The trans teen model chang­ing fash­ion

Trans teen model Aaron Philip’s mod­el­ling ca­reer has exploded, bring­ing di­ver­sity to an in­dus­try no­to­ri­ous for dis­crim­i­na­tion


GONE are the days when mod­els were a vari­a­tion of a theme – tall, sleek, lithe and long limbed, prac­ti­cally cut from the same glossy cloth. These days an in­creas­ing va­ri­ety of faces and fig­ures are tak­ing their place on the run­ways of the world’s fash­ion cap­i­tals and cov­ers of glossy mag­a­zines.

The lat­est, Aaron Philip, an 18-yearold dis­abled trans woman, made his­tory by ap­pear­ing on the cover of fash­ion mag­a­zine Pa­per. She also made her cat­walk de­but at de­signer Wil­lie Nor­ris’ show in New York af­ter be­ing awarded a sought-af­ter mod­el­ling con­tract from Elite Model Man­age­ment.

Elite picked Aaron as a ris­ing star – and it is fa­mous for turn­ing the likes of Heidi Klum, Naomi Camp­bell and Tyra Banks into su­per­mod­els. Naomi is Aaron’s all-time hero and the fact she is fol­low­ing in her wake is a dream come true.

When she rolled onto the run­way at Wil­lie’s show in the Big Ap­ple she wore bold red lip­stick, a plat­inum blonde bob and a T- shirt that read “Queer Cap­i­tal” – and the crowd went wild.

It was a life-chang­ing mo­ment for Aaron, who wrote on In­sta­gram that she “cried like a baby”.

“My hands were shak­ing and my heart was beating out of my chest. I hope that my first show goes to show that run­ways and fash­ion collection­s with peo­ple like me in them can be

pos­si­ble and that there should be more op­por­tu­ni­ties like this ev­ery­where within the fash­ion in­dus­try world.”

AARON isn’t let­ting the fact she’s wheel­chair bound in a busi­ness that doesn’t of­ten cater to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties stop her. She’s in sev­eral photo shoots and last year

Teen Vogue named her one of the 21 women un­der 21 who are chang­ing the world.

Aaron had pre­pared for a po­ten­tial ap­pear­ance at New York Fash­ion Week in Septem­ber last year but told Teen Vogue there was no “wheel­chair ac­ces­si­bil­ity on the run­way”.

It’s been a rocky road for this teen, who was born in An­tigua in the Caribbean with cere­bral palsy, a con­di­tion

that af­fects move­ment, mus­cles and pos­ture. When she turned three her par­ents, Petrone and Ly­dia, moved to the USA to have bet­ter ac­cess to health­care for Aaron, who has a younger brother, Aren. They set­tled in the Bronx in New York but, due to the es­ca­lat­ing costs of Aaron’s care and med­i­cal treatments, her par­ents lost their home and were forced to move into a home­less shel­ter. Aaron was 10 years old.

They lived in the shel­ter for two years be­fore Petrone man­aged to find full­time em­ploy­ment in a school cafe­te­ria and the fam­ily of four have been liv­ing in an apart­ment in the Bronx ever since.

In 2015 when Aaron, then 14, told her par­ents she was gen­der fluid and iden­ti­fied as nei­ther male nor fe­male, her par­ents found it dif­fi­cult to come to terms with it.

These days she iden­ti­fies as a gen­der-non­con­formist trans-woman and her mom and dad are more ac­cept­ing of her, she says. “They’re still ad­just­ing and learn­ing, so it’s some­thing we take day by day. But they’re re­ally proud.”

They’ve ev­ery right to be proud. Aaron also ex­celled at school and plans to study fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy now that she’s grad­u­ated from high school.

She also has to man­age her grow­ing so­cial me­dia ac­counts. “So­cial me­dia is how I put my­self out there and let peo­ple know what my as­pi­ra­tions were,” she says. “They took to it and boosted me.”

Twit­ter was es­pe­cially suc­cess­ful. Her break­through came in Novem­ber 2017 when she shared two pics of her­self on Twit­ter with the cap­tion: “Hon­estly, when I get scouted/dis­cov­ered by a mod­el­ling agency it’s OVER for y’all! By y’all I mean the WORLD! It’s real in­clu­siv­ity/di­ver­sity hours folks, get into it!”

The tweet went vi­ral and she also posted pics on In­sta­gram that drew the at­ten­tion of scouts from Elite, who spot­ted her in July last year. So it be­gan.

AARON also has a fair amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity rest­ing on her slen­der shoul­ders. “It’s no longer enough to be a pretty face,” Elite’s Su­san­nah Hooker says. “Mod­els also have a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity as they’re in­creas­ingly be­com­ing in­flu­encers, par­tic­u­larly to the younger gen­er­a­tion,” she ex­plains.

Aaron is up for it – and then some. For a long time, the fash­ion in­dus­try has con­sid­ered only one type of body as a “mar­ketable fig­ure”, she says. “Now we’re en­ter­ing this time, and this cli­mate, where all types of bod­ies want to be pushed for­ward and cel­e­brated – not only cel­e­brated but be seen as de­sir­able and mar­ketable.”

The main­stream fash­ion in­dus­try al­ready con­sid­ers

Aaron some­one with un­ri­valled in­flu­ence, ac­cord­ing to news chan­nel CNN in the USA, and this is only the start of her am­bi­tions. Next, she wants to tackle fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy and later she wants to be a mod­el­ling agent to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple with marginalis­ed iden­ti­ties.

“I want di­ver­sity to be pushed for­ward, for­ward, for­ward, and I think maybe [that’s how] I can do it,” she ex­plains. “I en­tered the fash­ion world with the in­ten­tion of mak­ing the in­dus­try more di­verse, in­clu­sive and ac­ces­si­ble.”

She doesn’t see her­self as a spokesper­son for trans or dis­abled peo­ple. “I’m not an activist,” she tweeted in De­cem­ber last year.

“Be­cause I hap­pen to be black, trans and dis­abled, I’m sen­sa­tion­alised to the point where it’s just like, ‘Oh wow, Aaron is such an enigma.’ Rather than, ‘Aaron is a reg­u­lar girl who has dreams.’

“I just want to do me and do me un­afraid. I want to have a good time all the time and con­tinue keep­ing peo­ple on their toes. But most im­por­tantly, [I want to] make my­self happy,” she says.

‘I want di­ver­sity to be pushed for­ward’

MAIN: Aaron Philip is chang­ing the face of mod­el­ling. LEFT: She re­cently ap­peared on the cover of the fash­ion mag­a­zine Pa­per.

ABOVE: The con­fi­dent model’s pics are break­ing the in­ter­net – and smash­ing stereo­types. She is snapped wher­ever she goes and is a firm new favourite in the mod­el­ling in­dus­try.

ABOVE: Aaron as a young­ster. So that she would have ac­cess to bet­ter health­care, her par­ents, Ly­dia (left) and Petrone (right), moved the fam­ily to the USA.

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