We love celebrating history makers and trailblazers, and so, of course, we were 12 different kinds of excited to learn about Tracey “Africa” Norman, who was, to our knowledge, the first major trans model of color. Norman took the fashion world by storm in the ’70’s, appearing in advertisements for Avon and Clairol (Norman was THE face of, as she describes it, “the hottest-selling box” for six years get it, girl!), as well as frequently gracing the pages of Essence magazine.
In 2015, the era of Hari Nef, Andreja Pejic, and Isis King, the fashion industry has accepted, and in cases, even embraced transgender models (the first all-trans modeling agency just opened this summer), but in Norman’s day, her career depended on her being able to pass for a cisgender woman.
As New York Magazine reports, Norman’s career came to a devastating halt during a shoot in 1980 when someone on set recognized Norman from her past when she presented as male. The shoot came to an abrupt halt, and after Norman’s past was exposed, her agency stopped sending her out on calls.
She worked a little in the subsequent years (notably as an in-house model for Balenciaga in Paris), but Norman’s career was never fully able to recover from being exposed.
In the present, Norman’s story and legacy has inspired prominent trans women of color like MSNBC host Janet Mock and Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox.
“It’s like another girl telling you, ‘Oh my god, there was once this woman who modeled all these years and she wasn’t a white girl, she was a black girl, and she had a Clairol campaign and she was on the box of a hair color!’ And you’re like, ‘What?’” Mock told New York Magazine. “There was a sense of relief for me, at least on a personal level, to know that, ‘Holy sh*t, someone has been there before and has done this, at a time when there was a lot more violence and a lot more risk.’”
“I was just enthralled, first of all, that there was this black model in the ’70s who got a hair contract, who had cosmetic deals,” Cox told New York Magazine. “That’s just a really big deal, for any black model, and then for her to be trans is beyond amazing…I can’t tell you how many hours I stared at that photo of her on that Clairol bottle and that caption, ‘Born Beautiful.’ Yeah, we are born beautiful.”
As New York Magazine reports, now she feels like it’s time to tell her story, to a world that’s finally ready to hear it.
“I was reminded that I made history and I deserve to have it printed,” Norman explains. “And I’m still here.”
To read the full story, head over to New York Magazine.
(Image via Twitter.)