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Transsexual Modelmania

by Brianna Austin

  Isis
   

With all the hype that has been surrounding the lead up to appearance of ISIS, the transgender model that will appear on America’s Next Top Mode season premiere, I couldn’t help wondering what all the excitement was about.

ANTM is bathing in all the media hype, Janice Dickinson is sniping Oh, please, I did it on my show first with Claudia,” (in an interview that appeared on New York Mag.com) and Simon Doonan -- Barney's creative director and author of "Eccentric Glamour" – said he agreed with Dickinson that the world of high fashion might be ready for a transgender model.

While the appearance of a transgender model is a first for ANTP, it is not by any stretch a first for the fashion industry. Might be ready? Hello? There have been transsexual models on the world stage of fashion for nearly a half a century. Some of the top names, but certainly not the only names, include socialite April Ashley in the 1960s, Amanda Lear and Caroline “Tula” Cossey in the 70's, and Terri Toye and Lauren Foster in the 80s/90s -- all of whom worked with the biggest designers of their time on the runway and in the leading fashion magazines – including Vogue.

And there are countless other trans-models on the local levels as well, like Teryl-Lynn Foxx, who in the 90's walked the runway many times for Saks Fifth Ave, or Hiloudaki, the print model in Greece who in 2000 was chosen Greek Woman of the Year. So why does the media treat every new story with a transsexual in it as though it were something new? “Freak factor,” Lauren Foster told me the other night in a telephone conversation. “America loves a circus, and we, transsexuals, are still, unfortunately, part of the side show. “

Because of discrimination many transsexuals choose to live in “stealth,” forcing them to hide the history of their biological sex so that they can assimilate into the mainstream. But for those in the spotlight that is not always an option.

“For the first few years that I modeled, no one knew that I was a transsexual woman,” Lauren Foster said. “After I was ‘outted’ at the Miss South Africa pageant by another contestant, many of the designers I had already worked with loved that I was transsexual. But, they had to be selective [going forward] as to which countries the print ads I appeared in ran -- because of the publicity that being a transsexual model generated.”

I wondered if in 2008, more than a decade after Lauren’s celebrated eleven year modeling career had come to a close, if she thought that Isis being labelled a transsexual model prior to her competing would be an advantage or disadvantage? “Certainly it is an advantage in the short run, as she is getting so much press attention. In the long run the ready to wear designers I think will go with the flow: if the public has no problem with Isis, they won’t either. But if the general public cannot get beyond her transsexuality -- inhibiting their ability to connect with the image that the product she is modeling is attempting to present -- then her career may be short lived.”

While Janice Dickerson was quoting as saying I think that there’s room for a gorgeous transsexual if he or she has her shit together,” the question is really whether America is ready for an out trans-model? “Of course not,” Lauren said. “Not until they can see her beauty and talent and the image she is representing before gender, which may not happen in my lifetime?”

A continent away however, after her first major commercial shoot for the makeup company DODO, Korean born Harisu became an overnight star and the most recognizable model in China. By 2004 she was so popular -- as a model and pop recording artist -- that she became the first transsexual woman to appear in ads (print and broadcast) for menstrual pads. And what could be more feminine than that?

There may be hope yet.

About the writer:

Brianna Austin is a free lance writer and publisher of Tglife.com.

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