If you could read the minds of Givenchy, Versace, and Lagerfeld- how would they define the perfect model? A woman sans curves? Impossibly long legs? It is no secret that today’s models are held to impossible standards of perfection. Models can never be slim enough, tall enough, or even beautiful enough. The fashion industry is known to play on the insecurities of both women and men, but by highlighting transsexual females as the next big thing in fashion, has the industry gone too far?

In the fall of 2010 Givenchy’s ad campaign featured its usual motley crew of androgynous waifs- models who appeared to be so void, it was as if they were looking right through you. Unbeknownst to some, included in this advertisement was transsexual model Lea T. A long time friend and muse of former Givenchy Creative Director, Riccardo Tisci, Lea T looked perfectly poised, her stare and posture dead on, a model in her element.

Although the initial wave of shock from Lea T’s debut has since passed, one question that remains is how the acceptance of transsexual models will affect the future of fashion.

Most in the fashion world have been quick to bite their tongue, and have applauded the success of Lea T in battling an issue that is almost as old as the industry itself. In the past, transwomen have experienced success on the pages of fashion and men’s publications. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Caroline Cossey was considered the ultimate sex symbol, appearing in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and a James Bond film as a woman. In the 1980’s, transsexual model Roberta Close was named “The Most Beautiful Woman in Brazil” by Brazilian Playboyesque magazine, Sexy.

Recently, Serbian born Andrej Pejic has been haled as the fashion world’s latest transsexual figure, strutting down Jean Paul Gaultier’s runway during Couture Week in Paris. Although Cossey and Close were able to find some success in the modeling industry, too often the decision to become a transsexual model or entertainer has led to devastating results and a life of loneliness, as was the case for some of the world’s first known transsexuals Lili Elbe, Christine Jorgensen, and more recently Gwen Araujo.

What makes Lea T’s story remarkable is that she is one of the first transwomen to not only “out” herself, but to also achieve success in the process. The road to becoming a transsexual is no easy journey. To go through the complete transformation includes undergoing hormone treatment therapy and sex reassignment surgery, which for many involves facial plastic reconstruction. Has our society truly grown in our notions of sexuality that we are able to completely accept transsexual public figures? Or does having well connected friends ease the blow?

For some, the acceptance of Lea T serves as a cruel reminder, a further taunt of what women can never be. Flipping through the pages of fashion magazines, I’m reminded that a prepubescent male would more readily fit the bill for most fashion spreads and advertisements. Given a woman’s natural proportions, we cannot compete with a man’s body type. Men are typically taller and less curvy, they appear averse to having hips and cellulite. When transwomen decide to enter the world of modeling, are they creating an impossible standard of beauty? If women are given images of severely thin and perfect individuals who do not share the same physical composition, does the fashion industry create the perfect conditions for a dangerous life long battle with food, excessive exercise, and plastic surgery?

Perhaps in a rare move by the fashion industry, the public has been setup to learn the ultimate lesson, one of humanity. Lea T was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil as Leandro Cerezo. Lea comes from a wealthy and an extremely male dominative family. Lea’s father is famous soccer veteran Toninho Cerezo. Despite the fame that modeling has brought Lea, she is still faced with the harsh realities of being a transsexual person in 2011. Lea was quoted as saying that she “cannot allow [herself] the luxury of being in love”. The idea of entering into a relationship with another person is purely hypocritical to her, “We transsexuals are born and grow up alone. After the operation we are born again, but once again alone. And we die alone. It is the price we pay.” (The Guardian)

The definition of a supermodel will always be narrow, but can there ever be a consensus on how we define a woman? Is it in the way that she moves? Is a women defined by what she thinks? Or by the anatomy that God has given her? Regardless of the public’s opinion on transsexual models, Lea T’s bravery to expose herself, and her vulnerabilities, is surely something that all women can applaud.

– Abiola Fasehun

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  • Bronze

    I wouldn’t be surprised if tranny’s replace women on the runway. Cause the models now days have the bodies of little 12-year-old little boys so they might as well have what they really desire to see; men dressed as women.

  • Divo

    Brava to a well researched, riveting article. This is a very interesting phenomenon occurring in the fashion industry. We must all wait and see how this plays out. Every other year a certain “type” of model is in vogue, not the magazine but meaning in demand. While Lea T is beautiful and trailblazing I am not so sure the entire fashion community will be open to the entire transgendered community. But here is to hope, change an acceptance. Personally I would like to see more diversity in the fashion spreads and runways. Give me people with melanin, various body types, and anatomical make up. Im all for it. Fashion is a celebration of everyone. Not just the elite, skinny and pale.

    • DS

      Not THAT well researched…
      Andrej Pejic is not a transexual, pre-op or otherwise. He is a very androgynous male. There is a huge difference. The writer’s use of the term “becoming a transexual” also shows a lack of sensitivity to the trans men and women.

      The only information that I gained from reading this article is that the writer doesn’t have much inside information about the trans or the fashion community.

  • Tiffany

    This article was def an eye opener as I wasn’t even aware of the transsexual prevalence within high fashion. I know it was common place for designers such as YSL to use male models casted as females for their advertisements, but the growing popular (and existence) of transsexual in the spotlight.

    @gina morvay – Can you clarify what you mean by people not “becoming” transsexual?

    • Tomi

      I think she means they aren’t changing their gender because it’s just “’cause they feel like it”. But rather they genuinely, and legitimately feel they were born with the wrong parts. Just like homosexuality: You don’t become “a gay” you’re born that way~!*

      [*Debatable, but you’ll find no argument about that here. I’m so far leftist that going right would be a U-Turn]

  • First you say that Lea is brave for outing herself, then you say that transexuals in the media may be bad news for biological women because of their “perfect” bodies. I completely understand your concern, but let’s not use the word “perfect” left and right. That word denotes that there is an actual perfect body. Let’s use the words “white beauty standards”.

    • Tomi

      Except it’s not white beauty standards because most white women don’t look that way….

      The fashion industry was never about beauty and perfection or body type. It’s about conveying and artistic idea or concept through clothing and makeup. Yes some of that DOES bleed into advertisement. There’s a difference between an advertising, ready-to-wear, model and a model that conveys concepts. Both are notorious for using “Exotic”, rare-featured people. Most of them do not look pretty or even beautiful… just ODD. [The reason why Victoria Secret’s Angels look voluptuous, charming and radiant is because they have to model something women can feel they’ll look good in if they buy it- lingerie.]

      Their job is to make us crave what we can’t be. Even if it’s by use of photoshop and emaciation. The more women and men want it, the more they will buy. It’s actually better for the beauty industry in general if women/men never realize they are desirable for any reason.

      TL;DR: It’s not beauty, it’s a gimmick, a con, a sham.

  • Men’s bodies are not perfect women’s bodies. Point blank.

    Top runway model’s bodies are not perfect women’s bodies, for the most part, they look like deformed pre-pubescent boys.

    Women that eat well, and exercise have perfect bodies, so if the trend of using less than manly men to sell women’s clothes spreads exponentially, it will simply narrow the designer labels that I’d be willing to spend money on.

    If you’re not using someone that looks like me, you’re not selling to me, and I won’t waste my money.