Before hopping on the phone with Carmen Carrera, I scrolled through her Instagram as one does before meeting someone for the first time. In just a few swipes through her feed, I came to a few conclusions. She's confident yet down-to-earth. She's about her business but still likes to have a good time. And she can probably dole out some of the best beauty product recommendations. After chatting with her, all of those things proved to be true.
Carrera was just settling back into her routine at home after an extended bout of traveling when we spoke. "I'm finally back in L.A., and I'm ready to chill for a little bit," she tells me. Downtime is something Carrera has cherished over the last year. Her purpose-driven work as a transgender activist, model, and actress keeps her busy.
Carrera was thrust into the spotlight after first appearing on RuPaul‘s Drag Race in 2011. That same year, she graced the pages of W Magazine for a campaign called "Fake Ads," which ignited conversations about using trans models in future fashion campaigns. In the decade since then, Carrera has continued to celebrate and amplify LGBTQ+ representation in everything she does. She launched CC3 Entertainment, an LGBTQ+ friendly marketing agency. And recently, she starred in transgender writer and director Kase Peña’s debut feature, Trans Los Angeles, which offers a glimpse into the lives of different Trans characters.
Her increased visibility has allowed her to become a source of inspiration to so many people, and it's a responsibility she doesn't take lightly. "My driving force is to make a change and create the reality that I already feel is normal in my head," she says. Ahead, Carrera opens up about the power of living in your truth, how the women in her family inspire her, her summer beauty essentials, and so much more.
2020 was coined "the year that has collectively changed us all." Do you feel like you've changed at all or learned any major lessons over the last year?
I've probably learned how to take a step back and just be in the moment. I've also learned to appreciate the little things—like the connection with my family and the fact that I'm good on my own. I feel less insecure about myself and sort of ready to step into that boss role. For me, I've felt like my trajectory has always made me feel like I wasn't good enough. When you go into something new, people consider you to be a trailblazer. You feel pressure to succeed and be the person you visualize yourself to be. And sometimes, it makes you feel you're not good enough or not doing enough. Because the world slowed down, it gave me a chance to put things into perspective. I got to think about what really matters to me and what keeps me feeling healthy and strong.
You have your hand in so many different things—from acting to your marketing agency. And through it all, you amplify trans representation and diversity. What does it mean to you to be able to do this?
It means the world to me because I feel like it's very doable. When I was first signed to my modeling agency, I thought I would be taken care of and not have to worry about anything. But where we were at that time was so far from what my expectations were. It pushed me to continue creating a world that I felt was normal. For the outside world, it wasn't normal to have any trans representation in film or television. I wanted to change that. I know the outside world has opinions, but that doesn't matter. Because no matter what, whether I'm trans or not, the world is going to have an opinion. What matters to me the most is that I have so many people that have watched me, from the club scene to reality TV to modeling. I'm carrying this narrative through all these things, and I just want to create as much change as possible.
Pride Month recently ended. Often, June is the only month that some brands speak up about the LGBTQ+ community. For you, what do true allyship and support mean?
I'm grateful that we have Pride Month because it does give us an opportunity to have our voices be heard. A lot of what I hear from members of the community is, "Oh, they only want us during Pride season." But, for me, I'm grateful that they want us at all because of what I've been through. So, first and foremost, I have to acknowledge that there are so many more companies and brands passionate about Pride Month. It makes my heart feel so good because that means that opportunities are not so limited to just who's visible in the media. It's also opening up opportunities for folks who are just regular people who live an LGBT experience day-to-day and don't have many of the privileges that some of us in the public eye get to take advantage of.
So, for me, I see both sides of the fence. After June, are we going to have the same visibility, respect, and acknowledgment? I think that many brands should absolutely take advantage of Pride Month because it puts us in front of folks who probably wouldn't take a chance to even hear about our story. So I think it does raise a level of awareness. But I think it's important to carry that through the rest of the year. It should be less about Pride Month and more about making [LGBTQ+ representation] normal. Real-life does reflect diversity. When I go to any public place, I see people from all walks of life. The media should reflect that, and brands should embrace us as human beings. In doing so, we become less objectified and less marginalized.
