You can’t be an Australian working in the media industry without knowing exactly who Andreja Pejic is—transgender supermodel, activist, and total badass. The 26-year-old has been commanding headlines since Carine Roitfeld put the then relatively obscure model in Vogue Paris. This was before her sex reassignment surgery—which took place in 2014—and the magazine attracted a ton of buzz for dressing a male model (Andreja then identified as Andrej) in womenswear.
I’ve closely tracked the Bosnia and Herzegovina–born, Melbourne-raised beauty’s rise to fame that ensued after her Vogue Paris spread—Pejic is utterly captivating. In the years since, she’s fronted a torrent of campaigns, editorials, and runway shows for Marc Jacobs, Vogue, Jean Paul Gaultier, H&M, DKNY, and Jeremy Scott, and she recently re-signed a lucrative contract as the face of Make Up For Ever. Despite what her Australian accent might lead you to think, Pejic was born in a war zone and spent much of her childhood in a refugee camp before settling in Melbourne, Australia, when she was 8 years old.
A childhood fraught with gender-identity issues, displacement, and poverty has made Pejic one of the world’s most politically active, vocal, and enigmatic models. So when the opportunity came up to ask her all my burning questions about her career, transition, “beauty boys,” and her skincare routine, I obviously jumped on it. Here’s what she shared—listen up, because this woman is strong, inspiring, and fascinating.
Andreja Pejic: “Mostly, my mum and grandma were concerned with putting food on the table and keeping my brother and me alive, so there wasn’t much room for my gender issues [growing up]. I definitely displayed a lot of girly characteristics very early on, but I don’t think anyone around me took it too seriously, and there weren’t exactly any gender therapists around. It wasn’t until we moved to Australia and puberty had started (which freaked me out) that I discovered who I was and what I needed to do to survive through a wonderful thing called the internet.
“As a teenager, I was little pink-haired neopunk. Think platforms, band T-shirts, heavy eyeliner, black nails, and all that jazz. My transition started way before I started modeling. I popped my first testosterone-blocker at age 14. I would say I was halfway through my transition when I was doing that. Looking back at it all now, I think it was cool as fuck. It also inspired a lot of young people. Back then, however, a lot of it messed with my head. Like sometimes the articles about me would be titled ‘Dude looks like a lady,’ and I would think, God this isn’t me. It felt like my gender identity or lack thereof was being constantly sensationalized.”
“There were many, many challenges [while transitioning] not visible to the public. But you’ll just have to wait for my documentary for that! I read a comment from a female fan who I think probably had a crush on pre-claiming-my-truth me. She said something like, ‘You made a big mistake by having surgery. You were one of the most beautiful boys in the world, and now you’re just a girl,’ and I thought, You know what? I couldn’t be [happier] to be ‘just a girl.’ Then I thought 99% of people around me when I was modeling as ‘Andrej’ thought that I would lose everything by associating myself with the transgender community, and I kind of proved them all wrong. Also, what many people don’t understand is that living with gender dysphoria limits your full potential. Maybe I’m not completely free now, but I’m definitely a lot freer and, above all, pretty damn lucky to be open about my past and at the same time be able to pay the rent.
“I would say there is a real push now for diversity [in the fashion and beauty industry], but it very rarely includes transgender models, and when it does, it’s still on the level of tokenism. I’d like it to surpass that. The fashion industry still needs to answer the big question: Can you love and respect transwomen as you do other women? I think we need to take it to the next level.”
Maybe I’m not completely free now, but I’m definitely a lot freer and, above all, pretty damn lucky to be open about my past.
“There is no reason boys shouldn’t be in makeup ads, especially since they represent a significant portion of the customer base and possess bomb skills. However, I do think that companies need to be a little more responsible when it comes to how they keep in touch with the LGBT community, how deep their involvement goes, and who they choose from that community. Being just pretty and white doesn’t always make for the best spokesperson I don’t think. Do they have a brain? Can they relay positive messages in the many interviews that are required of them? Is their story honest and truthful? Are they progressive on only one issue or on many issues?”
Being just pretty and white doesn’t always make for the best spokesperson I don’t think.
“One of the best things about my job [and particularly my] role as a Make Up For Ever ambassador, is more free highlighter! Honestly, though, people want to see diversity in beauty ads; they respond well to it. I think our campaigns have had a positive impact on the beauty world. I was at a party recently where everyone from execs to beauty bloggers like Manny Gutierrez was telling me how inspirational my work with Make Up For Ever has been. It feels good to be recognized, valued, respected, and to have my story honored just as much as my face.”
“The best makeup tip I’ve picked up on the job is ‘don’t over-contour.’ I always carry Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Lip Booster($23) at red carpet events ’cause what if I run into Nicholas Hoult? Ultra HD Powder ($37) is a lifesaver before the red carpet in order to avoid the wet chicken look. Of course, one should never step outside the house without their lip gear. Make Up For Ever’s new Artist Liquid Matte Lipsticks ($20) are absolutely no joke.
“Every morning, I wash my face with warm water. I tone and cleanse using Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing range. I moisturize with Nia24 Skin Strengthening Complex ($93) and for sun protection, Estée Lauder Crescent White Full Cycle Brightening UV Protector SPF 50 ($42). At night, I’ll cleanse and tone with the same products, then I’ll usually apply a retinol serum like SkinMedica Retinol Complex ($93) and Replenix Dermal Restructuring ($136) for moisture. I’m kind of a skincare junkie.
“I can’t live without Pantene Pro-V Expert Collection Advanced Keratin Repair Conditioner. I’m a Kentucky-fried blonde—I need a good, rich conditioner, and I have searched the seas! I also take biotin and silica for hair growth, and that makes the brows thicker too. Make Up For Ever Brow Liner ($23), which comes in five different shades, kind of kills it for me. I keep my lips hydrated with Replenix CF Green Tea Antioxidant Moisturizing Lotion ($49).”