Munroe Bergdorf says it’s time to stand up for things that don’t affect you
There is power in utilizing platforms and privilege to help others, and in constantly reevaluating your own knowledge and ways of thinking. Munroe Bergdorf is someone who conquers both.
Known for her activism (which transcends her own communities) and her modeling career, Munroe has been a consistent force in sharing her own lived experiences with others. She continuously advocates for a more progressive and inclusive world.
UK-based, but internationally known, we caught up with Miss Munroe in NYC to talk about her new documentary, what it’s really like behind the scenes of the beauty industry, and how we can all be better allies and use our platforms to inspire positive changes, socially and politically.
Check out the exclusive photoshoot and interview below!
You’ve been traveling a lot. Do you have a daily beauty routine for morning or night that you’ve been keeping to?
I’ve been trying to wear SPF every single day, just because I read a lot about it. I’m 31 now, so I’m trying to invest in my skin in every way that I can.
I’m drinking a lot more water, because I drink a lot of coffee, so trying to neutralize that. I always take my makeup off. Always. I’m not a skin care freak or anything, but I’m definitely trying to be more active with what I use.
After modeling for and working in the beauty industry, did your opinion change on the industry as a whole?
I think it definitely opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of makeup artists aren’t very good with darker tones. In the early stages of my career I used to get kind of a blanket, one-toned face, which looked a bit like a mask.
My makeup was always either too dark or too light, so it’s nice that now more makeup artists are educated on how to do darker skin by mixing and using different makeup products. But, it’s usually makeup artists who are people of color that know to do that.
What do you think is a step the beauty industry can take in terms of getting greater representation?
Hiring diversely. I think that when you’ve got a workforce that is only one kind of person and they are doing makeup on someone who represents diversity, it doesn’t work. You need to have a workforce that knows how to represent that person.
You’re going to get the best product if your workforce is compiled of men and women, people of different races, people of different sexual orientations, and people of different gender identities. I think that is a positive thing in any workforce, so I think that would be the best way.
Definitely. I also think that goes beyond just hiring models – companies need to hire diversely in the creative department and for positions that make those high-level decisions.
For sure! And, just being aware of different people to include in shoots. It widens your scope and your consciousness of what’s happening in the world.
Exactly. Do you have any cult favorite products that you use or always carry with you?
Micellar water is amazing. Is that how you say it? I never know how to say it (laughs). I love a sheet mask – I’m a sheet mask freak.
Top & Skirt: Worship | Jewelry & Hat: Stylist’s own
Oh, me too. I do them when I’m on the plane. I look crazy.
Yeah, they’re amazing. I never travel in makeup! I try not to, but, if I do, I take it off on the plane and put a sheet mask on. I love eye masks, as well. The Body Shop has a great one. I’ve been trying to use as many natural products as possible and stay away from companies that test on animals, because I think that’s barbaric and there’s other ways to do things.
Finishing sprays are amazing, and primers, obviously. But, finishing sprays – the ones that kind of give you that dewy sparkle. Because if you’re not mixing foundations, then it can kind of cheat it by giving more dimension to your face.
It’s Pride month currently. Does this Pride feel different from other Pride’s with all that has gone on in the past year?
Yes, I think so. I think that people who aren’t queer are starting to realize why we need Pride. Our rights can be dialed back as fast as we get them, especially with people like Donald Trump at the helm. Even in the UK, just seeing how there’s so much prejudice (but it’s kind of underground), I feel that people are realizing we need Pride to make sure that we keep the rights we have.
What’s something you’re most personally proud of achieving over the course of the past year?
Probably my documentary that just came out in the UK, “What Makes A Woman.” It’s getting U.S. distribution as we speak. Also, posing for Playboy was pretty cool.
Yeah, that is such goals.
It was pretty crazy! It was great to shoot for a magazine that is largely read by cis-gendered, straight men. To then also talk about the issues that black transgender women face, alongside the photos where I just felt really hot, was amazing.
I’ve been following you on Instagram for forever and I see how many people receive so much support from you. Who are the people that you get support from?
Other trans women of color, mainly. I get so much, not really validation, but the feeling that I’m doing something of worth and fulfilling a purpose. Other trans women in the community like Our Lady J, Laverne Cox, and Janet Mock inspire me so much. The way that they use their lived experiences to provide a reference point for other trans women who feel confused or lost is amazing.
