My life as a fashion model came later in life. As a life-long MtF crossdresser, I’ve longed for public acceptance in my female form. That must be a dream common among us. Given this circumstance, wouldn’t you agree that being selected to model women’s fashions by a national brand might be among the highest levels of acceptance?
I sure would!
That’s why I was both shocked and delighted to be selected to do so. Specifically, in 2016 I was selected to represent a line of custom women’s clothing by Perfectly.Me. Seeking to expand its range of customers to include “all” women, including millions of trans-women and cross-dressers, this company needed a new brand spokesmodel.
My association with Sister House.net gave me an advantage over others. The website gave me important public visibility and credentials. The editor, Tasi, and other contributors provided important encouragement and more.
That initial assignment has led to a side career today. I now model woman’s fashion and accessories for an expanding list of sponsors. Believe me, being a fashion model is not something I planned – it just happened!
After a few years’, the benefit of this initial experience has largely been what I had hoped for: higher confidence in my female presentation, new exciting friends, a first-hand education in the previously thought mysterious profession of a fashion model, and often some great fun.
This article highlights my recent experience as a fashion model.
My Starting Niche
At 183 pounds (on a low gravity day) distributed over a six-foot athletic frame, my classic male athletic body was not close to what most consider wispy female proportions. However, my shape was exactly what my first sponsor sought. You see, few customers look like gorgeous slender female supermodels. So, the logic in selecting me was that their model needed to look like their target customers – a real person. In this case, their target was a mature man who wished to present a female image.
In other words, as unlikely as it seemed, I was considered an ideal representative. A model non-model specimen. It’s highly unlikely I’d have ever gotten a start otherwise.
Preparation was Critical
Today I understand that professional modeling is hard work. When starting out years ago, it was obvious, I was simply not prepared mentally nor physically for this work. I was also surprised at home much time needed to be invested in getting a few great shots.
Mental adjustments were essential for survival. Having made independent decisions and actions for decades, my career centered on me being in charge. BTW – I am great in that role. As a fashion model however, things were quite different. I was simply a live mannequin – taking orders (i.e. criticism) from impatient strangers. Mentally, not getting frustrated/angry in return was a huge adjustment. It helped my motivation, of course, to see great photos being collected. It also helped to eventually learn my “best” angles and poses for certain effects. If it helps readers, I refer you to my article on how to pose (see How To Pose For The Camera) which I still use as a refresher guide. Believe me, whatever I learned, was learned the hard way.
Physically, it was clear that years of men’s sports and work activities made my body less flexible than ideal. Some poses were initially just not possible! My ability to do the classic “casual look over my shoulder” pose was a sad joke! Yoga and dance classes helped bit but this required an unexpected large additional time commitment with only small benefit. My obviously less than graceful movements and deep voice in promotional videos and runway walks make me cringe inside – even today. However, my sponsor thought my presentation was acceptable because the assignment was to realistically represent their target market. Whew!
Wardrobe selection was an artform – For Perfectly.Me, a fashion consultant selected pieces to create a coordinated ensemble. This required an expert color and shape analysis. (Note: These valuable results have guided my personal wardrobe selection ever since. Every cross-dresser should do this!) My high heel shoes and flats were custom made in size and color to complete the overall image. Three-way discussions with the fashion consultant and Perfectly.Me management were quite detailed. Sometimes these discussions got quite animated because of differing opinions. In these cases, I was very pleased to be left out of the mix. I was just the model after all!
My initial client, Perfectly.Me, wanted studio and life style still images, and video as well as runway coverage. This required cross-country travel which again was an unplanned time commitment. Some images from these shoots are presented for illustration. They demonstrate the range of settings used.
Some special notes on professional shoots from all my experience I’d like to share are that:
- Walking a runway (catwalk) with a live audience of hundreds and on camera is a life changing experience. Practicing the walk so you can do it with your eyes closed is recommended because the stage lights are blinding. Having had the courage to do this, I now feel it is possible to do anything!
- Unless otherwise instructed, it’s important to be constantly moving for still camera photo shoots. Modeling was not a matter of “holding still.” Photographers seek position differences, some subtle, in each shot. So constant adjustments, in accordance with photographer instructions, are best.
