Munroe Bergdorf continues her world domination — and, if her ascent to stardom was ever likened to a phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s probably wise to point out that still (and further still!) she rises. In the face of the UK’s endless Rise of the TERFs, confrontational and reductive talk show hosts (who shall not be named here), and an endless onslaught of social media scrutiny, Munroe has an innate way of rising above it all. And for full disclosure, I would know: We’ve been friends for the past two years.
As I’ve gotten to know my friend, the one thing I’m the most proud of is her newfound (or at least, rediscovered) commitment to self-care. We all think that the figures who are endlessly taunted and attacked on social media are “strong” or impervious, but Munroe has shown us very openly that that’s not true. She has deflected one-dimensional portrayals of “strong, resilient, Black trans women” and bared her humanity, demanding a more multifaceted representation of herself and her sisters.
That’s why, when the news dropped of her Bluebella lingerie campaign, I was thrilled for her. It’s one thing to cheer her on as she goes from speaking engagement to rally to protest — it’s another thing for Munroe to be photographed, made up, and treated like the full, glamorous, beautiful woman she deserves to be. Below, we had a quick chat about the campaign and her thoughts on what “visibility” means in the traditionally cis-heteronormative world of lingerie. And FYI, you can shop the collection she’s modeling in the pictures you see here.
Out: First of all, congratulations! Tell me how this campaign came about.
Munroe Bergdorf: Bluebella is a female-owned and female-created lingerie brand, which I think is awesome, especially when so many women are now aware of the effects of the male gaze and what female sexuality looks like through women's eyes. They saw me wearing the brand in a magazine cover that I shot, and then got in touch with my stylist and asked if I’d like to be the face of the next campaign. Obviously, I said yes. I just think it's a really good fit, and I wear the brand anyway, so I'm excited to be working with them.
Tell me about the styles that you are rocking in these various photos.
What I love about Bluebella, is that it’s a celebration of the female form and all of its varieties. It's not a monolithic standard of beauty, I feel like it's a real accentuation of whatever you have. They have bigger sizes and they've got smaller sizes, so it's really broad. When we shot the whole campaign, they were just very mindful that they wanted it to be a representation of every single facet of me, so some of the looks are a little bit sexier, and some of them are a little bit more styled, where I wear it with a suit. Underwear as outerwear, which I do a lot already. The name of the campaign is, "Love yourself." So it really is about—instead of focusing on someone else this Valentine's Day—buy something for yourself to make yourself feel good.
What would you say your favorite thing you wore during the shoot is?
I like the little red number. It just made me feel really sexy. I feel that with my particular taste, I like elaborate lingerie in sexy moments. It just made me feel like it was something that I would like to wear, whether or not I’m with someone or for myself, this Valentine's Day. But also, I love the more strappy numbers that you can wear underneath suits. For London Fashion Week Men's, I wore one of the bras underneath a suit and they just go really well with regular clothing.
I know that you've spoken a lot publicly about your own struggles with body image, and I would imagine that shooting a lingerie campaign must take a lot of self-preservation in order to be able to take photos like these and put them out in the world. What are you feeling about that?
I feel really good about the images — not just because of the way that they look, but because of the whole feel that was on set and the atmosphere that was created. I feel that the brand really does want to push the notion that all bodies are beautiful and sexy, and that sensuality or beauty isn't a monolith, and that it's really important that we show a wide variety of what women look like. When I was shooting it, I just thought, I've been cast in this campaign to be myself. I'm not trying to be anybody else. I'm not trying to look like a Victoria's Secret model. I'm not trying to look like anybody else apart from myself. If I'm myself, and I'm comfortable and confident in how I look, that can shine through and hopefully empower somebody else. That's really what I wanted to do.
I'm wondering if you would have agreed to do this same campaign at this exact time last year.
I don't think I would. In terms of how far I've come in how I view myself and how I view my capabilities, how I view how I've learned to self-care and prioritize my wellness above everything else, I don't think that I was in the right space to take that on. I feel like at the moment I've really accessed this space within myself where I'm just a little bit more calm and when I feel like I'm going into a situation which is extremely challenging, I can go into that calm space, but I think this is the perfect time for me to be doing stuff like this. Also, it’s demonstrating that I can shoot a lingerie campaign and then go give a TED talk. I think that's really important to show the many facets of womanhood, that a woman isn't one thing. She can do whatever she wants.
There are plenty of people who think that any sort of lingerie campaign still upholds a standard of beauty that is infiltrated by the male gaze. What would you say to that?
I would say, if the lingerie isn't picked by a woman, if it's not intended to represent all women, if the lingerie is being created in mind for the benefit of men, then I think that's very different from lingerie celebrating femininity. It’s really important to not neglect the fact that femininity can be something very, very beautiful and something personal and delicate and intimate to one's identity. I don't think we need to abandon the feminine as a blanket rule. I think it's really important to celebrate femininity as well, but also acknowledge that femininity isn't the be-all and end-all. Within ourselves, we've got feminine aspects and we've got masculine aspects, but as you can see, we celebrate all of them. If it's intended for the consumption of the gaze of men, then that's very different from it being a tool of empowerment. ‘
Which brings up the V-word.
I hope that Victoria's Secret sees these images.
Yeah. I mean, it's a great reaction to a really sad situation. I mean, ultimately, any woman can sell the fantasy. These images show that trans people aren't an exception to that statement.
And also a message to the broader community that we should support the brands who support us.
For sure. It's such a great message to see a trans woman being cast in a lingerie campaign. It sends the message that we shouldn't see ourselves as being unable to relate to women that are different to us.