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Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup line is killing it this year. Time Magazine even called it one of 2017’s best inventions. The line focuses on creating shades for people of all colors, from Black to albino, which means its models are more diverse than your standard beauty line. But one fan begged the question—where’s the transgender women in Fenty Beauty’s marketing?
Brazilian fan Alberto Otero reached out to Rihanna over Twitter’s DMs, saying that the next time she has something to record, she should “invite a trans girl to the group.” The message caught Rihanna’s eye, and by the next day, she responded by criticizing the fashion world’s obsession with token transgender models.
“I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool!” the singer-entrepreneur told Otero. “Too often do I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike! There’s always just the one spot in the campaign for the token, ‘we look mad diverse’ girl/guy! It’s sad!”
Rihanna’s response, which was confirmed by BBC News, quickly went viral. In short, Rihanna is calling out an ongoing trend embraced by brands like H&M and L’Oreal, where trans models are used for flashy headlines and not much else. In the latter’s case, L’Oreal even fired its first trans model Munroe Bergdorf after she said “all white people” are racist.
So it goes without saying that trans women across Twitter praised the Bad Girl for embracing trans people and encouraging the industry to cast them inclusively.
Loving this take by @rihanna AND I think any casting or employment opportunity should clearly state its inclusion of trans (and other marginalized) folks. This is necessary in a world where we’re still denied access and lacking legal protection in so many ways. https://t.co/YORRHEEiUc— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) November 30, 2017
to me it reads as a positive recognition that trans tokenism - in fashion and beauty - can be rife. This can make people look good, but its not the same as meaningful commercial relationships where trans women are integrated properly (and paid).— thank u frailty (@shonfaye) November 30, 2017
But others are pointing out that Fenty Beauty should do more. While it’s important to avoid tokenizing trans women, trans visibility is vital. In other words, there’s a major difference between throwing a trans woman up on marketing posters for personal gain and making room for trans women because trans women exist.
Hmm I see where Rihanna is coming from, but I do think a platform for trans people to be on beauty campaigns is important. Of course tokenism is an issue, but I think representation is so important and tokenism doesn't always negate a positive reception https://t.co/1DSSXTxZxC— Elektra (@TeenSuccubus) November 30, 2017
Someone said Rihanna should include trans women in her beauty campaign and her response was that “it’s none of her business”. Y’all are calling her a “legend” for that? If Nicki did that it would be hell.— wrist frío ❄️ (@thatslicekidd) November 30, 2017
that rihanna post about using trans models is really bad and is the same exact logic white people use to deny proper representation of black women in media.— דאַהליאַ (@saintknives) December 1, 2017
there are many great models that are known to be trans working today, its anti trans to insinuate that they were hired solely to be tokens, @rihanna could hire a trans model and say exactly what she said in support, this time! https://t.co/Bxe0nBrlvl— Julie "10CeeCee" Cheff (@JulieCeeCheff) December 1, 2017
Either way, many agree that Rihanna’s response is a great take that shines light on an important issue. Marginalized people are regularly tokenized, and visible people in the fashion and beauty industry have a responsibility to call out its problems.
100% agree with Rihanna here, it's the next step to equality. Normalizing trans people into our society.— Michael (@Michael12SAH) December 1, 2017
And the very first people you should employ are trans women of colour— Marcymas (@marcyjcook) November 30, 2017
Fucking support TWoC by giving them opportunities otherwise denied to them
Fashion itself still remains incredibly biased toward thin white cis women and men, with transgender people practically missing and women of color rarely appearing in marketing, according to a mid-2016 survey. Rihanna gets that fashion should be for everyone, but some brands still have a lot of catching up to do.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.