“The Real Catwalk” runway show, a global “flash-mob” runway show produced by model and body positivist activist KhrystyAna, returned to New York City last Saturday. Previously held in Times Square, TRC took over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time. KhrystyAna stated, “The Real Catwalk is an international movement empowering everybody to see the beauty in themselves and everybody around them. It’s a celebration of diversity, welcoming all body types regardless of gender, shape, size, disability, and ethnicity.”
As of 2019, The Real Catwalk has taken place several times, across 3 continents, each with its own themes. When we asked about the change in location from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge (both equally powerful spaces for this event), KhrystyAna said, “I wanted to bring back the very ‘guerrilla style show’ but somewhere new. My Friend Guvanch suggested for us to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.”
We caught up with 15 models from the show to get their perspectives on what #theREALcatwalk meant to them, because the models’ voices about their experiences in leveraging the runway as a form of liberation and empowerment is just as, if not more, important as the experiences of those watching the show.
“I’m am a queer, born and raised New Yorker and it’s a genuine honor every time I get to strut with my ‘The Real Catwalk’ family. Being pansexual and coming out as such when I was younger has had its difficulties and pains, but ‘The Real Catwalk’ is a celebration of ourselves in our truest, most diverse forms. Nothing is more beautiful than that. This runway is a bold statement about being ourselves and loving others for doing the same, and isn’t the queer community all about the human right to love! That’s all ‘The Real Catwalk’ is just a huge collection of people finding love in every way.
I consider myself lucky to be growing up in a time where being queer is vastly more socially accepted. However, there is still so much hate towards our community and the only way to rectify that is by continuing to strut, to show our faces, to show we are human. How better to do that than a giant flash mob over the Brooklyn Bridge in all our glory?! The Brooklyn Bridge was our biggest take over yet and the finale of us all standing in arms, steadfast, truly vulnerable, was truly the most iconic moment in ‘The Real Catwalk history! I’m so happy I got to be a part of it!”
“When I first was aware of #therealcatwalk, I knew this is something I needed to be a part of. Hearing it only began with 7 individuals and then showing up to what seemed to be more than 100 gorgeous humans was truly powerful. So for the first time ever I bared it all, strutted across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge (which previously was held in Times Square), and stood in formation with the words that have brought me down (but now lift me up) across my exposed belly. Love was everywhere and the impact behind everyone’s truth was breathtaking. I could hear tons of cheers encouraging true essences but also could hear not so nice remarks from random passerby’s as well. But that didn’t seem to affect anyone. We were EMPOWERED. In conclusion, to sum up this experience, I must use those words written on my body, It was ‘FAT, FEM, & FAB’!”
“The reason I joined the #realcatwalk was because I wasn’t happy with myself. I thought if I listen to others I would be accepted. I remember I used to doubt my career and I wanted to give up because I was told I wasn’t six feet high or in shape like others . The first time I went to rehearsal I literally had no expectations because I thought it was just going to be a regular runway rehearsal. When I actually got there it amazes me on how many people suffer from social anxiety and depression because of all the hiding messages society were thrown at us. Millions of people are constantly being torn down for being different. Since I have been apart of the #realcatwalk it helped me open my eyes more and to not look at it in just one way. It educated me about different pronouns and the trans community which helps me realize we all have a story, and we just want to be heard.”
“Growing up transgender and secretly reading Vogue under the covers with a flashlight, hoping your parents wouldn’t find out, I know how destructive it can be not seeing yourself represented in the glossy pages. It isn’t difficult to recognize the nods to your culture; your community; your specific group of women. But it is difficult to sit with the fact that you never see yourself, or anyone like you with your history, represented alongside them. As of recent trans* imagery has become a marketing ploy among advertisers to imply the existence of inclusivity all while doing the bare minimum to actually include us. Trans* people like me are neither a radical nor new venture for the fashion industry as we have always participated in its narrative. We, along with the culture we carry with us in our wake, are often the creators of beauty in its most contemporary forms and yet the labor of our struggles and aesthetics are seen in the billboards and on the magazines, but our faces are never there with them. The Real Catwalk continues to be a platform for visibility as it stands as a safe house for many trans* people. I am drawn back year after year because I don’t want other little girls like me, who grew up in bodies that just didn’t make sense to them, to not be able to look at a billboard without seeing the endless magic of what it is to be a trans* person, because it can be those moments of magic that give reason to hold on. And that, because of Khrystyana, is powerful—so we march.”
