Model and social activist Munroe Bergdorf shared honest views on race and identity, empowering students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).
The transgender icon, who boasts a loyal social media following of tens of thousands, visited campus as part of the Cultural Exchanges festival organised by Arts and Festivals Management students.
She told a packed room about the significant turning point she faced in 2017, after being dropped from a national beauty campaign to promote diversity when her views on systemic racism were sold to the press.
“It forced me into fight or flight mode. I thought my career was over, but I had nothing to lose so I continued to speak up about the things that matter,” she said.
It wasn’t long before Munroe was fronting campaigns for Illamasqua and Missguided, as well as closing shows at New York and London fashion weeks.
Going from strength-to-strength, she regularly appears on national television and writes for publications such as Grazia, i-D and The Guardian, including becoming the LGBTQ editor for Dazed Beauty.
She said: “I’m lucky to have a voice and the platform to say what lots of people are also thinking, but the biggest challenge of being outspoken when the fashion and beauty industry is my livelihood is balancing activism with aspiration and being a teacher with being a person.
“It also really annoys me when I’m called controversial by conservative media outlets - speaking out about race should never be considered controversial.”
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Earlier this year Munroe collaborated with lingerie label Bluebella to front its #LoveYourself campaign, but she admitted she finds the body positivity movement somewhat problematic.
“It puts a lot of pressure on you to love yourself right now and that’s not always realistic. We’re all on a journey, our bodies are constantly changing and not always in ways that we want them to,” she said.
“It’s ok to accept where you are at and to realise that you are so much more than just your body.”
The lack of representation in the fashion and beauty industries is also something that Munroe is striving to improve, saying: “We need to make sure it's accurate and not just seen as a trend or something brands have to do.
"The fact that we have to explain this to brands means they're not diverse themselves, especially at the top where decisions are made. I want to get people excited about diversity and to realise what a positive thing it is."
Munroe spoke about the hardships of growing up without role models and the 'shocking validity schools give to privilege', overlooking the contributions black people make.
"Having role models is so important, without them things can seem 10 times harder and lonelier," she said.
"It makes me feel proud and accomplished that young people look up to me. It means they uphold the same values as me, which gives me hope for the future."
Reflecting on her proudest achievement to date, Munroe said: "It's got to be deciding to transition at 24, being myself and not allowing others to control how I live my life.
"But just so we're clear, trans and gender non-conforming identities should be respected regardless of whether people decide to have surgery and how they choose to present."
Posted on Tuesday 5th March 2019