by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Model and activist Elle Rose van der Burg (@baby_caramelle), who was featured in Dove’s Project #ShowUs campaign, talks transgender representation in media and fashion. She reminds us that we’ve got some way to go.

Q5: First things first — let’s talk representation: where are we winning when it comes to transgender representation in advertising, and where does the industry need to do better?
Elle Rose van der Burg: I think South Africa’s media industry is only “winning” in regards to transgender representation in that it is finally showing transgender people in media. That being said, taking more active and socially aware steps to honestly represent transgender people is the only way the industry could improve its representation of transgender bodies and voices. I think a lot of how we’re portrayed in media is still very shallow and tends to only be centred around our experiences as transgender people and not so much our voices as people.

Q5: How about in fashion — what levels and kinds of representation are we seeing?
ERB: I think transgender representation in fashion is a double-edged sword. It only allows for transgender people who appeal to the gender binary to be seen. The ultimate goal would be for transgender people on all ends of the spectrum to be represented — not only those who conform to society’s misconceptions about a “beginning” and an “end” in transition. Post-gender fashion marketing would be really cool, because the focus would always be the innovation of design — not necessarily who has equity to it.

Q5: Tell us about your modelling career — how did you get into it, and have you encountered any difficulties along the way?
ERB: I started modelling when I was 15 years old, which happened to be before I had come to terms with my own gender identity. I don’t think the type of work I did then is all too different than the type of work I do now; I just think it feels more honest and authentic to me now than it did then. In terms of difficulty, I don’t think I’ve had issues getting the jobs I pursue, but I do find myself having to defend my identity on sets. I find that usually boils down to the fact that nobody took the time to tell crew or staff that they’d be working with a transgender woman on set that day. It goes a long way to just let people know who they’re going to be working with and how to address them accordingly.

Q5: What can we do to raise awareness of transgender issues in our communities and workplaces?
ERB: Simply put: amplify the voices of the transpeople who are already speaking about issues that affect us. We don’t necessarily need people who aren’t transgender to advocate for us; we just need those people to support us. Also, research, open dialogues and unlearning go a long way in dismantling ignorance.

Q5: Fill in the blanks for us: Being transgender in South Africa _______
ERB: Being transgender in South Africa means being underrepresented, misunderstood and unprotected.


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diversive fields.

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