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Profililng The First African-American Transgender Woman Model, Tracey Norman

Tracey “Africa” Norman is an American model. Norman was the first African-American transgender woman model to appear on a box of Clairol hair-coloring in the 1970s.

Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Africa has modeled and been photographed for such publications as Essence, Vogue Italia and Harper’s Bazaar India. Norman also had a magazine cover and life story spread in New York Magazine.

Norman says the feeling of being different goes back as far as she can remember. In a cover story for New York Magazine she said ” it just seemed like I was living in the wrong body. I always felt female.”[4] For Norman her life at home as well as school was not easy. She had a father who was battling cancer and a family to whom she was afraid to come out.

Norman was able to keep her gender identity a secret for a long time. It wasn’t until the day that she graduated high school that she gathered the courage to come out to her family—including her mom, which was the hardest according to Norman. Although she was nervous to tell her family, she was relieved when her mother extended her arms for a big hug—she felt safe and at home. Her mother admitted that she had always known.

After coming out to her family, she wanted to start to transition but that wasn’t an easy process. She ran into an old classmate who had gone through the same transition. This is when she learned that she could take birth control pills, without the placebo, to become the woman she always was. A little after, she started going to trans clubs and this is where she found a doctor who did under-the-table hormone shots. These shots are what gave her a feminine body, her breasts grew and she started to lose weight. Realizing her feminine identity took slightly longer than it did to come out. It took her a few months after graduation to finally find herself wandering into S. Klein, a department store in Newark where she grew up, and buying her first dress. It wasn’t until a full year after her graduation that she felt like she could pass as a woman in broad daylight in public.

Some time in 1975, while attending a fashion show, Norman noticed some black models walking inside the hotel and decided to follow them. It was an interview for the Italian version of Vogue and she luckily landed the part. Not so long after, she signed a contract with Avon and Clairol’s “Born Beautiful” hair color No. 512. It is often said[by whom?] that her greatest modeling gig she had was appearing on a box of Clairol in the 1970s. She was the face of No. 512, Dark Auburn, in the “Born Beautiful” hair color collection.

Although being transgender in the modeling industry was difficult, Norman never let that affect her. Norman booked jobs over cisgender models making a huge impact on not only the modeling industry but the African American community as well. Norman even landed an exclusive contract with Avon, for a skin care line.

In 1971, Norman had the opportunity to work with world renowned fashion photographer, Irving Penn, who photographed her for Italian Vogue. In 1980, while on a photo-shoot with Essence magazine, the assistant to her hairdresser, André Douglas, found out about her birth gender and told the editor, Susan Taylor, who was also on the set. Due to the outrage and because it was not socially acceptable, her photos were not published and no company would work with her any longer. It was at this point when she knew that her modeling career had ended. After the difficult time, she decided to move to Paris. There she was able to sign a 6-month contract with Balenciaga.

Once that contract ended, Norman found a lack of work in Milan and moved back to New York where she signed with Grace del Marco Agency. This agency didn’t give her much work and Norman had accepted that her modeling career was basically over. She ended up taking a job at Show Center, where she performed in a burlesque peep show for trans women. Ever since she has been active in the drag ball community.

After a biographical piece was written about Norman in December 2015 by New York Magazine’s digital fashion site “The Cut”, Clairol reached out to Norman and in 2016 announced that Norman would become the face of their ‘Nice ‘n Easy Color As Real As You Are’ campaign. Clairol global associate brand director Heather Carruthers stated that the company was “honored to bring back Tracey Norman as a woman who no longer has to hide her truth.” The campaign focused on the “confidence that comes from embracing what makes you unique and using natural color to express yourself freely.” In 2016 Norman and Geena Rocero became the first two openly transgender models to appear on the cover of an edition of Harper’s Bazaar.


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