Is transgender representation in fashion a true appreciation of diversity?

Paris Lees
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This month, British history was made as Paris Lees became the first transgender woman to feature in British Vogue fashion magazine. The February edition is the third by Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s first black and male editor, who vowed his aim to celebrate diversity when appointed editor in April, last year.

Writer and campaigner, Lees will also be named in British Vogue's 100 most influential women; she has expressed that she hopes her inclusion will offer inspiration to others. "When I was growing up, you rarely saw trans people in the media and only then as objects of pity, ridicule, or disgust," Lees said “well here I am being celebrated as a woman, in vogue.” She describes that society is in the midst of a “global movement” where trans people are asking to be “treated with the same respect as everyone else in society”

This movement is reflected by trans women becoming increasingly prominent in the fashion world. Further recent successes of transgender people in fashion and beauty include Orange Is the New Black star, Laverne Cox, who became Cosmopolitan magazine's first transgender cover star for their recent February edition. Cox has expressed her gratitude for trans models for "changing beauty standards".

Yet there is still some doubt cast on the authenticity of the motive of fashion brands in their inclusion of trans models. Model and social activist Munroe Bergdorf, who was set to be the first trans woman to lead a UK campaign for L'Oréal Paris, is sceptical that the fashion industry genuinely recognises the value that trans models can add to the industry. She claims that the industry casts to fill a ‘trans quota’ and treats trans models as ‘trends or tokens.’

It is clear that the fashion industry has taken steps in becoming more inclusive in recent years, yet it still has strides to go in truly embracing and appreciating transgender models. It is vital to change the landscape of the fashion industry to celebrating diversity, rather than just fetishizing it.

To end with the telling words of Bergdorf, “the trans community is so incredibly diverse and beautiful, I want the world to see us how we see each other.”

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