When you were filming the documentary and going through surgery, did you know what to expect? Or was it entirely a learning process?
I kind of went into it a little bit blind because I thought I’d freak myself out. I thought it would be best to know the basics and not necessarily think about the fact that my face was going to be taken off of my skull. I just didn’t really think about that.
But, it was worth it. It wasn’t as painful as it looked.
My doctor, Dr. Bart Van De Ven at 2pass Clinic, he’s amazing. He’s an artist. What he does with faces is art. And he’s such a character, just cause he’s like a crazy scientist – but he’s amazing. I’m so glad I went with him and he really cares about the community, as well. He doesn’t just want to make money from people. He’s really changed my life.
I actually saw you walk in the Gypsy Sport show this past NYFW and it was awesome. How were you approached and were you nervous? Did you practice at all?
No, and that was actually my first runway show. Rio, the designer, dropped me a DM on Instagram and said that they love what I’m about and would really love for me to walk in the show. I thought, obviously I love what they’re about as well, and it just went from there. They flew me over and I ended up being the one to close the show.
I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to make it because I thought it was going to take longer than three weeks for me to recover from surgery, but then it all just healed up and I was on my way.
Coat: Christian Siriano | Corset: Agent Provocateur | Skirt: Worship | Hat: Stylist’s own | Gloves: Wing & Weft Gloves | Shoes: Brother Vellies
Do you think you’d walk again for other fashion shows?
What’s something that’s either a fashion or beauty item that you can immediately put on and feel confident?
I love a denim jacket, you know? I’m a bit of a tomboy. I love a denim jacket and teaming it with a nice top. I love knee high boots, as well – they make me feel really boss. And sunglasses. Big shades.
It seems like people on the Internet really look to you for your opinion on current political and pop culture events. With the royal wedding, were people asking you for your thoughts on it?
People were, and I didn’t say anything when the engagement was announced because I didn’t want to rain on the parade or anything. But, when the wedding rolled around, I was like, okay, enough is enough. This wedding cost 32,000 pounds just on security alone, and the public paid for that.
Just last year we had a huge tower block in the UK, called Grenfell, burn to the ground and 500 people died in that fire. There are people that are still homeless because the government hasn’t shelled out money for it, yet we can afford to redecorate Buckingham Palace, we can afford to renovate Big Ben, and we can pay for a 32 million pound wedding for two people (who really should know better and could maybe delay that until these people have their homes back).
I just feel like it’s hypocritical and it’s really bad when the government is saying they don’t have any money yet, Theresa May, who’s our prime minister, found 1 billion pounds out of nowhere so that she could win the general election. It’s just really disheartening I think, because the working class isn’t thought of, and it’s very similar to New York in that way.
What do you think it will take for people to move from being indifferent to active and taking a stance on these issues?
Exercising some empathy. Care about things that don’t affect you. I think we need to be less selfish on that front. It’s all well and good being involved in activism that does affect you – so if you’re queer, being a queer activist or if you’re disabled being a disabled activist – but, care about things that are outside of your privilege and outside of what you know, as well. Just be there for other communities.
For example, I don’t know what it’s like to be a Muslim in the UK, but I do know what I can do in lending my platform and my privilege to help other people. It’s going to take people who aren’t involved in certain communities to stand up for other people.
Do you ever regret making your personal experiences so public, or do you think it’s a necessary platform to spread message and be a cause for change?
I don’t regret anything. I do think it’s crazy how everything went down, and still goes down, but I don’t regret any of it. I think everything happens for a reason, and I’m just doing what other people have taught me to do. I hope that people can get something from it and that it encourages people to be a bit braver.
Jacket: Adeam | Dress: Grace Insogna | Bandeau: Miaou | Earrings: Vintage
A lot of our readers are in the Gen Z age group. What’s the best way for them to speak up and create positive change for issues that they’re passionate about?
I would say read. Read whatever – weather it’s opinion pieces, books, or papers. Just try to expand your consciousness, because it will help you develop your own thoughts, even if you don’t agree with what you’re reading. I also think it’s important to think for yourself. Don’t look too much to other people to provide you with a viewpoint.
