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Today in progressive humanity news, skincare company Clean & Clear has named transgender teenage advocate Jazz Jennings as the face of their new ad campaign “See the Real Me.” Not only does it endorse skincare products, but like many progressive companies, it contains a social message as well. The part ad part call-to-action campaign is social media driven and asks people to send in personal stories using the hashtag #SeeTheRealMe to promote natural beauty.
Jennings was assigned male at birth, but showed signs of gender dysphoria as early as the age of two. She’s said that she knew she was a girl for as long as she could process what that meant and her family allowed Jennings to begin transitioning at six. This latest appointment is just another addition to a resume that’s already quite impressive for a 14-year-old. She’s already published a book for trans children and their parents, was named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential teens of 2014, and just landed a TLC docuseries called All That Jazz.
Affirmative cultural images such as Jennings’s Clean & Clear campaign are incredibly important. Hers, in particular, is especially so because of her age. Still in High School, she serves as a great example for at-risk trans youth who are looking for a role model that they’re not a freak; destined to be outcast and rejected, and that suicide is a valid option.
Jennings being chosen for a major national ad campaign is the latest sign of a cultural shift for trans visibility and acceptance. Last year, model Lea T was named as the face of the beauty brand Redken. And Andreja Pejic has returned to the runway following her gender reassignment surgery to much praise. These instances, along with entertainment’s new interest in presenting trans people with dignity and humanity (Transparent, Orange is the New Black), are hopefully stepping stones to correct public perception, and eventually legislation, for trans people everywhere.
The power of visibility cannot be stressed enough. We take in some form of media from the time we scroll through Twitter in the morning until falling asleep watching Netflix at night. Imagine what life would be like when you were growing up if the only time people who shared part of your identity were shown as prostitutes, punch lines, or murder victims. Certainly that would warp your sense of self worth to say the least. This is the reality for most transgender people. Until recently, positive images of a transgender person in the media were nonexistent and this omission has been extremely damaging. So damaging, in fact, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41 percent of trans people attempt suicide in the United States each year compared to 4.6 percent of the general population. And that number isn’t even including the appalling murder rates stemming from transphobia. (It’s been said the average trans person’s life expectancy is somewhere between 23 and 32 years old.)
An increase in favorable and correct messages in the mainstream is also important for cis-gender (meaning non-transgender) people to understand that trans people are just as human and valid as them. Trans people aren’t trying to “trick” anyone. As cis-gender people are more exposed to normal depictions of trans people, the world will be a safer place for everyone to exist as themselves.
While the recent interest in trans people is very encouraging, what is more important is acceptance and understanding. And when it comes to trans lives, these two things are not one and the same. It’s great that people are beginning to accept, but now it’s to make sure we’re understood.
Jennings and all of the other trans public figures gaining popularity hint to a promise that I hope is delivered upon. Let’s collectively cross our fingers that this change is real and not just a temporary trend.