You inspire so many people by living in your truth. Do you have any pieces of advice for people struggling to be their authentic selves?
You have to be able to take a look within. Building confidence and strength takes some internal work. You have to be willing to explore yourself and who you are without any fear or self-judgment. You have to strengthen how you identify within your mind so that when you carry yourself in the outside world, no one can shake you because you're not relying on anyone's validation or empathy. Of course, we all need that as human beings. But what has always helped me get through those moments of feeling like the world was against me—and you're going to go through that as an LGBTQ+ person—was being able to love myself for how I am versus trying to adapt to how other people would feel comfortable with me.
People are going to feel comfortable if I present masculine. And I did for most of my early life. I told myself, "Let me just be a guy because that's how people want to see me." And that took away from me valuing myself and exploring my identity, which I think everyone should have the opportunity to do. Individuality is so beautiful, and it really allows us to connect. I don't want to get to know 10 or 20 people just like me. I want to get to know people that are different. As LGBTQ+ people, a lot of the time, we hide ourselves. To come out of that, we have to be willing to explore the depths of our personality and enrich our spirit. We can find strength in that.
Who are the inspirations in your life that have been a source of light and life?
The women in my family—my mom, my grandmother, my sister, and my cousin. I was the youngest in my family, and I was always observing everyone. The women in my family never pressured me to be more masculine or pushed me to fit any masculine role. They gave me a safe space to explore and express myself. The way they navigate their personal lives, how transparent they are with one another, and how inclusive they are with me is so powerful.
I get so much strength from them. I feel recharged when I'm with them. They don't see me as a trans woman—they just see me as a woman that's part of the family. And they helped me navigate the world as a grown woman. It is one of the most valuable and inspiring connections that I have as a trans person. I can always come home and live in my authenticity around people who have known me my whole life. They're always building me up and empowering me to continue on my journey. I love them so much.
That truly warms my heart to hear. Let's switch gears a bit and talk about beauty. I was scrolling through your Instagram, and you have the most beautiful skin. What's your skincare routine?
I use a salicylic acid lotion from Clean and Clear. Whenever I have a little bit of dryness or break out, I use it for a couple of days, and it clears my skin up. Sometimes, I use Dr. Dennis Gross' Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel Pads ($88). For hydration, I like anything corrective or nourishing. I really love Kiehl's Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Face and Neck Cream ($68) because it's corrective, but it's not going to make your skin feel tight or stripped.
What are some of your summer makeup essentials?
I'm using the NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($45). I really don't like to wear foundation in the summertime. Honestly, I don't like to wear foundation at all. I'll usually just apply powder. But with this tinted moisturizer, I can use it in the summer, and it gives me nice sheer coverage. I'll still set it with a little bit of powder. But it just makes my skin look like skin, and it doesn't feel heavy.
I also love Tom Ford's eyeshadows. Bobbi Brown makes a really good highlighter. The one thing that has become my makeup staple is the Covergirl Lash Blast Volume Waterproof Mascara ($10). My lashes are straight, so I have to curl them. And this is the only mascara that'll hold the curl all day long.
You have so many good product picks. I need to try that mascara. In terms of self-care, what do you like to do? What makes you feel like the best version of yourself and puts you in the best mood?
Body lotion and perfume put me in a good mood. Sometimes I'll be getting ready for bed and put on a little bit of perfume. I like anything that smells good. My studio in L.A. has so many of those Glade plugins. When you walk into my house, you smell Glade plugins and candles because I need a full-on scent experience. I'm the same way with my body. Smelling good is so important to me, and it makes me feel really happy.
Do you have any favorite scents?
I love floral scents. I love Le Labo perfumes and Armani's rose fragrance. I usually pair it with my Love, Beauty, and Planet Murumuru Butter & Rose Deodorant Stick ($7). When I wear those things together, it creates my fragrance experience.