Transforming the Modeling Industry

Danelle Sandoval
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The recent rise of impactful and empowering voices, specifically in the transgender community, has undeniably changed the world for the better. With women like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox–who have become pop culture icons—the future’s looking bright for those who have come out, and for their many supporters. And although the world is far from a utopia of complete understanding, the recent steps taken towards tolerance are monumental, and we’re all a part of it.

There is now a beacon of hope and light to those who have felt oppressed because of their transition. It took a while to get here, but slowly and surely, we’re being swept away by individuals speaking out, taking a stand and fighting for what everyone deserves: acceptance. Because at the end of the day, we are all able to relate to each other and we all deserve the same things. We are all human. Whether it’s from our computer screens, iPhones, or Apple TVs, we’re surrounded by these unique stories, and I’d like to believe that everyone is affected and growing more compassionate every day.

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In the fashion industry specifically, there has been exponential growth in filling the void of trans models, who were previously forced to hide their true identities (staying “stealth”). Beneath the pretty pictures and pretty faces, each trans model is faced with the battle for equality, and the terrifying question of whether their agency will put them on the “men” or “women” board.

Now it’s becoming a completely different ball game. No more hiding behind closed doors. Agencies like Apple Model Management, who became the first in the world to represent transgender models, seemed to kick start this trend have inspired others to do the same. Transcendence Icon Company, launched in March 2015, only manages transgender models. Now, Slay Model Management has also taken part in this movement.

Cecilio Asuncion, who founded Slay Model Management, saw the need to develop a transgender model management agency in Los Angeles, following his work with Apple Model Management. I got to sit down and talk with a group of their first models, a veritable family of women who have bonded together and are willing to share their experiences with others.

Posing as their female inspirations from the golden era of Hollywood, where women were similarly oppressed because of their gender, they revealed that it’s not recognition or praise they want out of their transition, but rather to be accepted and to be treated equally. They are transforming the modeling industry–not by being transgender–but by becoming a collection of united voices dedicated to helping everyone who wants a fair shot at every audition, open call, and opportunity, regardless of gender. Their stories show us that, although we have broken down many stereotypes and forms of discrimination in the industry, we still have much more to overcome.

Arisce Wanzer, who has been modeling since the age of 17 before transitioning at 19, explained: “I have to have the same measurements as that girl right there, I have to have the same look, I have to be pretty, I have to be kempt, my nails clean, hair clean, everything has to be perfect, but I’m not given the same opportunities. That doesn’t make any sense. How can you ask so much of someone and then not give them the same things everyone else has. It’s the same thing with marriage equality and all of these things — they’ve got to stop tokenism and the things that aren’t equal. You have to give everyone equal rights, I think the same thing in the modeling industry.”

On top of already being criticized for having to be “perfect,” these women just want a fair chance, like everyone else. Cetine Dale, another Slay model who previously worked as a makeup artist, explained, “If we can do the job, let us do the job.” While these women are still struggling to be treated equally, they are nevertheless extremely excited for the changes they’ve seen in the past couple of months. All of them agree: the times now are definitely not like they were before.

Claudia Charriez, a former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” and who previously signed with the Janice Dickinson Agency, explained: “Eight years in the industry has made an incredible difference. Where I was eight years ago on the forefront of trans advocacy, and being an out trans woman, is a lot different than what it is today because of the Caitlyn Jenners, the Laverne Coxes, and Janet Mocks of the world, who I’m so thankful for. It’s funny to say that eight years ago it was just a different time. What was more accepted, or what wasn’t accepted then is more accepted now.”

Unfortunately, Claudia had to be “stealth” at the beginning of her modeling career. She said, “I didn’t publicly come out as trans until 2006. My first modeling agency was in Miami, I stood under the radar. ‘Stealth’ is what they called it, until ‘America’s Next Top Model’ Cycle 6.” Although, these women face oppression on a day-to-day basis, being part of an agency that satisfies their desire to be a model enables them to feel more confident and at ease, more self-aware, and proud of themselves. This level of self- awareness and self-acceptance didn’t happen overnight, however. Even now, it’s a learning process, and each day brings more strength to each woman.

Angel Qinan, a new model originally from the Philippines, explained, “I wasn’t able to transition in the beginning, but it happens for a reason, and I’m very happy with where I am right now.” Growing up and coming from a different country, she explained that her independence and confidence has really helped her transition.

Ren Spriggs, fairly new to the industry, found comfort in speaking with others through the Internet, and is also looking forward to more positive changes. Moreover, she’s extremely supportive of those who can relate to her experiences and she wants to help them cope with accepting themselves. “The transition is kind of a little bit of a process, you can’t start three months in and expect to suddenly get some instant change, it’s very gradual, and a lot of the people that you can kind of see online are maybe a year or so into it, but it’s a long process. But a lot of the people I’ve seen, once they get through the process and take the time through it–it’s stunning, wonderful, life changing. It’s a unique experience that nobody else in the world will get to experience except a small handful of people,” said Spriggs.

Once this sort of inner acceptance comes about, no one can replace that confidence and self-worth that each of us finds. Chanel Viiperi, who was scouted at a trans community event explained, “When I first started dressing up, I had my doubts in the beginning because I didn’t know much about it. I was alone. But once I embraced it, I knew it was right.” For those who have a hard time embracing themselves, Dominique Jackson, a model who’s been in the industry for a while now, put it eloquently: “This is about you becoming yourself. If you hide yourself you are doing the world an injustice. You are denying the world your true beauty. If you appreciate yourself, then go for it. Your beauty comes from within and you have to feel it and believe it and despite what anyone else may think, as long as you love yourself and appreciate yourself, go for it.”

This piece of advice is something we can all apply to our own lives. Put simply, the fashion industry is not suitable for the faint of heart. On top of that, we know that we have a long way to go before ignorance and injustice become things of the past. But with the fierceness and confidence these women possess, and the amount of resilience they bring to every room, they inspire everyone, including me, to fight for what we believe in. To fight for acceptance, our well-being, our happiness. This is something we can all identify with. Not only have these women transformed the modeling industry, they have transformed the way we think about each other as people. We can only go up from here.

Video Song Credits:
Chris Zabriskie – John Stockton Slow Drag
Yusuke Tsutsumi – A Little World
Chris Zabriskie -The Kid In The Forth Grade Who Loved the Denver Broncos

CreditsAuthor:  Danelle SandovalPhotographer:  Randy TranStylist:  Lianna ShakhnazarianHair and Makeup:  Priv