I hate to admit it, but when I saw Caitlyn Jenner’s debut on the cover of Vanity Fair, I was part of the problem.
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) June 1, 2015
Of course, I’m beyond thrilled that she’s able to live her truth and that she wants to be a role model for other trans* folk. But these were the next thoughts that ran through my brain:
- I need to know what she used to get those lashes, stat.
- Her surgeon did a fantastic job on her cheeks and jawline! I hope that doctor is screening Kris’s calls.
- Why can’t I afford a curve-hugging Donna Karan dress?
And while those thoughts may seem innocuous, they’re not okay. I fed into what many in the media are doing in response to Jenner’s story—focusing solely on her looks.
Beauty brands are also getting in on the action. Not long after photos of Caitlyn Jenner hit the Internet, rumors began to surface that cosmetics brand MAC wanted Jenner to be the new face of their Viva Glam campaign. MAC has since issued a statement saying that the rumors aren’t true, but that the company is “inspired by Caitlyn Jenner, her personal journey and we admire her courage and beauty.” Even the world’s nicest rejection letter can’t get away without making some sort of judgment call on Jenner’s attractiveness.
That Caitlyn Jenner is beautiful is not the only thing we know about her. Before transitioning, Caitlyn Jenner was known as an athlete, businessperson, parent, reluctant reality TV star, and helicopter enthusiast. Those things didn’t change, when she transitioned, but somehow we’ve forgotten. Now, she’s just another pretty face, and that’s not fair to women—cis or trans—anywhere.
Actress and trans* activist Laverne Cox explained it beautifully in a recent blog post:
Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.
A year ago when my Time magazine cover came out I saw posts from many trans folks saying that I am “drop dead gorgeous” and that that doesn’t represent most trans people. (It was news to be [sic] that I am drop dead gorgeous but I’ll certainly take it). But what I think they meant is that in certain lighting, at certain angles I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards.
Caitlyn Jenner is a champion; put her back on the Wheaties box (I’m not the first person to think of this.). I’m sure Caitlyn Jenner still has mini UAVs in her garage; Align Helicopters should invite her to demos and trade shows to show how everyone can get involved in this STEM niche.
Caitlyn Jenner is also a TV personality. Hopefully her mini-series “I Am Cait” on E! will give viewers a comprehensive look at that personality. However, even in the first trailer, Jenner laments how she’s starting to understand “the pressure women are under all the time about their appearance.” She also spends about half of the minute-long trailer primping and putting on makeup. That’s not exactly the best sign that the discussion around her transition is going to change any time soon.
The largely positive public response to Caitlyn Jenner is important and historic in and of itself, but we—and the brands we support—can take it one step further by seeing Caitlyn Jenner as a whole person. And since she is a public figure, part of that is selling her as a whole person. Brands should want to work with Jenner because she embodies courage, strength, and honesty, and those are qualities they want associated with their products.
Stephanie Levy is a writer, editor, and web producer living in the D.C. area. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she has covered everything from education policy to dumpster-diving for beer (seriously).