Ariel Nicholson First Out Trans Cover Model for US Vogue

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday August 15, 2021
Originally published on August 10, 2021

Ariel Nicholson has become the first trans model to cover US Vogue magazine. Nicholson, 20, is one of eight models chosen to represent "Generation America" on the September issue cover, alongside fellow top models Kaia Gerber, Bella Hadid, Lourdes Leon, Yumi Nu, Sherry Shi and Anok Yai, Business Insider reports.

Though Nicholson's appearance on the American version of Vogue is a first for the publication, covers of the brand's international titles have featured trans models in the past. Business Insider recalled that tans model and actress Valentina Sampaio "posed for the cover of Vogue Paris in 2017," while Laverne Cox "was the first trans woman to appear on the cover of British Vogue."

Nicholson herself had previously covered Italian Vogue, the article added.

"Obviously it's a big deal being the first trans woman on the cover of Vogue," Nicholson told Business Insider, going on to make it clear that that distinction isn't the only thing noteworthy about her. "I've been put in this box — trans model," she said. "Which is what I am, but that's not all I am."

But it is a distinction becoming more common as magazines, and popular culture in general, grow more familiar with and accepting of the trans community. In an article about rising trans models, Marie Clare recalled that Vogue Italy also featured trans model Lea T on a cover, as has the Italian edition of fashion Glamour, while model and actress Hunter Schafer has covered for Paper, V, and Daze (and "walked for designers including Dior, Miu Miu, and Rick Owens"). Jari Jones "starred in the 2020 Calvin Klein Pride campaign," and Teddy Quinlivan "has walked for Fendi, Chloe, and Marc Jacobs."

Trans model and "Pose" actress Indya Moore became the first trans person, male or female, to cover Elle magazine in 2019. Even Sports Illustrated featured a trans model on its cover: as previously reported at EDGE, Leyna Bloom covered the magazine's latest swimsuit issue.

Magazine covers aren't the only place trans women are being celebrated and ushering in diversity. Victoria's Secret recently made the news when it announced that trans model and actress Valentina Sampaio would be among the brand's new "angels" (along with out lesbian athlete Megan Rapinoe).

But the growing visibility of trans models in the fashion world is accompanied by a darker side: Trans models, like their cisgender counterparts, are also subjected to sexual harassment and even sexual violence. As EDGE reported previously, several male and trans models have made allegations of harassment and rape against designer Alexander Wang.

[READ MORE: Trans Models Speak Out Against Sexual Harrasment]

Previously-mentioned trans model Teddy Quinlivan disclosed several episodes of sexual harassment in an Instagram post in which she recounted knowing at the start of her modeling career that the job would entail "working long hours and there would be times when people would be mean or critical towards me... What I didn't expect was for a casting director my first season to force himself on me and offer to put me on the cover of magazines in exchange for sex, or the time a stylist stuck his fingers inside my underwear on a closed set and attempted to pull off my underwear without warning, or the time a photographer groped me and pinched my nipple."

Still, the march toward more inclusive representation and acceptance continues. The fashion industry is just one place where trans women have gained visibility; another cultural institution, television and film, while still lagging in representation across the board, has yielded big-name stars. Good Housekeeping assembled a list of 20 trans actors that include the history-making, Emmy-winning Laverne Cox, of "Orange is the New Black"; "Sense8" star Jamie Clayton; "Transparent" star Alexandra Billings; activist and actress Jen Richards, who recently added an arc on "Clarice" to her resume; and, of course, MJ Rodriguez, best-known for "Pose," but also an actress who has appeared on numerous other shows.

Trans women contribute to every profession and walk of life. Still, it's the modern-day myth-makers of TV and movies and the glossy pages of the magazines where consumers still look to see our most idealized selves. More and more, trans women are represented in those spaces — and rightly so.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.