April 24, 2024


Fashion come on you

This Photo Series Turns Beauty Advertising’s White, Heteronormative Past on its Head


Ever since she was a child growing up in Sampaloc, a district of the Philippine capital city of Manila, Maria Rivera dreamed of walking runways. She idolized supermodels like Kate Moss and followed the exploits of Sex and the City’s troupe of stylish young women. But because Rivera was trans and had darker skin, she hardly ever saw herself represented on billboards or in the pages of glossy fashion magazines.

“It has always been my dream to strut in high heels while doing my catwalk wearing top fashion houses,” Rivera said recently. “But being a trans woman growing up in a country that is greatly influenced by a very conservative religion, it is really hard to find a decent job without being judged and criticized [for] the way I dress and carry myself.”

Rivera never stopped dreaming. And today, with the launch of “Prim ’N Poppin’,” a new photo series by beauty photographer Julia Comita and makeup maven Brenna Drury, Rivera continues the work of making her vision reality. “I may not be the first [trans person] to be part of the modeling world, but [my] being here is more than enough,” she said of the release. “There is still more to come — not just for me, but for all who have dreams.”

For the first batch of what the creators intend to be an ongoing series, Comita and Drury produced five images intended to evoke 1970s beauty advertisements, in all their cheesy, campy, pastel-drenched glory. But that’s where the parallels end: Gone are the white, thin, cisgender women that were ubiquitous in the era’s advertising landscape. In their place, Comita and Drury photographed a group of models who represent folks of different races, gender identities, sizes, sexualities, as well as those living with vitiligo. The juxtaposition “forces viewers to consider that this kind of representation didn’t exist then,” Comita tells them.

Models from left: Cory Walker, Jesi Taylor Cruz, Kaguya

Photography by Julia Comita; Makeup by Brenna Drury

“Prim ’N Poppin’” also offers a more expansive account of the consequences of a fatphobic, transphobic, and white supremacist advertising world by presenting interviews with each of the models featured. In these candid conversations, they share some of their earliest memories of beauty advertising and ideas for how to make the industry more equitable.

“They made me feel invisible in a lot of ways,” said model Cory Walker about how beauty advertisements struck them as a child. “They also inspired me. I had to imagine what it would look like if heteronormative beauty standards weren’t so primarily highlighted.”