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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