“In the fabled world of tortoises and hares, I have always been a tortoise. I’m slow to come out of my shell and get going in the race. The stories say I’ll finish victorious someday but right now I’ve got to keep pacing myself. Returning to The Real Catwalk is a marker for how much progress I’ve made on my journey. The empowerment high after this weekend makes me feel like I’ve crossed the finish line already, but I know that this has just been one fabulous pit stop. With my Real Catwalk family cheering me on, I’m excited for whatever twists and turns the racetrack holds for me next, and I plan on changing the world along the way.”
“This was my first year participating in The Real Catwalk and it was the most inspiring experience ever. Growing up I’ve always covered my body with layers (even in the summer) and I never thought I would do something like this. This journey is so empowering. TRC is surrounded by love, positivity and freedom. Sometimes in this world I get a little discouraged. I tend to feel that all odds are against me because I am PLUS SIZE, QUEER and not only a WOMAN but a BLACK WOMAN but as soon as I stepped on that bridge all of those worries of not being accepted went away. I felt nothing but love and felt like a PERSON and not what society has labeled me.”
“This year I didn’t take too many photos, I truly wanted to live every moment of the emotions I felt. Being a part of The Real Catwalk was such a humbling experience. Walking across the bridge in my underwear was oddly comforting, I felt weightless. All my perfect imperfections on display raw and unfiltered for the world to see I felt unabashedly beautiful. It was exhilarating. Being around all of these energies made me feel powerful, it made me feel purposeful and for that I am blessed!”
“At first, I didn’t know what to expect from The Real Catwalk, especially as a masculine person. Yes, there may be other trans masculine people in the media, but there is no one just like me so it’s important to me to go to events like these to be seen and put my image out there. I went with a few of my trans friends and I came to represent myself as a trans masculine non-binary Asian short king.
It was so much fun, I didn’t even pay attention to how cold it was! The energy during the walk and photo shoot was so beautiful and positive. Everybody was feeling themselves and hyping each other up. The joy was infectious.
We literally stopped traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and forced tourists to pay attention to us. You could tell a lot of bystanders were not used to seeing fat people, disabled people or trans people be really confident in their skin. Maybe it scared them a little, but we got a lot of supporters as well.
I think it’s important to have done this in such a public, high traffic area. A lot of times body positive influencers have very specific audience who already believe in the message. Now we are making everyone else pay attention too.”
Alana Jessica Martin
“When I was beginning my transition, victories looked like going to the store, or going out to eat, or just talking on the phone without getting clocked or harassed. Now, victory looks like this: standing tall and proud in my truth, unafraid of what anyone else has to say about it. The Real Catwalk sends a powerful message that no matter how different from the mainstream you are, your uniqueness is what makes you beautiful. Walking this runway with some of my closest friends reinvigorated my love and passion for the fashion industry community, because we ARE the change we want to see, and it’s all thanks to Khrystyana.”
“I came to my first Real Catwalk to prove to my present self that I’ve already come a long way from the ICU this past August. I wanted to show people that you can have a dynamic, fulfilling life with chronic illness; but it quickly doubled into a chance to be someone my younger self would be in awe of. I came out to most people as trans in 2015 — but I’m also a caregiver for my grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. She wouldn’t recognize me if I transitioned, so loving the body I’m in while caring for her has definitely been a struggle. This event helped me face lifelong fears about my body and my health, while introducing me to some truly radiant people in the process. When it came time to shake off my coat and my anxiety at the top of that bridge, TRC taught me that it feels really
good to love yourself.”
