For many woman who bought a bottle of Clairol's Nice 'n Easy box 512 hair dye in 1975, it was, quite simply, a hair dye that would transform their locks into a beautiful dark auburn shade. To others, however, this box of hair dye, with the campaign slogan "Born Beautiful" written across the box, meant so much more.
But little did these customers know, the gorgeous black woman on the front of the Clairol box was keeping an extraordinary secret of her own.
Yes, she was "Born Beautiful." And yes, she was born a boy.
That stunning face on the box belonged to Tracey Norman, the first African-American transgender model.
She was making history. She was living a dream life. And she was holding on to her truth, hoping no one would out her.
But that did happen. And her career came to an abrupt halt.
Norman's career began in 1975 at The Pierre Hotel in New York City by chance. One morning, Tracey followed a group of well-known black models into the hotel. She waited. And then came a meeting with American fashion photographer Irving Penn and Italian Vogue. They instantly fell in love with her look and Tracey started working immediately. She didn't dare tell them her secret.
And she felt no need to.
In a phone interview with HuffPost Canada Style, Tracey recalls not being concerned about addressing her identity as a transgender woman at the beginning of her career. For her, she was living the life she always dreamed of.
"When you’re young, you don’t have fear. I was living my life as a woman and working as a woman, so I wasn’t thinking in terms of being transgender until I knew that my truth was eventually going to come out," Tracey said.
"But in the beginning, I wasn’t concerned with that for some reason because it was all new and exciting and I was living this dream life and also trying to better my life. It was an opportunity for me to better my life," she added.
Being frequently compared to Beverly Johnson, a ruling supermodel at the time and the first African-American model to appear on the cover of American Vogue, Norman's career began to move at a rapid pace landing job after job, including a big opportunity with Clairol in the mid-'70s.
The "Born Beautiful" range of hair-dyes were specifically for women of colour. Norman was the face of the hot-selling Dark Auburn, Box 512 for six years and her contract was renewed twice. This was a milestone in Norman's career and women all over America worshiped her striking looks.
"That’s just a really big deal, for any black model, and then for her to be trans is beyond amazing," Laverne Cox recalls in a groundbreaking interview about Tracey with The Cut. "I can’t tell you how many hours I stared at that photo of her on that Clairol bottle and that caption, ‘Born Beautiful.' Yeah, we are born beautiful."
So excited to pay tribute to some of my super heroines in the latest issue of @Cosmopolitan on stands now. I don't look like her at all but I am so honored that #TraceyAfrica @therealtraceyafrica is one of the women. "She was a black trans woman who modeled in the '70s and had cosmetics deals and a hair contract with Clairol—it was a big deal. People think, ‘Oh, this trans revolution is just starting,' but we've been around for a very long time. It's important to know that there's been a path blazed for me." We made the decision to include Tracey back in January not knowing that she would once again at the age of 62 become the face of Clairol hair color. Brava Tracey. Thank you for blazing a trail for all of us.
But it was during a beauty shoot with Essence magazine that Tracey's biggest fear finally came true.
"I was literally in front of the camera," Tracey told HuffPost Canada Style, recalling the story of when editor-in-chief Susan Taylor stopped the shoot after learning from an assistant about Norman's transgender identity.
"Suddenly the left side [of the room], where they were talking, it felt very negative. And [Taylor] shut down the set," said Norman.
She continued, "I went home, and literally the next day when I called to find out my next booking, my work stopped. They never confronted me. They never asked me questions. It was just, my work literally stopped. And when that happened, it was quite depressing. And like I said prior to, I was just trying to better my life and because of their hatred, my life took a drastic turn."
But now, after a 30-year hiatus, Tracey "Africa" Norman's modelling career is coming full circle. The now 63-year-old makes her incredible return to modelling in the new "Colour As Real As Your Are" campaign for Clairol Nice 'n Easy and the experience has been "rewarding and fantastic."
"I'm so excited to represent the company again. It's been a fantastic reunion for me," said the woman who is now the face of Nice'n Easy shade 6N - Natural Medium Golden Blonde.
Since Tracey's beginnings in the fashion world, there has been progress in the realm of trans visibility in thanks to models such as Andreja Pejić, Carmen Carrera, Lea T and Hari Nef, who have all graced either the runway or major fashion campaigns. And for the first time in her career, Tracey herself feels accepted.
"To be honest with you, I never imagined this would happen to me," Tracey said in the telephone interview. "So it’s been quite rewarding and I appreciate this large company for accepting me and allowing me to be the real me. It’s been an absolutely humbling experience."
When asked what she wants people to learn from her new role in the "Colour As Real As You Are" campaign, Tracey said "Words do hurt, such as my story and when my truth was told."
"All I was trying to do was to better my life. And because of that, I wasn’t able to."
Since her infamous interview with The Cut and becoming the face of Clairol, Norman has since gone on to cover Harper's Bazaar India's "Nine Wonders of the World" issue while make history in the process. Alongside Geena Rocero, Filipino American supermodel and the founder of advocacy campaign Gender Proud, the pair are the first two transgender models to cover the glossy.
Geena Rocero and Tracey Africa on the specially created instagram only covers of Harper's Bazaar India. The covers are aimed at celebrating diversity as experienced in the present day. The featuring of 2 transgender models like Geena Rocero and Tracey Africa is a testimony to Harper's Bazaar's commitment to diversity. Model(left): Geena Rocero @geenarocero -blouse: @ninaricci -make-up: STOJ B from Streeter @stojb Model(right): Tracey Africa @therealtracyafrica Make-up: Campbell Ritchie @campbellritchie Hair for both models: Sina Velke @sinavelke Art Director: Christopher Sollinger @sodachris Photographer: Stockton Johnson @stocktonjohnson Stylist: Kisha C Jones @kisha_c_jones Production: Soda Jones Inc @sodajonesinc #transisbeautiful #transgender #diversity #traceyafrica #geenarocero #celebratediversity
Tracey's story shines light on how important is it to have transgender models front the industry and for them to know their identity does matter.
For that, we say thank you for your fearlessness, Tracey Africa Norman.
To watch Tracey talk about her story with Clairol, check out the video below: