Shattering norms and obliterating boundaries is what the fashion and beauty industries should be all about. MAC cosmetics has been a leader among leaders in this regard. In 1994, MAC rolled out their first VIVA GLAM campaign with drag icon Ru Paul as its spokesperson. For more than twenty years, MAC has embraced diversity by casting a wide array of stars that have fronted the campaign. Last Friday, MAC announced their first partnership with a transgender model – none other than the fabulous Caitlyn Jenner.
On April 7 a limited-edition lipstick created by Caitlyn and titled Finally Free will be available via their website. One hundred percent of the sales from Finally Free, will benefit the M•A•C AIDS Fund Transgender Initiative to provide more funds to organizations and programs dedicated to improving transgender lives.
What I love most about this campaign is the idea of folks in middle America walking into their local MAC store and being greeted by the advertising images of Caitlyn in a beautiful gold ball gown. Among certain segments of our country, people are still actively fighting to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from their rights. It's great to see MAC defy the haters and take a bold stand for a group that is still struggling to be recognized.
I live in West Hollywood, a city with a large LGBT community. The city even has a City Council appointed Transgender Advisory Board that make recommendations to the elected officials about programs and policies to benefit the transgender community. Still, even here life is difficult for many trans people. There is a trans woman who works as a cashier at my local Target. Most people wouldn’t exactly call a retail job a dream – trust me I’ve done it before and the low pay, hours on your feet and random jerks make it a tough gig. Still, while she bags my Trident Tropical gum and sale priced hand towels, I think about the other trans people that are unable to find consistent employment.
Transgender people face injustice — from their families, classmates, landlords, police officers and the workplace — at every turn. Unfortunately, anti-transgender bias has far-reaching ramifications. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, many transgender people live in extreme poverty because of employment discrimination. Transgender people's homeless rates are double the national average and 16% of transgender people say they’ve resorted to sex work or drug dealing for income. For those that are unemployed this number doubles, and for black transgender people it skyrockets to 53 percent. Sadly, 41 percent of trans people report that they’ve attempted suicide as a result of the social stigma they face.
All of these figures makes the work that Caitlyn and MAC are doing is so important. According to GLADD, although the number of Americans who personally know someone who is transgender has grown, more than 84% of Americans learn about transgender people through the media. That means the VIVA GLAM campaign has the ability to provide far reaching influence which impacts trans peoples lives in real ways.
Not only does VIVA GLAM provide an additional opportunity for trans representatives to be a part of mainstream and pop culture, but considers their uniqueness as beautiful. I can’t help but think of all the thousands of young trans people who will see Caitlyn’s new campaign and be inspired.
I remember the first time I saw the Ru Paul ads for Viva Glam. I was a teenager, cruising around our suburban mall with my sister when I saw images of a glamorous black woman in a shiny, red bustier and go-go boots. It was bold. Brash even. I loved it. It was the first time I had ever seen a black person as the face of a major cosmetics campaign. This was during a time when it was rare to see black woman, (let alone black drag queens) as spokespersons for major brands. It was only an advertisement, but it was also affirming and humanizing.
It has been less than a year since Caitlyn Jenner has emerged publicly. In that time she has graced the cover of Vogue and chronicled the fears and doubts of transitioning in her documentary series “Call Me Caitlyn.” Every now and then I wonder if she’s going the way of her famous children and losing herself in an overtly publicly-constructed persona. Then again, even if Caitlyn revels in the attention, she is also doing a lot of good for the world right now. By making her story public, Caitlyn is moving the needle of public perception and helping to normalize the trans experience for the mainstream. As a former Olympian and all-American hero, I can’t think of a better person to guide the American public into a more inclusionary future.
From the beginning, Mac established itself as an activist brand. When the MAC AIDS Fund was created it was a pioneer in HIV/AIDS funding providing financial support to organizations working with underserved regions and population. To date, the M·A·C AIDS Fund has raised over $400 million through the sale of VIVA GLAM Lipstick.
Over the years, they have worked with provocative celebrities including Mary J. Blige, Boy George, k.d. lang, Pamela Anderson and many more. It’s refreshing to see a major brand that understands the importance of diversity and constantly pushes for more inclusion in the beauty landscape. I know some people are going to use Caitlyn’s new VIVA Glam campaign as another example that gay and trans issues are being forced down their throat. Maybe they are right. The truth is, I don’t care how those people feel. I want to live in a world where trans kids like Leelah Alcorn, Taylor Alesana, and Kyler Prescott could feel safe, have hope and even see the beauty in themselves.