Trans Women in the Lingerie Industry

Transgender Awareness Week:

Exclusion and Challenges faced by Trans Women in the Lingerie Industry

“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy”

These were the words spoken by Ed Razek, former Chief Marketing Officer of Victoria’s Secret parent company, in an interview with Vogue only 2 years ago. He was answering a question about the prospect of catering to the shifting needs and desires of lingerie customers in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show. The backlash and outrage that followed ultimately forced him to issue a half-hearted apology and later led to him stepping down from his role in August 2019. It also played a part in the company’s decision to finally hire their first openly trangender model in that same month, though this is too little too late. Despite this, the fact that such an unacceptable and out of touch comment could be made by someone so high up in the industry, without a second thought, points to some of the deeply problematic ways in which society continues to exclude and fails to cater for trans women.

The blatantly transphobic implication in his comment that the beauty ‘fantasy’ and being a transgender woman were two mutually exlusive things, as if that were a self-evident fact, demonstrates just how much progress is yet to be made. All this show us is how widespread the lack of understanding around what it means to be transgender is. In the same interview Razek tries to justify himself by spouting that he shouldn’t have to choose his models based on trying to be “politically correct” and that casting a diverse range of women, including trans women, would somehow mean that the place was stolen from “somebody who worked for a year for the opportunity and cried when they found out they got it”. As if being transgender would somehow mean a woman has worked less hard for her place there? That she is less deserving of the opportunity? That it’s a mere coincidence that there had been no trans women in their fashion shows up until that point and that casting one would purely be an underserved act of charity? That the problem definitely isn’t about questioning the extremely narrow perception of beauty standards that excludes any diversity within beauty?

Problems trans women have to face with bra fitting itself

Within the everyday lives of trans women, the available sizing and selection of bras in the mainstream market can be exclusionary as a result of the fact that it has been designed for cisgender women alone. On average, trans women tend to have a wider rib cage, and those who chose to undergo hormone treatment usually have more conical breast shapes and fluctuating measurements. This means that band sizes in relation to cup sizes for trans women are often not the same as the sizing that caters to cis women. Aside from this, the prevalence of transphobia can often make it a daunting experience for trans women to even step foot into a shop to be fitted for a bra without the fear that they could be made to feel uncomfortable or even asked to leave. In a world where trans rights are still up for debate, and where the prospect of a trans woman being refused service in a bra shop is not just a fear but a reality, the concerns are more than justified. Only six years ago in Texas a trans woman was thrown out of a bra fitting store, even after showing her ID that stated she was female, for ‘customer safety’ concerns. The fact that this is still happening is not only appalling but scary. What a lot of people fail to realize is that gender affirmation surgery, with its associated costs due to continued medical insurance discrimination against trans people, as well as risks involved, is not an available option to many. This doesn’t make a trans woman any less of a woman. And the ridiculous myth that giving trans people the ability to access the facilities that match their gender identity is going to increase instances of sexual predation despite the glaring lack of evidence, is just another thinly veiled expression of transphobia. Perhaps the more important danger to focus on is the fact that 40% of trans people have reported experiencing a hate crime directly as a result of their gender identity in the past 12 months. This comes at a time in which a string of laws protecting basic trans rights have been revoked by the Trump administration in the US, in a country where almost 3% of teens are trans or gender non-conforming. So rather than ignoring the persistence of the issues and discrimination that the trans community faces as we move in an increasingly regressive direction, myths need to be debunked and awareness needs to be spread to create a stronger push in the other direction.

How the lingerie industry is evolving

On a more positive note, there have been very important and progressive initiatives taken recently to empower trans women in the lingerie industry. Most notably, the launching a year ago of the first lingerie brand specifically for trans women, GI Collection, by Carmen Liu. The reason it’s such a groundbreaking step forward is that it’s the first lingerie brand that will allow trans women to find matching pieces that comfortably cater to those who haven’t undergone gender affirming surgery, while being able to embrace their femininity. The industry as a whole is also moving away from narrow definitions of beauty, as the profits of brands like Victoria’s Secret have significantly decreased over the past couple of years, and more towards brands that are inclusive, representative of diversity and focus on empowering women through body positivity. Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show is a perfect example of how much things are changing in an extremely positive direction to include all voices and representation, while revolutionising the whole concept of a fashion show by centering it around a general celebration of individuality and empowerment. The choice of Laverne Cox as one of the key celebrity stars to appear in the first Savage X Fenty shows us just how much of a world away this is from Razek’s Victoria Secret style fashion shows.

Written by Carla Mcdonald Heffernan, our Brarista Blog Contributor!

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