A 28-year-old budding model’s newest gig is a breakthrough not just for herself but also for the two marginalized communities she represents. Shay Neary, a plus-size transsexual model, has broken ground by being cast in an ad campaign for plus-size clothing retailer Coverstory. And it’s quite a story.
Neary was hesitant about becoming a model in the first place, she tells Revelist, because of her size. But friends kept telling her she should take the leap, and finally one of those friends showed her an ad for the New York-based plus-size modeling agency Trans Models. “After much hesitation, and remembering how many of my friends telling me I should model… I took a chance, and applied,” Neary said to Revelist. “One week later, I got a message from the owner that she would like me to come on board.”
Revelist says that the size 26 model is no longer with the agency, but her short association with Trans Models helped her land the gig as the face of Coverstory’s new campaign. And the opportunity was quite serendipitous. It turned out that Heidi Kan, founder of the clothing retailer for full-figured women, was intent on featuring a trans model in the brand’s first-season campaign.
“When Hari Nef signed with IMG and Caitlin Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair I knew it was time to promote and feature plus-size transmodels,” Kan said to Revelist. But she couldn’t seem to find the perfect candidate. “I searched everywhere. I checked with the usual modeling agencies and even tried scouting on my own … but with no luck,” Kan tells Revelist.
Trans Models finally led Kan to Neary, and as soon as Kan met with the buxom brunette, she was sold. The feeling was mutual for Neary, who was growing tired of photographers who seemed interested in shooting her only because of her body. In fact, the fetishization of trans bodies is nothing new, according to Revelist.
Neary confirmed that sad reality to the publication, saying, “I’ve done maybe eight to 10 naked shoots. I’m a new trans-plus model to the scene, but I have yet to find any designer willing to actually dress me for a shoot or book me an actual high-profile gig. They’re not willing to get you clothes. They’re not willing to find a designer to get you clothes for a shoot. [Photographers say] ‘We’re not gonna hide your body, we want your raw body.’ Hmm, how about [designing] some clothing for my ‘raw body?'”
In her campaign for Coverstory, Neary seems to have gotten exactly what she’d hoped for. The plus-size retailer will be dressing the model in “everything from wrap caftans to silk blouses,” according to Revelist. Early photos released by the publication reveal that the campaign is very demure and tasteful, even on the conservative side.
Neary is happy and proud to be involved in a project for a company that is working to “normalize trans bodies as beautiful and worthy.” And it’s gravely important to do so, she feels, because trans women are highly stigmatized and often the targets of hate crimes and even homicide. According to Revelist, Neary told Refinery29 that inclusion and normalization of trans people in popular culture will be a game-changer for helping the community command respect.
She tells Revelist, “At one point, I didn’t want to define myself as trans; I wanted to blend in. I didn’t know myself well enough to be comfortable with saying,’m OK with being a trans individual; I’m proud to be a trans individual.’ A lot of trans people say phrases such as, ‘the dead me,’ or ‘my dead name.’ I don’t really relate to that. I don’t really think of my former self as a dead part of me. I find that person very fluid with who I am today. I had to accept who I was to become who I am now.”
Trans people like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, as well as wildly successful and south after trans models like Ahsley Graham and Tess Holliday, are paving the road for models like Neary, and the significance of those accomplishments isn’t lost on her. Neary hopes she can pay it forward by inspiring young trans people and the trans models of the future. “I’d love to be a representation for trans youth,” she tells Revelist. “Teaching trans kids that they only need to be themselves to succeed in life. Confidence and passion will take them the rest of the way. That being trans doesn’t hold them back from being anything they want.”