We catch up with the Texan natives on their careers so far – modelling for the likes of Burberry and Marc Jacobs – and the representation they want to see in fashion
“I think we underestimated how helpful it was to just see trans people living,” says Margo Whitley on the impact her TikTok account, and that of her twin sister Maddie, has had. “Just seeing us be comfortable creates a space that’s comfortable where you can inspire others to live their full, true authentic lives.”
The twin models and, increasingly, TikTok stars were initially surprised by the response they were getting to their videos which, as Margo puts it, mostly consists of “sitting there and looking bored.” But as their videos began to blow up over lockdown, they started getting messages from other young trans girls and gender non-conforming teens thanking them for inspiring them to feel more confident, to come out. “That’s the best part, being able to help other people, even though it seems like what we’re doing is so silly and stupid,” Maddie says.
Born and raised in Texas, the 19-year-olds got out as soon as they could, moving to New York the day after graduation where they have fast made a name for themselves as models. What had started out as a “little after-school hobby” has accidentally turned into a full-fledged career that’s seen them walk for Burberry and Maison Margiela and feature in the campaign for Marc Jacobs’ Perfect fragrance.
Now, alongside a series of images by photographer Charlotte Krieger with art direction from Alexandra Reghioua, we caught up with Maddie and Margo to chat TikTok, the future of beauty, and strawberry shortcake.
How was your experience shooting these images?
Maddie Whitley: Margo and I came to set and for some reason, stuck in our heads in a loop all day long, was this phrase ‘strawberry shortcake.’ I don’t know why. It was so obnoxious but I couldn’t stop saying it. And so for one of the shots, they wanted me telling Margo a story. They just started recording and I started making up these fun little stories that she and I were just giggling to.
Margo Whitley: The shoot was really fun because we felt comfortable. We felt safe. And we’ve had matching makeup but we’ve never done a real identical thing and when we saw the images back we were like ‘Wait who is that one?’
Maddie Whitley: This was our first shoot after getting matching hair. Before this, she had white hair and I black hair. So this was our first time really looking the same and looking at the photos even we struggled to tell who was who. We’ve never done anything quite so creative and unique. It’s a very weird concept which we loved.
You said that you used to have different hairstyles and now you have very similar hair. How do you use beauty to craft your identities?
Margo Whitley: It took us a minute to feel like we were like these cute little women. Not to say that women have to wear make-up, but it definitely helped our sense of femininity. Especially right after coming out, I remember the first thing I dove into was make-up.
Maddie Whitley: Yeah, right after coming out I think experimenting with make-up and style and beauty in general, was really important to us and it made us feel feminine and made us feel like women. Because as trans women, especially very young trans women in Texas, feeling feminine, feeling pretty is really important to us and just made us feel good.
And then as our transitions progressed, as we got a little bit older, we started using beauty in a different way. We do a lot of experimental stuff. For a while it was how we told each other apart. And how people told us apart was how we expressed ourselves through our make-up and our look.
Margo Whitley: At the end of the day, it’s just an outlet for creativity and fun.
You’re big into TikTok. How does that fit into your creativity and as a creative outlet?
Maddie Whitley: Well, it was during quarantine. I got really bored one day and decided I was going to make a TikTok, no big deal. It kind of blew up immediately overnight. Margo made one too.
Margo Whitley: We were going to keep mine a secret where we could post fun stuff for our friends and then they both blew up.
Maddie Whitley: It’s just fun for us, creating new videos, different outfits and hair, different ideas. Especially as models we have a background with taking photos and as creatives we really like experimenting with style and with make-up so bringing them together and then getting to display that on TikTok was the best of both worlds for us.
Margo Whitley: That was also the thing with TikTok. I did make-up right when I came out and then I stopped for a minute. But I started getting really into it over quarantine. I had never done anything like dark and smokey and now it’s kind of my trademark on TikTok. It’s really cool how TikTok allowed me to figure it out and try new things. It definitely helps to expand what you’re trying. It opens your eyes to new outfits, new hair, new styles of make-up.
You use TikTok as a resource, but the pair of you are also a resource to other people, maybe younger transgender people or even just people from smaller towns who have dreams of modelling. How does that feel?
