Meet Our Model: Zara Swan
Zara Swan has to be one of the most incredible humans I have ever conversed with, and I'm quite sure I will be even more fascinatingly enamored when we meet face to face with an upcoming photo shoot in Vegas during the month of May. We had the pleasure of speaking over the phone recently, and immediately was impressed with her fluidity of soul as I felt captivated and intellectually mesmerized by this beautiful person who is breaking barriers of self-expression. With the lovely Zara, she is brilliant in voice, where the description of her colorful and creative world is eclectic with a diverse and stunningly articulate vocabulary, and she is passionate about the rights of being a transwoman, on top of it. To look at her, without question is bewitching; as she has these thin fawn-like limbs, and gypsy eyes filled with a reincarnation of an empath gifted with a kindhearted all-knowingness. As well as having this innate ability to pull you in with her silent poetry of imagination, and sensual expressionism.
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* Photo courtesy by Tiffanie Stevenson. HMU by Marybeth W.
"Why are you involved in this Red+Black Campaign for Pretty Worthy?"
In September of last year, I reached out to a number of Vegas photographers via direct message on Instagram and Facebook. One of those photographers was a beloved Vegas creative named Stina Simone. It turned out my original message wound up in her spam folder, so weeks later she acknowledged that but enthused how much she'd LOVE to shoot with me. Unfortunately, our schedules haven't yet lined up to make this happen, but we will definitely be shooting soon enough, and she added she spoke with another lady who expressed wanting me to model a clothing line of hers. This lady happened to be none other than Rose, the visionary of Pretty Worthy. She said she launched an original black bathing suit campaign in 2018 before moving out of Vegas at the time but had recently moved back and felt inspired to launch another one in part due to coming across my portfolio. We instantaneously clicked and found we share a common vision in extoling and highlighting authentic beauty and helping to summon this vision is why I am proud to be here.
I'm also involved because representation is all too important and, as a transwoman, sex worker and disabled woman.................I recognize, much like bridal wear................swimwear and lingerie to be one of the most quintessential, as well as diverse, types of apparel: often with such breathtaking subtle details, flourishes and accents that speak to the more intimate parts of our experiences. It often truly feels like wearing a second skin and reflecting a most distinctive, poetic part of your story.
And while I don't believe swimwear and lingerie is or was ever intended to be a gendered brand of fashion in that, after all, lingerie derives from the French word linge: meaning "linens" specifically.............it is nonetheless incessantly gendered. The downside of this is that it is still considerably difficult it is to find swimwear that suits the shape of every transgender woman. Because many of us are on Hormone Replacement Therapy, our body fat distribution will often be different from that of cisgender women. Because some transgender women have and choose to have the genitalia they inherited at birth, and we all have it before making decisions for ourselves with regards to surgery or no surgery, many of us are self-conscious of "bulges" when trying to wear panties, tangas, booty shorts or G-strings. Also: most likely due in part to the stigma still surrounding "male lingerie" and swimwear and the way it is often derided and/or dismissed, designs specifically geared to transgender needs and desires remains woefully rare. And while this is all happening, transgender women (really, the transgender community in general) are regularly subjected to dehumanizing stereotypes and biases. The mere practice of a transgender woman doing swimwear and lingerie shopping at department stores or even smaller boutiques is met with threats of harassment and expulsion more often than you'd think. Also, while I'm obviously a wholehearted proponent of male swimwear and lingerie as a sex-positive feminist, I equally as strongly believe in contrast when it comes to offering and prioritizing male swimwear and lingerie needs from those of transgender women....................and frequently, both are lumped together by the advertising and fashion industries as well as media: which is traumatic and exclusionary in its own right.
I've heard many fellow transgender women state that, in their experience, swimwear and lingerie either seems to be exclusively tailor-made for cisgender women and, when it's not, it falls under the fetish category. I myself love plenty of fetish fashion, but the point is this either/or scenario sets up this dangerous insinuation that 1) swimwear and lingerie has always been intended exclusively for cisgender women, and 2) beyond that, it is intended as novelty or fetish or cross-dressing as opposed to something intended as functional, alluring, comfortable and intimate. Thus, again, lumping transgender women together with crossdressers (who I love but, again, contrast is critically important.)
I'm embracing this campaign with a vesuvian flame lit up from underneath me because I want to vanquish the novelty surrounding swimwear.....................so future generations of transgender women won't have to shoulder the depression and anxiety-inducing trauma of feeling excluded and caricatured like we do now. I feel I owe it to the community in general to model authenticity as I perceive most of all. We must remember that for every woman (anyone really) dying to burn her bra or bodysuit, there's another woman (anyone really) dying to wear one. Myself included."
"Do you often wear bathing suits? And what are the type of suits you like to wear most?"
Modeling swimwear has been a feverish dream of mine nearly a decade in the making. I'll sum up the story of my long, challenging journey that got me here right here, right now later in our conversation, but I've always had a soft spot for swimwear largely because I have had a lifelong affinity for tropical aesthetics and imagery, and nothing makes me feel more free or living at full capacity quite like a quintessential warm summer day poolside. Naturally in my mind I've always associated peak summer with feeling happy, effervescent, carefree, capricious and rife with possibility, and swimwear embodies all of that.
