When I first saw the picture of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, I didn’t even realize it was Bruce until I kept scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw it posted again and again on other accounts. When I realized it wasn’t just a picture of an older woman, but was actually of Bruce Jenner’s transformation to a woman, I had the same reaction as everyone. Wow! I thought. She looks amazing.
As the day went on, I saw people posting about Caitlyn on all forms of social media. The posts were generally about how inspired they are by Caitlyn, how brave she is to be vulnerable and show her true self, and how beautiful she is. I nodded along to these posts, equally inspired by her courage. How amazing it is, after so many decades of feeling uncomfortable and lost in her body, to reveal herself as she is meant to be. And she looks so good as a woman, too! I mean, I didn’t even realize she was a transgender until I slowed down and actually read the caption.
Then I started to see posts on Instagram of memes comparing Bruce and Kris Jenner with the text, “When your ex-husband looks better than you.” I thought it was funny at first. Then I started to think: Would Caitlyn have inspired as many people if she didn’t look as good? What if she didn’t look as feminine, as pretty, or as curvy? Would she have amassed the same amount of attention?
Actress Laverne Cox was the first transgender to appear on the cover of TIME magazine in their June 2014 issue. However, I did not see the same media explosion with her cover that I have seen with Caitlyn’s. Perhaps this is due to the growing popularity of social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Perhaps it could be attributed to the public’s never-ending obsession with the Kardashian clan. But maybe there’s something more to this– maybe it’s also tied to race, our conventional view of beauty, and our understanding of gender norms.
And let’s not forget about all the other transgenders around the world who don’t have the financial means necessary to obtain the level of beauty Jenner was able to attain. Shouldn’t we celebrate their bravery just as much?
I think it’s important to take a step back and think why Caitlyn has had such a profound effect on us. Are we proud of her because she’s brave? Or are we simply in awe of her beauty?