Maddie Whitley: That’s hands down the best part of TikTok. Margo and I each get trans girls, gender non-conforming teenagers, and other kids, reaching out to us saying ‘Thank you, you’ve inspired me, I feel more confident because of you. I came out because of you. I told my family about my identity, my pronouns, because of you.’ That’s the best part, being able to help other people, even though it seems like what we’re doing so silly and stupid.
Margo Whitley: Yeah, it’s really odd that we have such an influence on people because we don’t really do anything on our TikToks. We just sit there and look bored. But I think what we underestimated was how helpful it was to just see trans people just living and to see us just living.
Maddie Whitley: Not just living, thriving!
Margo Whitley: Just seeing us be comfortable creates a space that’s comfortable. A space where you can inspire others to be confident and be outspoken. Just live their full, true authentic lives.
Cisgender people have been doing nothing since the dawn of time!
Margo Whitley: Scoot over, it’s time for us to do nothing.
Talking about representation, you’ve done stuff with Marc Jacobs but why do you think we’re not seeing, not even just trans representation, but just more representation at these big fashion brands?
Margo Whitley: We’re making slow progress. Look how far we’ve come but look at how much farther we have to go. Do you know how many cis straight people are sitting in all of these castings? Every single one of them except for the two of us. We’ve walked into so many brands where we’re the only people not cishet.
Maddie Whitley: People are stubborn but we’re here to break through those barriers. At least open the door for others.
What is the future of beauty?
Maddie Whitley: Eventually we’re gonna drop all the beauty norms. It’s starting slowly but surely with all the men in make-up on TikTok. And it’s not even just white little twinks on the internet being like ‘Here’s a smokey eye.’
Margo Whitley: Everybody on TikTok is wearing make-up right now. Which I think is cool. I think we’re dropping that little toxic masculinity moment, slowly but surely. I think eventually, in the future, I hope at least, I want us all to just be completely free and drop all the boundaries so that we can run around the world and we all look like little aliens.
Maddie Whitley: I think what the future of beauty is, is that there is no look to it. Eventually it’s going to be like everyone you see on a daily basis is going to have some form of beauty. Either style-wise, make-up, hair, fashion. The way they’re presenting themselves, what they’re posting online. It’s gonna really seep into everybody’s everyday life.
Margo Whitley: Individuality is going to be very highlighted. And beauty in the future, I think it’s going to be more like, ‘Life’s short, let’s dye my eyebrows purple today.’ Like something crazy, something outrageous. No boundaries.
Maddie Whitley: That basic brown smokey eyes out. It’s time for the weird, it’s time for the creative, it’s the time for the different.
Do you find that your trans identity is used as a sales point? Do you find that frustrating?
Maddie Whitley: What’s nice about our situation is being trans is really only marketed in a couple of our locations. In Paris, in London, in Milan, it’s never brought up. We’re just models, if we’re trans or not it doesn’t matter, we’re models. This is what we look like and we’ll get the job done. However, I do also like that in New York, we’re able to stand out for it. It’s more of a unique point that we like to highlight because we’re proud of it and we like talking about it. So I like having the mix between the two.
Margo Whitley: We’re lucky because we’re not completely marketed as like, ‘Here’s trannies, book them.’ We’re marketed more as twins. So we did get lucky with that one because it was another little category to put us in instead of just ‘tranny.’
If I wanted to be just a regular model and do it on my own without my whole identity, I could see how it would get annoying but we want to inspire people. We want to have an impact. We want people to know.
Maddie Whitley: We’re proud of it.
Margo Whitley: We want people to know.
Maddie Whitley: I’m trans. I’m comfortable talking about being trans but also on the flip side that’s not all of who I am. I have so much more to offer than that.
Margo Whitley: I’m cool with it being a part of our story.
Maddie Whitley: But it’s not the whole story. It’s not the headline.
Photography Charlotte Krieger, art direction Alexandra Reghioua, styling Clément Giraud, hair Anaïs Lucas Sebagh, make-up David Lenhardt, jewellery D’heygere, models Madelyn & Margo Whitley