Manahou Mackay Shares Her #BeautyTruth


Working on the #BeautyTruth campaign for Bobbi Brown was an incredibly special and soul-affirming experience for Zeenat and I, because it speaks to a level of progress within the industry. The stories you’ll read here and on Sauce in the coming weeks will, hopefully, suggest that beauty doesn’t need to be “redefined”, but that it needs to be un-defined. Let’s stop limiting beauty to everything it can’t be and instead open our minds to all the possibilities of what it could be. Expansive. Inclusive. Bold. Just like the women we spoke to for this campaign.

Here’s Manahou Mackay, New Zealand’s first openly-transgender model, as told to The Twenties Club.


“There was never a moment when I didn’t identify as a woman. I’ve never known anything else. As a trans child you’re blissfully unaware of the prejudices that exist in the world, it wasn’t until I became a teenager that I realised how problematic it was to be “different”. But even when I was an outcast, even when it was scary, it was never an option to be anyone other than myself. My confidence became my greatest asset as a teen because it protected me – it’s harder for people to treat you badly if you’re staunch. I often think that if I’d been a shy child or had low self-esteem I probably wouldn’t have been able to transition, I’ve seen how hard it can be for other trans kids.

I’ve been working in the fashion industry as a model for two and a half years and I very quickly realised how your happiness can be intrinsically linked to how successful you are. When you’re trying to pursue modelling it’s easy to forget about all the other parts of your life, you go from one extreme of working constantly and not having a minute to breathe, to the other extreme of not booking jobs and feeling lost. At the beginning of my career it wasn’t a stated industry fact that I was trans but it also wasn’t a secret – it’s not something I’m ashamed of but it also doesn’t define my career, my success as a model isn’t because I’m transgender, it’s because I’m good at what I do.

Trans visibility is growing in the fashion and beauty industry, and with that I’ve seen how we’re not just expanding the definition of what it means to be a woman but abolishing the definition all together. Labels don’t matter; if you want to be butch one day and wear a dress the next, live your fucking truth. We all have masculine and feminine energy running through us. I love wearing makeup and re-creating that “after-sex glow”- healthy skin, heaps of blusher, a nude lip and fluffy brows. That makes me feel so beautiful.

I’m a different woman today than I was a year ago, I no longer associate beauty with the toxic definition put forward by supermodels and actresses of the 90s and early 2000s. Of course I still have insecurities about my identity – sometimes when I’m walking down the street and I notice someone staring at me I wonder if it’s because they’ve clocked that I’m transgender. That’s a scary feeling because you never know how someone will react. But I also know that there is nothing more beautiful than someone living their truth, they have a glow about them as if their spirit is shining through their skin. I recently discovered philosophy, I’ve been reading more, and surrounding myself with people that have changed my perspective on the world. I’m about to turn twenty and say goodbye to my youth, and for the first time in a long time I feel excited about life.”

Manahou wears Intensive Skin Serum Foundation, Eyeshadow in Camel, Luxe Liquid Lip High Shine in Wild Orchid – all from Bobbi Brown

Camilla & Marc Blazer and Skirt, Amber Sceats earrings – all from Smith & Caughey’s

Styling and Production: Zeenat Wilkinson at Sauce
Words: Madeleine Walker at The Twenties Club
Photography: Clara Pafundi
Makeup: Blair Gamblin
Hair: Shirley Simpson