Standing at 6ft 2in with her broad shoulders, chiselled features, and boyish haircut, Rain Dove is nothing like your average female model. And at a time when brands are trying to prove they are on-board with diverse beauty ideals and gender, her looks couldn't be more on trend.
But before modelling for magazines like Vogue and Elle, and posing for designers including Calvin Klein, Dove struggled with her body image. As a firefighter working in Colorado, she was tasked with chainsawing trees during woodland blazes, and was often mistaken as a man.
The 28-year-old former genetic engineering student became a model after she lost a bet during an American football game, and was forced by a friend to turn up to a Calvin Klein audition. When the casting director mistook her for a man and cast her in the underwear show she walked it topless.
IBTimes UK caught up with Dove after she was cast in make up brand Illamasqua's Christmas campaign alongside Munroe Bergdorf, the trans model dropped by L'Oreal for complaining about white privilege.
Why do you think that Illamasqua's campaign was successful in terms of being progressive, when other companies have failed to be sensitive about race, gender, and other issues? Like the controversial L'Oreal and Pepsi adverts.
The reason Illamasqua's campaign was successful was because this wasn't a gimmick. Illamasqua has been showcasing diversity and hiring individuals who represent marginalised communities for a long period of time. In fact both Munroe Bergdorf and myself have both been used by Illamasqua before this campaign. Illamasqua is a brand that did its research.
They also did something that other brands haven't done - they have let their models speak. Their acceptance of diversity doesn't sit simply at "skin colour" or "sexuality". They embrace that diversity includes the stories, viewpoints, and journeys of every model they use. They don't claim to own the voices of those struggles but rather stand side by side.
In the advert you wear a T-shirt that reads 'Gender is Over - if you want it' - what does that mean to you?
We are coming upon the time where gender is no longer a prison we are forced to remain in. Gender is no longer a shackle that binds us to a specific path. Gender is over. It no longer has to play a major factor in your life.
For some people though gender is a massive part of their identity and happiness. So the "if you want it" part respectfully acknowledges that all humans have the right to choose for themselves. The issue isn't the label. Its the limitation.
Do you think that menswear and womenswear will still be relevant terms in the future?
I think that in the future these terms will be less relevant or not relevant to most people. However, the terms "women" and "men" when it comes to gender (and clothing is gender) they are ingrained in religion and tradition. So as long as religion or tradition exists, these terms for many may still exist to separate garments as well.
Do you prefer modelling womenswear or menswear?
"Menswear" is more comfortable for me. It's all about just being confident and intentional. Whereas "womenswear" is more important to me because it is so so so painful.
The shoes, the tight clothing that cuts into you, the jewellery that tears at your skin, the makeup that eats away at your natural oils. "Womenswear" is incredibly oppressive in its architecture - and also I don't fit the typical "femme" beauty standard. Which leads to a lot of negative feedback. Therefore I prefer doing "womenswear" because I'm told I shouldn't.
As you have become more well known, has anyone gotten in touch with you to thank you for diversifying the fashion industry? Are there any responses that stand out in particular?
Often the most rewarding messages have been when someone says that they've stopped harming themselves or others due to reading or watching something that I've worked on. One time a student reached out saying that they were in the bathroom, wanting to commit suicide. They wanted someone to talk to so I sent them some video messages through DM and engaged in dialogue.
While stalling for time I figured out where they were located via their Instagram account and got some help in there immediately. At first the person fell off the radar. I wondered if they were angry, alone, sad, or if they felt betrayed by me. But about six months later they reached out and said that that moment was the most important point in their life.
Ever since they have been a huge advocate of Educate Don't Hate. They have set up a group at their school and have even run rallies in their town to help provide mediation over difficult charged topics. But there are many many other humans who are not on such a broadly seen platform that do this type of work with greater impact every day.