More often than not, I gravitate towards bikinis with tops predominantly in a bralette or triangle style and bottoms in a Brazilian or cheeky style with these quirky little embellishments like chains or turquoise beads or have these cuts and details that blur the line between lingerie and poolside attire like see-through meshes. Most recently I have also this new-found obsession with resort wear and have loved showing up to pool parties in kaftan dresses and draped fringe cover-ups as a means of further diversifying my self-expression between the pool and the resort. The one constant is: however I dress, I want to make an emphatic statement. I want to pique the curiosities of others. I want to be the kiwano melon in a bowl of apples and oranges no one expected to see.
"Tell me something beautiful that you LOVE about your body."
I've always loved my cupid's bow. I know that sounds minute compared to features like one's eyes for example, but whenever I struggle with gender dysphoria I find it's my cupids bow as well as my cheekbones that are particularly expressive and accentuate my femme essence.
"Tell us something personal or funny about yourself? Anything you wish to share."
So the "SWAN" half of my professional name is derived from former economist and scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable". On a day in 2019 when I was bereft of motivation and hope after struggling with social isolation and gender dysphoria, I came across that book.........................and was engrossed with the imagery as well as the text's central idea in considering the catalytic impact of rare and unpredictable outlier events, and our collective tendency to simplistically rationalize them in hindsight. He calls it the "black swan theory "in finding simplistic explanations for these events, retrospectively. And though economics are not at all in my realm of expertise, that theory left a major impression on me and I thought: "What if I reimagined this concept in the vein of witchcraft and sorcery?". And, in my case, it was helping summon a black swan event in the context of sexual freedom and expression and shattering myths and stigmas surrounding it. I just feel it's beyond overdue the most vulnerable and disenfranchised are due for such sorcery in their favor too, so I adopted the avatar as half of my stage name...............but pivoting towards witchcraft as in being the sorceress of more black swan events. With that, I've become drawn to aesthetics and tones that also reflect that, including through artistic expression and sex work. Or as Anais Nin would say: like lava, inflammable, unrestrained. Emoji
As for the ZARA half, Zara means "seed" in Hebrew, and it is derived from the Arabic verb zahare: "to blossom". So the cross-cultural nods to fertility were just too appealing and coincidental to pass up in determining part of my alias. I also envisioned the "ZS" as an avatar in my mind's eye and LOVED how bewitching and incisive it comes across. I also thought of our predisposition with X and Y chromosomes, X and Y variables............whereas with me I've always been fascinated with the broader mystery that is Z, and aspiring to be a sorceress of the Z.
"Do you have a business that you would like to share with us, or what you do for a living? We would love to hear about it."
I am an aspiring pornographic actress and adult/conceptual art/fashion model as of late August of 2018. It has been a job replete with both lofty triumphs as well as earth-shattering heartaches, and it's a constant struggle trying to make inroads into the community and build a foundation for myself, but that is the work I'm most passionate about. I'm also a sexuality educator for the Multnomah County Health Department's Sexual Health Equity for Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (SHEIDD) project here in Portland, Oregon. Since January 2018 I have been an active part of this group of community members and organizations working together as a Community Advisory Group to promote holistic sexual health education for young people ages 14-21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Finally, I am aspiring to be a hard dance DJ. I have yet to book my debut live gig, but I hope to have more updates there soon as well.
"What do you do for fun in Vegas? Any special hot spots you like to go to?"
I first fell in love with Las Vegas attending Electric Daisy Carnival in 2018. I'm a hardcore rave bae and immediately realized upon landing in Vegas for the first time four years ago that it bear little resemblance to many established myths: including that it's all dirty or it's all one flat desert. I really enjoyed Vegas during my first visit, and when I returned for my second EDC in 2019, that's when I KNEW it's my Soulmate City and I HAVE to move there. So Vegas is unofficially considered the electronic dance music capital of the world by some and while I definitely think that's debatable, you're always guaranteed an amazing time with the abundance of nightclubs and pool parties across the city (my favorite being Encore Beach Club). I also have a soft spot for desert landscapes and the intense, poetic hues and textures they evoke. The Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon are my favorite go-to place for a hike and catching a moment of Zen while ambling that wash speckled with creosote, mesquite and juniper, though really any desert is the way to this girl's heart.
"Do you have a favorite vacation spot that you have traveled to?"
Even though my memory is somewhat vague because I was only nine years old when I visited, it definitely would have to be Turtle Bay on Oahu, Hawaii's northern end. It is beyond breathtaking. I remember snorkeling with my sisters at Kuilima Cove there and befriending at least a half a dozen sea turtles there. Other highlights were long walks through the Waimea Valley, and going on an off-road expedition on some back trail in Waialua. It truly floored me how, despite Oahu seemingly being a small island objectively, how you can be left feeling as though you're half a world away from Honolulu upon reaching the summit of any of the island's highest points. It's simply unreal.
"What exotic place would you like to travel to in the future? And who would you bring?"