“This is my third year participating but it was definitely a lot different going over the bridge and creating a formation. It was much more nerve racking not knowing what to expect. But the solidarity of these strangers glued to my side all brimming with positive energy, acceptance, and strength was truly indescribable. And as always, I met and connected with more people of more walks of life than I could have guessed. That’s what it’s all about for me; connecting with people who expand my view and who are willing to allow me to expand theirs. ”
“This year I did my first #therealcatwalk and it changed my life. It was a chilly day in December to walk the Brooklyn Bridge in almost no clothes yet I didn’t feel a single ounce of cold. Being with beautiful people who were celebrating themselves and loving each other was inspiring.The positivity and the adrenaline of being part of something so powerful kept me warm that I thought it was just another sunny day in NYC. It wasn’t just another day though it was a day when I got over 100 new family members who all agree on one thing, that we are Human and we are beautiful no matter where we come from, what our background is, or what we do in life.”
Enmanuel Rodriguez aka Manny
“Before Saturday, when looking in a mirror, I’d always be disappointed. Never happy. Never seeing the reflection of someone who I thought was beautiful. Having weight issues since the age of 6, I was always seen as the awkward black sheep, even before discovering I was queer. I was given nicknames such as ‘Gordo,’ ‘Gordiflón,’ and ‘Fat Boy’ by close family and friends. It hurt and I always felt broken because of it. Being part of The Real Catwalk, surrounded by people I had only just met, but who already loved and embraced me because they knew what it felt like to be an outsider. The love they showed me gave me the courage to walk across the bridge. With every stride across the catwalk, I felt loved. Beautiful even. And as we stood side-by-side in formation. I finally felt worthy of my own love and acceptance.”
“As a plus-size nonbinary person I have a complicated relationship with my body. My whole life I’ve been somewhat self-conscious of my appearance, and how I looked in photos. The night before leaving for NYC, I was admittedly incredibly anxious- I’ve never considered myself a model by any standards, I’ve never posed for anything in my life. I was terrified. Luckily, the one thing I didn’t lack the day of The Real Catwalk was support. I’ve never been in an environment like that before- everyone who spoke to me was so kind and encouraging, making sure I was alright and telling me I looked good. It was also so reassuring to be surrounded by people like myself- non-thin, non cis people- who were openly loving themselves and exuding confidence. The people around me really helped me open up and enjoy the experience. I’d never met them before that day, but they really made an effort to be a family to me.”
“We were among holy bodies that deserved so much praise. The Real Catwalk this year elevated to levels that I could never explain with just words. Not only were these beautiful people proclaiming such a profound love to theirselves in public but also celebrating , loving and respecting the bodies that surrounded and supported them. So often we get lost in what “ I “ did but the Real Catwalk this year felt like such a family and community more than ever. We all laughed together , sang together , cried together and weren’t ashamed. My mother, 46, found new life in herself , strutting down the Brooklyn bridge , letting go of everything society told her that 46 should be doing , letting go of everything that society has put into her head about her body while simultaneously proclaiming a public love for her BLACK TRANS PLUS-SIZE DAUGHTER. Within this movement we are creating a legacy and a space where anyone can shed those societal pressures and reveal and live in their most authentic skin. We were all ANGELS this year , and we didn’t need wings to fly.”
Mx. Lex Horwitz
“How I navigate the word is divided into three realms: physical, mental, emotional. Each of these spaces have their own levels of safety, comfort, and support, all of which are influenced by the people present, the beliefs held, and the experiences shared (or the lack thereof). Walking through my everyday life I fear for my physical safety, mental stability, and emotional wellness as an out, flaming queer, non-binary transmasculine Jewish human. My confidence ignites fear and hatred in those who do not understand me. Rather than supporting me as a fellow human, most have chosen to question my existence, ridicule my lived experience, dehumanize my identities, and disrespect who I am. Every day my pronouns are ignored, my name taunted, and my queer identities spat on right before my eyes. The Real Cat Walk was one of the only spaces where I was truly physically safe, mentally comforted, and emotionally supported. Walking with authentic, beautifully souled, and kind hearted individuals provided me with the safety to be free, the comfortability to be vulnerable, and the support to be authentic.”
Feature image by @weston.portraits