Munroe Bergdorf Talks New L’Oreal Job, Debut Book and Using Her Voice

Munroe’s post proved controversial. “Our country is very different to, say, America when it comes to racism. It’s frustrating, because I feel like we’re just not used to having these conversations,” she says. Soon after her post, L’Oréal U.K. relieved Munroe of her modeling duties, announcing that her statement was “at odds” with the the brand’s values. An international fracas followed in the press, particularly in Munroe’s native Britain, where transphobia remains rife in the mainstream. (Watching her television interview with Good Morning Britain’s brusque host, Piers Morgan, in which he used the airtime to continuously speak over her condescendingly, requires a strong stomach.) London-based beauty company Illamasqua briskly scooped up Munroe for a holiday campaign, but the L’Oréal incident foretold other difficulties in her career.

The fallout from Munroe’s activism efforts has been prolonged. In 2018, she was hired as an adviser for the Labour party, aiding the shadow minister for women and equalities, Dawn Butler, on LGBT issues. The same year she was hired was the year the U.K. government launched a consultation on gender issues and then proposed revisions to the Gender Recognition Act, which would have made legal transitions less bureaucratically cumbersome. (There have been reports of a course reversal, but no official changes have been announced.) Munroe’s appointment was scrutinized by the Daily Mail and Conservative member of Parliament Helen Grant. Munroe stepped down from the position after only one week. Last year, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a British charity, hired Munroe as their Childline’s “first LGBT+ campaigner.” The Times journalist Janice Turner criticized the decision and called Munroe a “porn model,” supposedly referring to an interview and photo shoot she did for Playboy, provoking an onslaught of malicious ad hominem attacks in her social media mentions. NSPCC sacked her after 48 hours, after she had announced the position on Twitter. Then Munroe called out the organization on Instagram, for scrubbing their accounts of proof of the partnership and capitulating to what she referred to as a “transphobic hate campaign.” The organization, which claimed her firing was not due to the public outrage, later apologized for how it had handled the situation. Both of these thwarted positions were unpaid.

Munroe is ambivalent about the current media landscape catching up to certain conversations she’s been having for years. Now she’s inclined to add wrinkles to teachable moments: “The definition of racism within Black communities is not the definition of racism within white communities, so there’s that complete fracture between understanding of our realities. Black people are navigating almost a different dimension than what white people are aware of.” She argues that Brits pointing fingers at the explicit and violent racism in America has become a red herring and that police brutality is not that far away an issue, citing the racism of London’s Metropolitan Police. As Munroe’s ongoing activist efforts gain attention far and beyond, she wants to use her platform to empower people to address what is closest to home.

On June 2, amid global protests in the wake of the police killings of Black Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor, L’Oréal, like so many companies and public figures, participated in a show of ostensible support for their Black audiences by posting black squares to its Instagram account. Munroe was unconvinced. 

“When L’Oréal Paris posted that black square, my heart sank,” she remembers. “Their visible support for the Black Lives Matter movement was a start, but it had to be followed up with fast, meaningful action to right those wrongs [within their own company], otherwise it was meaningless and insulting.” She took them to task, addressing the beauty giant as “racist snakes” to her more than half a million Instagram followers, and got considerable support. This time, Munroe got L’Oréal’s head on the phone: Delphine Viguier-Hovasse, who was not the president when Munroe was fired three years ago, offered her an updated role. After due consideration, she accepted the position. “I’m now in direct contact with the brand president and will be part of the U.K. Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board,” Munroe explains, “helping them to be as inclusive as possible with their imagery, with their products, to look at their campaigns ahead of time and be involved in the process of reducing oversights. It’s a responsibility and a role I’m taking very seriously. So many decisions get made, and then by the time that it’s due to go out, it’s too late.”

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