Transgender Models are Rocking High Fashion, but is that Good for Girls?



Andrej Pejic, male. Photo from DailyMail.co.uk.

Last October, male model Shane Lapper made national news when he came out as transgender and switched to modeling as Chloe Grace, a woman. This January, Barneys unveiled its spring ad campaign featuring 17 transgender models. In February, Elite Model Carmen Carrera, born a boy, got over 50,000 signatures on a Change.org petition to Victoria's Secret to have her be the first transgender Angel.

"If we keep as we are, gain the right amount of press attentionthen I see no reason why we won't be seen on all runways and billboards in the future," says Grace in an email.

The emergence of transgender people in the high fashion modeling industry is undoubtedly a benefit to LGBT awareness, and Grace explained that of all the venues to model-- from commercial to promotional-- the world of fashion is the most inviting for her. In this newly budding niche, the great majority of success stories are that of the male to female (MTF) transgender: sleek, thin, lanky bodies that are naturally void of curves. When there is an increasing prevalence of eating disorders amongst teenage girls and subsocial obsession trends like the "Thigh Gap" emerging in their social media circles, we have to ask: how will the influx of the naturally curveless MTF transgendered model impact body consciousness for young girls?
Rachel Levine, Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, says that there are biological, psychological and cultural factors that lead to eating disorders, and that culture plays a role when influencing images are more frequent.
"It isn't every little girl that reads Glamour or Vogue ends up with anorexia nervosa, it has an influence because it is so pervasive in our culture,” Levine explains. “It's that you can't get away from it- this extremely thin feminine." While Carmen Carerra makes strides as a transgendered model in the US and Chloe Grace in the UK,Carol Marra is getting big in Brazil and Andrej Pejic, male cisgender (“normal” person whose sex and gender match) is modeling women's clothing better than women for a global audience. 

Grace says the majority of ads for stockings and tights brands use male and transgender women's legs "as we have better leg shape."


And yet, Levine, who is openly transgender herself, says there is absolutely no evidence that the MTF transgender is damaging to the body ideal for teenage girls, and that she thinks the newfound popularity of transgender models is "an interesting little snippet" -- a trend rather than an overhaul of sexual identity consciousness in the media.
"There is no evidence whatsoever in the literature that I can find that implicates transgender models in abnormal body image in women in the development of eating disorders,” she notes. “There is nothing in the medical literature or the lay literature that makes that connection.” Levine says she doesn't see people wanting to emulate a transgender body."I think people are intrigued by it, and obviously it's trendy- it's being used to sell clothes- but I don't see people thinking 'I want to look like that,’” she says.
Dr. Dina Zeckhausen, Founder of the Eating Disorders Information Network and body image expert, agrees. She believes women would be less likely to compare their bodies to MTF transgendered models because they understand the biological underpinnings of their shape differences. She says they won’t relate to the models because they’ll register that the model is not a woman, and that the more persuasive notion would be that the model’s body is attainable. “The most damaging comparisons would be women comparing themselves to other biologically female models, as in 'That body is attainable,’” Zeckhausen says.