- It’s important to constantly be mindful of wellness and safety. As a model I was expected to take care of myself, show up in healthy picture-perfect condition, and especially in the size expected. I therefore initiated a more rigorous skin care, diet, and fitness routine. I also took added precautions in work and play to avoid injury and bruising.
- Versatility in appearance added interest. Being open to different hair style and colors for example gave added value dimension to my character. As a model, I didn’t insist on a signature look. Instead, I tried to look the part as directed. Professional makeup and costuming made this possible and I have a collection of over 20 wigs.
- Being my real-self was surprisingly valuable. I don’t easily flash a big toothy smile and that was OK. Its not me. However, showing genuine emotion was appreciated; smiles, pouts, and perplexing looks added interest and were welcome. It was useful to practice these.
- Each photographer is a unique personality and each client has a unique “style”. I needed to establish a relationship with the photographer and understand motivation before getting down to business. Its like dancing. The more you do it together, the better. Yes, I do have my favorites!
- Photographers, stylists, and clients, talked about my body and/or touched me as if I were not a real person. I found it quite strange to not be part of those conversations. See my comment about being a mannequin above.
- There were unique educational opportunities. For most photo shoots, I was the only cross-dresser on the set. Sometimes, I was the first cross-dresser the crew ever met. Even though I know I do not represent others, this situation provided me with an opportunity to help others understand. Mostly, they did not seem to care (there were exceptions!) as I was “just the model.”
- After my first project with Perfectly.Me, most modeling opportunities presented to me have had nothing to do with cross-dressing. I’m positioned in the mainstream and have not been offered a modeling opportunity for cross-dressing products for example.
- Shooting in public can draw a crowd. It’s very helpful to have extra crew to keep interlopers away. The photographer, light person, and MUA can help but they are also busy working.
- Being selective and super careful about assignments is necessary. For example, I turned down my largest fee to model lingerie in an out-of-town abandoned industrial warehouse. I just did not feel comfortable with the people and situation.
- A typical preshoot makeup and hair preparation appointment required at least two hours and usually more. Again, it was necessary to take direction from strangers to get it right. If the photo shoot lasted over about 30 minutes; required costume and/or hair changes; or was on location; a makeup/hair artist provided touch-ups as needed. I will always remember and appreciate the impressive attention to detail these photographers and artists were committed to. They were quite proud of their work. Some of them had experience with household-name actors in movies or on television you’ve probably seen!
In the past few years, my images and video clips have been featured on magazine covers, and used to promote services, training, products (e.g. makeup, clothing, accessories) and destinations (e.g. makeover studios, stores, restaurants). My appearance changes so dramatically, viewers might not know its still me inside.
Most of my assignments have come by referral. However, if I care about a product or cause, I volunteer my image to help the cause. My offers are not always accepted. However, a cool jewelry line is a current volunteer project.
My modeling experience has allowed me to feel confident ad be better prepared socially. When there is no camera, I still know how to pose and carry myself. When a camera is available, I no longer shy away from photo opportunities with my friends. When posing with professionals (or naturals) I feel I can hold my own. Again, I feel confident.
In return for modeling, I have been paid in a variety of ways: professional photos, clothing, products, and cash. There is not enough to make a living in modeling, so for me it’s just a hobby. This seems to be true for most of the models I have met. In appreciation for having had this opportunity I donate 100% of my net profit from modeling to trans-related charity. Most importantly, modeling is a source of confidence building experience I’ll always treasure.
I now know professional models who’ve committed their lives to the career. They have taken expensive classes, paid photographers for a top-notch portfolio, auditioned for shoots and overcome frequent rejection. It’s a grueling path. Having walked in their shoes for a short while, I now appreciate these people in ways not understandable otherwise. I am extremely grateful for having had the initial experience Perfectly.Me provided and hope readers understand that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
Nora Simone is a gender-fluid MtF crossdresser who asks readers “What real man wouldn’t like to know what its like to be a beautiful woman?” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos provided with permission of the photographers. See photo captions for details.