She shouldn't make you feel badly about yourself.
Victoria’s Secret models typically make women feel like something stuck to the bottom of one’s shoe after a quick spin around the public restroom of a major league baseball stadium. In our home, the catalog goes directly from the mailbox into the recycling bin, unless I’m desperately in need of a new pair of leggings, in which case I cover my eyes with my hand and peer through the slits of my fingers, horror movie-style, until I find what I’m looking for. I’m semi-joking, of course, but even women with the most rock solid of body images and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Photoshop still fall prey to the confidence-shattering effects of those pics.
But what if the Angel on p18 with a 24-inch waist, sinewy arms and impossibly long legs actually had a Y chromosome? Would women somehow feel less threatened by a model who was born male and transitioned to female? The question may soon become a very modern-age reality; Elite model Carmen Carrera has thus far secured more than 40,000 signatures via Change.org to petition Victoria’s Secret to hire her as its first transgender model.
She’s not the only born-male model smashing through stereotypes. Gender-bending Andrej Pejic has graced the cover of Serbian Elle (Jean Paul Gaultier has called him an “otherworldly beauty”); transgender Ines Rau got very close with Tyson Beckford in this sweltering shoot; Isis King made gorgeous waves as America’s Next Top Model’s first openly transgender contestant; 17 transgender men and women currently star in Barney’s Spring 2014 campaign.
I was recently asked to comment on the trend of male-to-female transgendered models and their potential impact on women’s body image, and I have to admit, I was stymied. Work travel forced me to bow out of the interview, but when I saw writer Stephanie Stark’s blog on the topic, it piqued my interest.
At first blush, I would have said that transgendered models seem to have an unfair advantage. Born male, they inherently possess the flat chests and size 00 hips that leave runway designers drowning in a pool of their own saliva. Augmented with breast implants, their bodies morph into yet another unattainable ideal: The toned, skinny girl with big boobs. (See: Pam Anderson.)
But on a deeper, more meaningful level, the inclusion of all different kinds of women – plus-sized, petite, androgynous, trans – is actually an incredible step forward for women’s body image. It shows the world that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and forms, that there is no one right way to be gorgeous, sexy, fashionable or confident. We shouldn’t feel any more intimidated by Carrera than we do by Angels who were born with ovaries. If anything, we can find inspiration in the journeys of these FTM models, which likely included moments (years?) of emotional ups and downs, childhood and professional bullying, and mistreatment by outsiders who think it’s appropriate to ask intimate questions about their bodies and sexuality. These women rock supreme confidence, and while their effortlessly curve-free bodies may make better coat hangers for Gucci’s latest line, their struggle for acceptance is one we can all relate to. Egregiously airbrushed images (of any gender)? Now those serve to tear us down by presenting a false reality. Hopefully one day we’ll no longer refer to transgender models as “transgender models”…or to curvy models as “plus-sized”…but just call them all models and be done with it.