Meet Aura Tao, one of six Asia-based models who shared with Tatler how they’re breaking boundaries and refusing to be limited by gender, race, sexuality, size, age, religion or ability
Now based in Milan, Aura Tao is a Taiwanese transgender woman who is empowering trans youth and the LGBTQ+ community every time she gets in front of the camera. Ironically, it is through working in an industry that often values set beauty standards that Tao has learned about self-acceptance. Tao, whose portfolio include Adidas, Luisaviaroma and Emporio Armani, says she gradually learnt to look at herself, to accept her asymmetrical face and imperfect skin, and to like what she saw.
While fashion was one of the earliest industries to recognise and celebrate queerness and different gender identities, Tao is using her influence to push the industry towards an ideal state where all prejudices and controversies are removed. “It will take more than just me to push the movement forward but I am excited, privileged and inspired to play my small part in it,” she says.
If there was ever a day that I could just say, ‘I am a model’, or ‘I am a woman’ [without further qualification], that’s when true equality and acceptance will have won
How are transgender or queer identities viewed in the modelling industry today?
I think the modelling industry is moving in an optimistic direction for cross-gender and queer people with the rise of education and equality awareness: more and more brands are willing to use models with different stories and backgrounds. I believe that transgender and queer" are seen as a symbol of equality and love [of] brands.
On the flip side, unfortunately, from my experience so far across various markets, it seems that “diverse” models are not as appreciated as their “regular” counterparts. There are several agencies and companies who don’t want to cast me because they know I am a transgender woman. So my agent once told me frankly, “Aura, you are the model who is a bit hard to push, but you have to believe that you’re beautiful".
How about in the Taiwanese market?
In recent years, people have become more aware of the LGBTQ+ community and implemented different affirmative policies. This is encouraging, and I am excited to know that more is being done there . I think if there was ever a day that I could just say, ‘I am a model’, or ‘I am a woman’, that’s when true equality and acceptance will have won. Of course, the topic of gender identification and equality is a public topic and is very much at the forefront of public debate; however shouldn’t certain elements of that discourse remain private?
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At what stage can the fashion industry truly be called inclusive?
I think true inclusiveness would be the true appreciation of the beauty of each person without this deliberate or subconscious division; after all, if someone assigned male gender at birth women because he feels that is beautiful, who has the right to say no to that, and why do people think they can say no to him?
Do you see yourself as a role model pushing the movement forward?
I’m sure that brands are waiting to see who will dare to be the first to use transgender models in a campaign. However, trans youths are also waiting for [someone] to achieve this wish that we [my generation] couldn’t even dream about. It will take more than just me to push the movement forward but I am excited, privileged and inspired to play my small part in it.
I don’t know if I am a role model, and I wouldn’t dare to claim I have the ability to take the movement forward, but I believe that every fashion shoot I do, big or small, can bring hope to every trans youth and member of the LGBTQ+ community.