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.