In a historic moment, Chella Man has just become the first deaf, trans model to be signed to IMG. The model agency is home to the fashion industry’s biggest talents, including Gigi and Bella Hadid, Gisele Bündchen, Ashley Graham, and Kaia Gerber.
Nineteen-year-old Man is of Chinese and Jewish descent. He is currently studying virtual engineering at the New School in New York City, but he has become better known for his activism and his art. For 18 years, the model had struggled with gender dysphoria. It wasn’t until May 2017 that Man took the plunge and decided to publicly document his transition online. During the past year, he has been taking testosterone and had top surgery, documenting this process on YouTube, social media, and in a series of personal posts for LGBTQ platform Them. “The documentation of my transition began as a personal project, but has evolved to belong to all of my transgender, queer siblings as well,” Man tells Them.
Since then, Man has garnered over 180,000 followers on Instagram and over 170,000 subscribers on YouTube. He has starred in an ad campaign for Gap and, more recently, the model joined other top fashion influencers in a campaign for Model Citizens Vote, which advocates for millennials to vote.
Although this is not the first time IMG has signed a trans model (the first being Hari Nef) the moment is still significant for many reasons. “We’re so excited to officially announce that Chella will be joining the IMG family,” senior vice president at IMG Models, David Cunningham tells Teen Vogue. “His ongoing efforts to promote change, specifically around diversity and inclusion in the fashion space, is truly inspiring and completely aligned with our missions here at IMG.”
“It’s surreal. Honestly, it has not quite hit me yet,” Man told Teen Vogue. “I am honored to be a part of the IMG family as they have been nothing but welcoming and accepting. I actually had hoped to sign with them, as close friends have told me they are one of the most inclusive agencies right now.”
Man’s new role with IMG marks a momentous step forward when it comes to inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry. Every year, more designers and fashion labels are embracing models of all races and backgrounds, as well as sizes. During this past NYFW, designer Claudia Li cast only Asian models in her show. Opening Ceremony featured more than 40 LGBTQ models in its fashion presentation. Designers like Christian Siriano and Becca McCharen-Tran have pushed the boundaries of size-inclusivity. Man is now pushing the envelope for what it means to be a fashion model in 2018.
“It is proof this industry is progressing, and I am extremely grateful to be a part of this step! We all need to keep telling our stories of individuality. Never underestimate the power of telling your story,” Man tells Yahoo Lifestyle. He adds, “The criteria defining a ‘model’ is continuously expanding, and I am hoping to push these boundaries even further.”
Hopefully, Man is just one of many more models to come who represent all genders, races, and sizes — leading fashion into the future.
Read More from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• This 19-year-old deaf, transgender artist will teach you a lesson on representation
• Gap’s new ad campaign features deaf trans activist Chella Man and the internet is loving it
• YouTube star re-creates prom after transitioning into a girl