Try and develop your own viewpoint and criticize things. Don’t take everything for granted or as verbatim. We’re all human, and even the people that you look up to can get it wrong. I get it wrong, sometimes, and it’s important to just acknowledge that – especially when we live in such a “cancel” culture.
I don’t think anyone should be permanently cancelled because people make mistakes. Although, I think Kanye is definitely cancelled right now, but hopefully he sees the errors of his ways and can do better. I think we are all human and we are all flawed, but endorsing Donald Trump is not something you should be getting away with.
Has there been any representation of the trans community in film, music, or other forms of media that you are proud of and feel is accurate?
I’m really excited about the new Ryan Murphy series, “Pose.” My friend, Our Lady J, is one of the writers, along with Janet Mock. I remember when she first told me about it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this sounds amazing!” It has the biggest transgender cast in history for a TV show, and the majority of them are trans women of color, so that’s so exciting for me.
I never thought I’d see that in a TV show, so I can’t wait for that. Everybody that’s writing for it is queer, trans, or gender non-conforming, and I think it’s just really authentic.
When you date people, do they recognize you from the Internet? How does fame affect your personal relationships?
I don’t date people that know who I am. I tried it and it’s just not. They’ve got an expectation of me, and they want to talk to me about queer theory. I feel like we can get to that down the line, but I kind of just want to go on a date right now. I get that we have the same political beliefs, and that’s amazing, but it’s very exhausting when you are always talking about these things in a work capacity. You just want to just get to know someone.
Yeah, that’s a lot of emotional labor.
It is. I tend to date other models and stuff like that, because they know the industry and they understand if I need to cancel last minute because of castings and booking jobs, but yeah, I’m seeing a few guys at the moment.
I just got out of a relationship with a woman, and I don’t date that many women. It tends to just be when there’s really a connection, but with guys, it’s more of a sexual thing.
How did you begin modeling? From your first shoot until now, how has your understanding of the industry changed?
I don’t actually know. My first job that I was booked for was for the Lebanese designer, Ziad Ghanem. He wanted me for his shoot and I’d just started transitioning, so I was still very androgynous and skinny. I fit the clothes amazingly, and you couldn’t really tell what my gender identity was – not that it mattered.
But, it was around that time before Andreja Pejic transitioned and she was the new thing. Androgyny was a huge thing then. I didn’t really understand anything about the modeling or beauty industries. My background was in fashion PR. It’s been a learning curve, and I know to speak up if I’m uncomfortable about things.
I think I’m now in a position where people listen to me and take note of what I say, but at the beginning of my career people definitely didn’t. You can very easily be cast as difficult, even though you’re just speaking about something that makes you uncomfortable – which says a lot about the industry.
How do you personally practice self-care?
I always say sex and ice cream. I have a theory. Sex, because of the importance of human touch. I didn’t really realize it until the later end of my twenties. Sex helps to be reminded that you’re human. We can get so inside our heads, especially if you have a mental illness. I think just being able to be present with somebody else, or a group of people, or whatever you’re into, is healing. Being present, sensual, and sexual is really healing for me.
I really only started enjoying sex half way through my twenties, when I started feeling like I was in a body that I could start to recognize as my own. I say ice cream because I had anorexia in university, and the importance of eating and eating to enjoy it is something that I also had to learn. Whenever somebody asks me what I do for self-care, I always say sex and ice cream.
You touched on this a little bit earlier but in what ways is your activism intersectional beyond the trans community and how can someone go about being an ally? Not just for LGBTQ+, but for other marginalized communities such as sex workers, immigrants, and POC.
Intersectional feminism, for me, is critical. Critical as in it’s needed, but also critical in the way that you need to constantly be analyzing everything. All identities are so complex and varied. No one’s the same, so you need to not measure your feminism by somebody else’s.
That’s why reading is so important and making sure that you’re aware of the world, of the different conflicts and situations that different people are exposed to, and making sure that even your friendship group is diverse. You are what you’re exposed to. Be critical of what you know and be critical of what you don’t. Then, open your mind to all thoughts and views.
Photography/Creative Direction: Madeline Macartney
Styling: Jessica Aurell
Hair: Jess Dylan
Makeup: Shideh Kafei
Lighting: Chris Cook
Lighting Assistant: Nikki Freyermuth
Styling Assistant: Irene Clementina
Videography: Rose Fitzmaurice