willingness to embrace all sections of society and the actions of IMG are giving further credence to this commitment.
There has certainly been no suggestion that Nef is a purely token signing, especially given the high profile work she has already completed. She opened this year’s New York Fashion Week after all.
Nef may not be the first – or even the second – transgender model to be given a major assignment but her deliberately high-profile stance cannot fail to be seen as a sign of the onward and upward trajectory of an industry increasingly willing to veer away from what was considered the ‘norm’ for many years.
Public perception of what is considered ‘normal’ when it comes to beauty is changing apace and it is important that the modelling world reflects this attitude shift. It is not only right but it is essential in an industry that prides itself on its trend-setting ethos.
It was not so long ago that it would have been unthinkable to have a transgender model fronting a major beauty or hair campaign. Yet, you only need to consider the career of Lea T to see how the tides have firmly turned.
Brazilian Lea was revealed late last year as the new face of Redken, meaning that the 33-year-old who was born as Leandro, became the world’s first transgender model at the head of a worldwide cosmetics name.
From the Sidelines to the Limelight
Another transgender model to have stepped firmly into the spotlight in recent times is Andreja Pejić, who was formerly Andrej. Gone are the days when she was almost treated as a sideshow with very little recognition. Today she is a catwalk mainstay and one firmly deserving of her place at the forefront of modern modelling.
One of the most notable changes to be seen in modelling agencies is not the existence of transgender models, it is their acceptance as valuable, viable members of the mainstream modelling fraternity. They are no longer being casted for the shock value but as a result of a genuine appreciation of their beauty.
Drag artist Conchita Wurst was famously included in the haute couture show by Jean-Paul Gaultier but this is one designer who always strives for the ‘wow’ factor, however it is to be achieved. The likes of Pejić and Lea, in contrast, are not there to make any particular statement. They are the ‘norm’ of the modern world.
The modelling industry is no stranger to gimmickry; entertainment or advertisement are at its heart, after all. And yet this new era of transgender success is not based upon the need for RuPaul feathers or Edna Everage specs. Beauty is central to the achievements of these models with the fact that they were born a different sex destined for little more than a sentence on Wikipedia.
Yes, the casting and recruiting of these models are making global headlines right now, but you cannot escape the feeling that this is a just a mere stepping stone until the likes of Hari Nef will no longer have the ‘transgender model’ tag attached to her name.
The fact that Pejić is strutting her stuff on some of the most prestigious catwalks will one day no longer be applauded the loudest within the LGBT community; nor will the fact that a disabled model or a size-22 woman takes centre stage.
The world’s eyes are always on the modelling industry but it is vital that the industry’s vision is always focused right back. The industry can only survive by reflecting what ‘real’ people want to see. And these ‘real’ people are by no means all cast from the same, or even a similar, mould.