Aaron Philip is the first trans, disabled model to be signed to a top modeling agency. The 18-year-old is on her way to supermodel status and partnered with Unilever for their “United We Stand” campaign that celebrates the spectrum of beauty in the LGBTQIA+ world and shines a light on the organizations doing important work in the space of the Stonewall Riots. Dove worked with Philip to illustrate that beauty isn’t binary and supported The Audre Lorde Project in its mission to serve LGBTQIA+ communities of color.
We caught up with Philip for an exclusive interview with Hello Beautiful where we talked modeling, trans lives matter, and being a triple minority. In the above photo, Philip is at the Love Ball III, which was attended by Billy Porter, Teyana Taylor, and more. The Elite Model Management model explained how he met his agents through close friend Hunter Schafer, who is also signed to the agency. “She thought it would be a good idea considering I was unsigned and my career goals require having a team that advocates for me and understands my experiences and vision being who I am.” They were introduced via e-mail and then in February of 2018, she came in for a meeting. One of the agents looked at Philip’s and said, “I have never seen anyone like you before.” It was Philip’s uniqueness that led to his modeling contract. She reminisced, “six months later, I was confirmed.” While Philip’s is signed to one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world, she added, “before Elite, many other agencies had rejected me.”
Philip’s wanted to be a modeling because she “never understood why I couldn’t see people like me within the high fashion magazines and runways or on billboards.” From a very young age, she was aware that “many fields and places were not inclusive of people like myself due to harsh beauty standards, ableism and transphobia.” Her desire to rise in her modeling career is to “normalize the presence of people like myself within the industry, and making it clear that I too am capable of being profitable, beautiful, and successful just like any other hard working model in the industry.” Even though we are shifting in a more inclusive society, Philip’s still has had to make her own path towards the goals she has for herself regarding “the assumptions people have about me as a model objectively and trying to vouch for more accessibility, inclusion and diversity within high fashion.”
While she’s busy breaking barriers, luckily, she hasn’t “had a bad experience yet” within the modeling world. She’s worked with publications like i-D and expressed that “they have really uplifted me in ways that were honestly beyond my comprehension.” I wondered what the weight and responsibility of being a trans, Black, disabled woman could feel like for Philip’s and was surprised when she responded, “I try to not think of it as weight.” Rather, she looks at is “more as experiences within these identities in my life that shape the way I live.” Without hesitation, she added, “I love being an immigrant, I’m not defined by my disability and my transness does not define my womanhood.”
Unfortunately, more and more trans women, like Muhlaysia Booker and Michelle Washington are being targeted and killed. Philip’s responded, “stop killing us,” and explained, “women like me want nothing more but to be valued and portrayed for what we are.” She continued, “there are too many ways for women to be women just to have people constantly invalidate our womanhood, ostracize us and even going so far to take our lives.” She quietly added, “I’m scared.”
Just hearing situations like Booker and Washington’s and knowing that Philip’s has moments where she’s scared to be her authentic self is horrifying. As a cis woman, I wanted to know what I could do to support. Philip’s shared, “Just be cool!” She added, “when it comes to supporting us, there’s still this thing going on where subconsciously trans people are still not treated ‘normally’ as people. We’re too often sensationalized or put under microscopes for consumption when all we want is to be a person like everybody else while also having our identities respected and acknowledged for what they are!”
Pride Month is a time where the queer community can be sensationalized and it almost seems more for profit and a check on a box, versus true inclusivity. Philip’s pleaded, “Support people who are trans and our endeavors around the clock 24/7 – not just during Pride month. If you see transphobia do something about it. Hire people who are trans – continue giving us platforms. Normalize us.”
Living in NYC is undoubtedly a more diverse and inclusive city; however, there are trans women living in isolation with lack of support. Philip’s encourages these women to “make the world yours.” She adds, “there are more of you than you know.” She continued, “Your siblings are waiting for you with open arms and open hearts. We will find and take care of you.”