Last week, Vanity Fair released an edition with a front cover that showed Caitlyn Jenner. This was the first image that the world had seen of Caitlyn Jenner and it was a truly stunning one. Her hair was long, full and wavy; her face was feminine and softened. In the glare of the studio lights, her skin appeared to glow; radiant with warmth and happiness. Her figure was delicate, shapely and womanly; complemented by an ivory coloured, clean cut corset. Caitlyn’s physical beauty was remarked upon by fans worldwide, who were left jaws to the floor after her swan like transformation.
It is wonderful that Caitlyn Jenner has emerged as a gorgeous, outspoken and strong transgender woman. However, we cannot discuss her transformation without remembering the many transgender women out there without a team of makeup artists, fashion designers and top plastic surgeons at their disposal. Not many of these women will get the chance to introduce themselves through a glossy, airbrushed piece in Vanity Fair; for them, their transition can be a much messier period of time. Caitlyn Jenner is a privileged individual in terms of wealth, contacts and fame. Perhaps most cruelly, she is applauded for her ability to “pass” as a “real woman” whereas many trans women with less wealth and power might be ridiculed for their inability to match cis gender normative standards of beauty. All women are judged on impossible beauty standards, but for trans women this can be especially true. There is added pressure on them to look feminine, to look “normal”.
For many transgender women, their transition can be an expensive business. Moreover, the end result of years of gruelling plastic surgery, many trans women find that they cannot “pass” in terms of strict cis gender norms. According to transgender Writer Meredith Talusan: “The way in which socially progressive, cisgender people – who are otherwise critical of conventional beauty standards and economic privilege – give themselves permission to talk about trans women in aesthetic terms reveals a certain truth that sometimes feels insurmountable to trans people: affirming trans women’s attractiveness also often affirms our sometimes-limited understanding of the gender binary”. I would not dream of judging any woman by her appearance. However, why has Caitlyn’s undeniable gorgeousness become such a focal point?
Caitlyn’s reemergence has been criticised by many as not being representative of the diversity of the trans community. National Director for Trans Women of Colour Collective explains that “When we hear Caitlyn Jenner’s story, we’re not compelled to now go help out poor, homeless trans youth because that’s not the story that’s being told. When we hear Caitlyn Jenner’s story about how she went to her surgeon, and her surgeon gave her facial feminization and breast implants, we’re not talking about how that costs tens of thousands of dollars.” Caitlyn’s story is of course inspiring but it is also very much a story of privilege. We now need to look to the plight of non famous trans men and women and the very ordinary struggles that they face every day. I greatly look forward to her documentary but would love to see more stories out there from trans people of various ethnicities and backgrounds.