BY JESSICA MAHLER
April 8, 2016
Though models are paid to be seen and not necessarily heard, the industry has lately become a platform for the transgender voice. Barneys, H&M, and Givenchy are just a handful of brands that have enlisted transgender talent to bring life to their ad campaigns; gender fluidity has been a pervading theme in collections as of late; and designers have looked to rising stars like Andreja Pejic, Lea T, and Hari Nef to walk their runways. Some of these famous faces’ stories have played out before our very eyes—most notably that of Pejic, who first came onto the scene as Andrej and posed as both male and female before transforming into the female model she is today.
Model Siobhan Atwell is taking a leaf from Pejic’s book. She announced publicly last month that she had made the decision to fully transition. Atwell’s androgynous features—luscious brown lengths, pillowy lips, and razor-sharp brows that call to mind a mash-up of Kendall Jenner, Angelina Jolie, and Brooke Shields—allowed her to pose as either male or female when she first came onto the modeling scene two years ago, and she quickly became a muse to Hood By Air designer (and gender-fluidity pioneer) Shayne Oliver.
Over the last year, though, photographers had been more interested in Atwell’s feminine side, which she says played a large part in her decision to transition. “It started changing the way I thought about it all,” the 22-year-old Canadian says. “I felt more comfortable being a woman, started to like being referred to as ‘she.’ ” When she wasn’t on shoots, Atwell took the time to learn how to do her own makeup (“I am really bad at tutorials,” she admits), becoming particularly enamored with smoky eyes and strobing, and clearly all her hard work paid off: A look through her Instagram shows a woman brimming with self-confidence, one very much in command of her body and appearance.
Who are the women who inspire this newfound strength? The first name she drops is Paris Hilton—“on a business level,” that is—but it’s lifestyle YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous, a fellow Canadian, who motivates her the most. “I knew of her before she was trans,” recalls Atwell. “And she was just so positive and beautiful, and just her personality—how happy she was after.” Watching Gorgeous’s story unfold inspired Atwell’s own journey of self-discovery; she spent a year researching and speaking to doctors and came to the decision in February to complete her transition. “You have to take time to think about it,” she says, “especially when you are young. There’s no need to rush it, and you want to make sure you have a great support system to back you up.”
And while she’s proud to share her story, Atwell resists the idea of being pigeonholed. “I feel like we are still a bit behind,” she says. “I feel like we should be already caught up, not being labeled transgender—we should just be male or female. I want to be represented as a woman, but I don’t want to hide the fact that I’m trans, too.” At this, her agent, Rene Gonzalez, chimes in.
“We hope somewhere down the line we can live in a world without labels,” he says. “Our goal is to let people know that there is a human behind this, and sometimes that gets lost in translation.”