Shay Neary plus-size trans model Coverstory

Shay Neary

photo: Instagram/shadeyshay

Coverstory is breaking barriers.

The popular retailer, which counts Ashley Graham as a supporter, has cast a plus-size transgender model in its newest campaign. Shay Neary is now considered the first plus-size trans model with her own major fashion campaign.

Heidi Kan, the founder of Coverstory, told Revelist that she's excited about including Neary in the new campaign.

"I actually wanted to feature a transgender plus-size model for Coverstory's first season," she said. "It was always my goal. I searched everywhere. I checked with the usual modeling agencies and even tried scouting on my own ... but with no luck."

She found Neary through the Transmodel agency just in time to shoot Coverstory's second collection. 

"I met with her and that was it," she said.

When Kan stumbled on Neary, she had no idea that the size 26 model had only been modeling for a short time. A coworker encouraged Neary to apply to the Transmodel agency when she saw an advertisement for it in Time Out.

"After much hesitation, and remembering how many of my friends telling me I should model... I took a chance, and applied, thinking they weren't going to be interested, because of my size," she told Revelist. "One week later, I got a message from the owner that she would like me to come on board."

She's no longer with Transmodel because she's looking for more. Enter Coverstory.

Coverstory's campaign features the 28-year-old wearing everything from wrap caftans to silk blouses. She told Refinery29 that plus-trans models don't often get to advertise clothing.

Trans models are often asked to pose nude. Neary is excited to be breaking that mold

I've done maybe eight to 10 naked shoots. I'm a new trans-plus model to the scene, but I have yet to find any designer willing to actually dress me for a shoot or book me an actual high-profile gig. They're not willing to get you clothes. They're not willing to find a designer to get you clothes for a shoot. [Photographers say] 'We're not gonna hide your body, we want your raw body.' Hmm, how about [designing] some clothing for my 'raw body?'

Advertising clothes, rather than her nude body, is exactly what the Coverstory campaign allows her to do. She said she feels validated by her casting 

"Have you ever gone shopping with an expired coupon?  That one in your purse you forgot about. You get to the counter to pay, try using it, hoping that folded piece of paper will go through," she told Revelist. "Then it goes through. You got 40% off your purchase. You've overcome the system. That's the feeling."

Neary, who has identified as transgender for the past 11 years, is passionate about pushing for representation for the trans community.

She told Mic that showing the complexity of transgender people is one of her biggest goals. 

"We have to all be seen. Not just some of us, not just ones who fit the transgender bill," she said. "Not just the streamline passable woman, or the plastic Kim [Kardashian] wannabe. We all have value and integrity. We deserve to be seen in mainstream media. ... Our lives have purpose."

Being plus-size and transgender comes with many obstacles, but Neary said the pushback has thickened her skin. 

"Overcoming those challenges can be aggravating; constant rejection has become a norm for me," she said. "Those rejections don't make me any less of a person though. If this is what I want, then I need to push forward. No matter the struggle. Keep going to castings, keep sending emails, keep being me."

However, Neary still wants the fashion industry to be more welcoming of plus-size women.

She said some designers are dressing plus-size women well, but many aren't rising to meet the challenge:

Designers like Christian Siriano and Ashley Nell Tipton, both 'Project Runway' stars, are going a good job at approaching these problems. [They're] making clothing more inclusive [and] making diversity an important part of their brand, which is how the fashion world should be — full body inclusion with full gender inclusion, not just a sporadic Black model, or trans girl. Put as much meaning into your audience as you do your designs.

Encouraging the fashion community to take plus-size and transgender bodies more seriously is a worthy mission.

The rising visibility of women like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, and now, Neary, is creating new possibilities for the trans community.

Heidi Kan wanted to capitalize on that momentum with this campaign. 

"When Hari Nef signed with IMG and Caitlin Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair I knew it was time to promote and feature plus-size transmodels," she told Revelist.

Coverstory is also helping to normalize trans bodies as beautiful and worthy. 

That's especially important right now.

Transgender women are being killed in droves. Mic's Unerased database found that 23 trans women were murdered in 2016 and 111 have been killed in the past five years. It's an epidemic.

Including more trans women in fashion may not solve transphobia, but it does help in breaking down the stigma about trans bodies. Neary told Refinery29 that embracing her gender identity is so important to her for that reason:

At one point, I didn’t want to define myself as trans; I wanted to blend in. I didn't know myself well enough to be comfortable with saying, 'I'm OK with being a trans individual; I'm proud to be a trans individual.' A lot of trans people say phrases such as, 'the dead me,' or 'my dead name.' I don't really relate to that. I don't really think of my former self as a dead part of me. I find that person very fluid with who I am today. I had to accept who I was to become who I am now.

Now though, Neary dreams of working as much as Graham and Tess Holliday, who are both in-demand plus-size models. However, she also has a bigger mission.

"I'd love to be a representation for trans youth," she told Revelist. "[I want to teach] trans kids that they only need to be themselves to succeed in life, confidence and passion will take them the rest of the way, [and] that being trans doesn't hold them back from being anything they want."

In embracing herself, maybe fashion — and all of us — will embrace the plus-size and trans communities too.