The past 12 months have marked major strides in the acceptance and awareness of the transgender community. Amazon’s convention-flouting sitcom Transparent scored two Golden Globe awards and is now nominated for five Emmys, while Laverne Cox’s portrayal of Sophia has us bingeing on Orange is the New Black night after night. Caitlyn Jenner made her unforgettable debut with a stunning Vanity Fair cover, an honorary ESPY award, and a must-watch reality TV series, I Am Cait.
The fashion and beauty worlds are keeping pace. Serbian-born, Australian-raised Andreja Pejic—who started her career as an “androgynous” male model named Andrej, publicly announced her shift in gender identity last year and is making history as the first trans model to represent a major cosmetics company, Make Up For Ever.
The new campaign, which launched in July and features Pejic with actress Jamie Chung, aims to “advocate self-expression” and “bring life to today’s changing faces of beauty.” Pejic and Chung both curated eyeshadow palettes of the shades used to achieve their signature makeup looks; the limited edition quads ($56) are available exclusively on Sephora.ca.
We talked to Pejic about the campaign, her relationship with makeup and gender, and her upcoming documentary.
What does the Make Up For Ever campaign slogan “Be Bold, Be Unexpected, Be You” mean to you personally?
Being bold means waking up in the morning, going to work exactly the way you are, or going to a family event or school and showing your true colours and who you are inside without hiding behind a mask. It’s overcoming fear, because to a certain extent, we’re all a little scared of what people will think. Sometimes our livelihoods depend on it. It’s hard to grow up in this world and not [be scared], but being bold is overcoming that fear—for me, at least.
Being unexpected means keeping people on the edge of their seats. It’s something that I definitely have to do in my career as a model. I have to show flexibility. With the variety of shoots I do, I have to keep people guessing, not knowing what’s going to happen next. I think people love to be surprised.
Being you means tying everything together. We can be bold and unexpected, but I think it’s important to stay true to yourself, not trying to become someone else and not losing yourself in the process.
What was your relationship with makeup like growing up, and then entering into womanhood?
The first time I witnessed makeup, I was very young. I was being raised a boy and I was figuring out what gender was. My mom always wore makeup and loved to dress up. I had a huge fascination with makeup; it was a little naughty, a little forbidden for me, and for young girls, too. It’s a grownup thing. It defines a mature woman.
Early on, I felt a close link to makeup that grew when I was a teenager and experimenting with androgyny. That was when a light foundation and dark eyeliner was very important, I was able to express myself a little through that and to play with makeup when I was living as a boy.
As I got older and I was able to live life as a girl, I started going for a very feminine, natural look. Through a lot of experimentation, I figured out what worked for me. When starting my transition, there was a lot of playing around with different looks–sometimes doing a bit too much, but it was all fun and it has now become a way for me to just enhance my features. Now I have the kind of a relationship [with makeup] that any girl would have. It’s been a journey.
What was the inspiration behind your Make Up For Ever eyeshadow palette?
I was inspired by my day-to-day life when picking the shades for my Make Up For Ever palette. I wanted to come up with something that could be used to go from a day-to-night look easily, something that’s current and trendy on the world’s catwalks.
What does it mean to you to land a cosmetics contract as a transgender woman?
Make Up For Ever is my first campaign after my transition—my first as a woman. Scoring a cosmetics contract is a huge deal for any model. It’s sort of the Oscars for models. And it’s incredible that I have found a brand that reflects who I am. We have a lot of common ground and everything I’ve tried to do with my career—inspire individuality, challenge ideas about beauty—Make Up For Ever does. I haven’t always had the easiest life. To have gone through transition, then to come out at the top and end up working with such an amazing brand like Make Up For Ever is beyond words.
You were quoted in New York magazine in 2012 as saying, “I don’t really have that sort of strong gender identity—I identify as what I am.” Why has it since become important for you to identify as a woman? What changed?
Well, nothing really changed since then. I’ve known that I wanted to transition since the age of 13. I started taking puberty blockers at the age of 14 on my own, so I became aware very early on.
At the time of that article, I wasn’t comfortable going that deep and revealing my biggest personal struggles to the public. I also had a career as an androgynous model and was told by people in the industry that it would be best not to transition. Of course, this came from ignorance, and ignorance about theses things definitely exists in the fashion industry, just as it does anywhere else. It didn’t stop me from wanting to transition and taking the steps to do so, but it did stop me from being very open about it.
However, a lot of the same ideas I expressed before transition are the same now. I still don’t base my whole identity on the fact that I was born trans or that I am a woman. A human being is more then their gender identity.
With other transgender individuals in the spotlight lately, do you think we’re reaching a turning point for acceptance in society?
I’m happy that transgender people are in the news, raising awareness about a social minority. The more people read about transgender people and understand our stories, the more acceptance will come.
That Make Up For Ever is giving me a chance to tell my story and reach people who might never have known me through this campaign is bold in itself. I feel like this campaign is bigger than me—it’s a social change. There are millions of kids around the world who are struggling with gender or sexuality, or just people who feel different. I think this campaign shows that being different doesn’t have to mean ugly.
I hope my successes (and those of these other women) inspire people. I do believe that people can overcome old prejudices on a mass level.
You’re working on a documentary, Andrej(a), about your transition. When is it planned for release?
We’re still filming. Documentaries take a long time to make; they can sometimes film for two years, sometimes for 10. We’re seeking more funding at the moment as we are producing it independently. We’re hoping to have it ready for next year’s festivals. Fingers crossed.
Has filming been therapeutic?
Filming was at times very difficult, but looking back now I think it made me more comfortable with showing my emotions.
Could a movie career be in your future?
I would love to do some acting. I have been learning the craft for almost a year now—I guess time will tell.