It's a toss-up between two mesmerizing places I've read all about. Pulau Tioman in Malaysia, and the Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar. The former inveigles me for its serenity and the fact it is one of the most fertile and diverse wildlife reserves in all of the world where you can actively volunteer to protect sea turtles, coral reefs and so much more that teem this lush jewel of the world, and the latter enchants me conversely for its striking, sanguine simplicity. I just feel it would make for a meditative walk like none other, though I also have to give an honorable mention to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan as another place where I think you'd have the most unforgettable saunter. Ibiza is definitely at the top of my wish list as well; both its nightlife and its rustic, understated, idyllic splendor.
"What does this bathing suit campaign mean to you? Does it give you some sort of empowerment?"
This campaign is near and dear to my heart because it is a testament (or as I like to personally call it, vulvament) to a decade of blood, sweat, tears, smeared lipstick, second-guesses, dust-offs, elbow grease, nail polish and generosity all coming full circle. You see, modeling swimwear has been one of my biggest dreams since shortly I first came out as a woman in 2013 (I identified as genderqueer at that time) and had just started fashion modeling that year. There were plenty of other models, stylists and designers who respected and admired what I was doing, but at that time there was a lot of gatekeeping which barred models like myself from accessing opportunities. One of my earliest believers is a woman named Tiffanie Stevenson. She dedicated herself to the Portland fashion community in the mid-2010s and, in valuing the example I was setting and my authenticity, reached out to me with an open invitation in June 2014 to model part of what was to be her very first attempt at a fashion collection at an event called the Blackout Lingerie Show. Sadly the venue promoter vetoed and so she scrambled to find another show to unveil her collection at, and found another opportunity with Rock The Runways: which at the last minute she was vetoed because her designs were deemed "not family-friendly" despite there being several other lingerie brands greenlit there. She was infuriated as I was heartbroken by all the gatekeeping and ultimately two years later dearly needed a change of pace and scenery in her life and moved away from the city entirely. Even though we never formally got to shoot or publicly reveal her collection, I will always gratefully credit Tiffanie for being my first true believer and fulfiller in my dream to model swimwear and/or lingerie. I learned sooooooooo much from her: including why you should ONLY do whatever the hell you want to in life and if you don't have to fight for it, it's not worth anything.
We also provided a safe space for each other as we grappled with an industry that is often known to be highly competitive and refusing to let the wolves crush our spirits or deter us from our idealism and vision: which was crucial at the time because I was still in the early stages of learning about self-advocacy and why standing up for yourself is so important even when the world feels intimidating. I wouldn't have grown to be quite as defiant and balanced as I am without Tiffanie's guidance and support. We stood up for each other when times were most bleak, and we remain close friends despite living hundreds of miles away from each other now. So by eagerly and graciously being a part of this campaign, it truly is the ultimate cathartic experience for me............................a long-desired dream formally coming true............................and I want to wholeheartedly dedicate this effort to Tiffanie Stevenson, one of my truest believers of all...........................as well as several other compelling women I met in the Portland fashion community including Heather Daylene Ayers of CollectiveBliss Designs, Jennifer D. Harris of JDHStyle, Sundari Devi Franklin of Minnie Opal Designs and Larea Guido of Killer Queen Artistry: with the common thread between them being that they're all compelling, brazen, visionary women who have been foremost believers in me well before transgender and sex worker awareness started making decisive inroads into mainstream discourse, along with many other models and HMUA I've befriended this past decade who I could name all day but are equally as dear to my heart. I wouldn't have gotten here without all their defiant, unflinching love and support.....................and now I have you, Rose of Pretty Worthy, my newest truest believer...................to thank for being a fulfiller of an exhaustive longtime dream. I'm speechless, just................................thank you with all my Taiko drum-pounding heart. It's an unparalleled pleasure being a proud part of your inspiring campaign.
"What makes you special or unique in life?"
I've always had a complicated relationship with the term "special" personally because of how euphemistic and patronizing it can often come across as to some disabled people like myself. So if you will, I'm going to rephrase that as what makes me INDIVIDUAL. To that end, people have approached me and told me all the time that my willingness to be unabashedly vulnerable on countless topics that most choose not to open up about on social media for various reasons like sex work, mental illness and impostor syndrome has made a difference in their lives for the better and has encouraged them to open up more than they used to themselves. It joys me to hear this from others. I also am told often that I am an "empath" or a "wayseer": which is always kind of awkward unpacking and considering for me at least, but I do genuinely feel I share many of their characteristics at least and they largely explain why I'm rather eccentric and not so much a black sheep but more a chartreuse chanticleer, hahahahaha! Finally, I have to say I take a lot of pride in the fact that, at age 38, I have a more furnished IDGAF attitude than ever before and dance with wild abandon as though I remain age 22 at heart. I must be doing something right if I'm still asked to show my ID incessantly at nightclubs even when I'm already inside, hahahahaha!
PLUR, Nadia Lockheart (Zara Swan)
*Peace Love Unity Respect, commonly shortened to PLUR, is a set of principles that is associated with rave culture.
Click here for a featured interview on Zara Swan