This post is also available in: Français
Last week, the cosmetics company L’Oréal selected 29-year-old transgender model Munroe Bergdorf as one of 23 stars for their new #YoursTruly campaign to promote their True Match foundation for non-white skin tones. She was first transgender woman ever to appear in a L’Oréal Paris campaign in the U.K..
However, less than a week later, they fired her for publishing a social media post calling white people “the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth.”
Bergdorf first thanked L’Oréal for letting her represent trans women
When Bergdorf was first chosen for the #YoursTruly campaign, she posted a heartbreaking memory of her as an eight-year-old child watching the transphobic climax of 1994 Jim Carrey comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In the film, the antagonist gets publicly stripped down to her underwear and exposed as “a man” causing all her previous sexual partners to vomit in disgust.
“It may seem trivial to some,” Bergdorf wrote, “but I carried that ‘punchline’ throughout my adolescence, it made me feel guilty and confused about who I truly was, so I pushed my true self into my subconscious and tried to be someone I was not.”
She admittedly disliked being considered a role model (“because none of us need to be compared to each other”), but thanked L’Oréal for giving her a platform to present a positive trans person to young trans people.
Less than a week later, L’Oréal dropped her from their campaign.
When I was growing up, transgender women – especially transgender women of colour had next to zero positive representation in the media and there was almost no information or understanding about us. If we were portrayed on television or in films, it was solely in tragic storylines or with our gender as the punchline of a joke. As an 8 year old, I remember watching the film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, starring comedian Jim Carey, at a classmates house after school. Sorry to ruin the ending if you haven't seen it (don't bother), it ends in the movie's villain being caught, stripped to her underwear and exposed as in fact 'a man'. Then to add insult to injury, everyone in the room starts vomiting as they have all engaged in sex with her. This film was given a PG certificate. Imagine being eight years old, knowing that you're transgender but not having the language to verbalise it and then seeing a scene like this including a trans person, played by a cis woman – it may see trivial to some but I carried that 'punchline' throughout my adolescence, it made me feel guilty and confused about who I truly was, so I pushed my true self into my subconscious and tried to be someone I was not. Fast forward two decades and I am so proud to be doing my bit for transgender visibility in the media. I'm by no stretch of the imagination a perfect person, but none of us are. However, I'm a whole person, with flaws, aspirations and interests. I'm often referred to a role model for the community, which annoys me because none of us need to be compared to each other. But I'm definitely down to be considered as a role option if anyone does see themselves in me or my story. Thank you L'Oréal for giving me this platform, I hope it reaches another little 8 year old trans girl and makes her feel a little more hopefull and a little less scared about her future, than what was installed in me when I was her age. The world is changing and I like how the world is changing. Because we are ALL worth it. #allworthit #yourstruly @lorealmakeup.
Bergdorf’s racial politics prove too much for L’Oréal
A few days later, Bergdorf wrote a Facebook post which read in part:
“Most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this shit.
Come see me when you realise that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege. Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth… then we can talk.”
After her post, L’Oréal dropped her, announcing in a tweet: “L’Oréal champions diversity. Comments by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with our values and so we have decided to end our partnership with her.”
L’Oréal champions diversity. Comments by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with our values and so we have decided to end our partnership with her.
— L'Oréal Paris UK (@LOrealParisUK) September 1, 2017
Bergdorf wrote about the firing in a recent Facebook post:
“Sit still and smile in a beauty campaign ‘championing diversity’. But don’t actually speak about the fact that lack of diversity is due to racism. Or speak about the origins of racism. It’ll cost you your job. This makeup brand cares about nothing but MONEY. I urge you to boycott L’Oréal Paris. I can’t express how disappointed I am in the entire team in dealing with misquotes that were entirely placed out of context.”
She also published a second Facebook post explaining her controversial Facebook post at length
“When a transgender woman of color, who has been selected to front up a big brand campaign to combat discrimination and lack of diversity in the beauty industry, speaks on her actual lived experience of being discriminated against because of her race and identifies the root of where that discrimination lies – white supremacy and systemic racism – that big brand cannot simply state that her thoughts are not “in line with the ethics of the brand”….
If L’Oreal truly wants to offer empowerment to underrepresented women, then they need to acknowledge THE REASON why these women are underrepresented within the industry in the first place. This reason is discrimination – an action which punches down from a place of social privilege. We need to talk about why women of color were and still are discriminated against within the industry, not just see them as a source of revenue.”