On Tuesday, two years after the model Teddy Quinlivan came out as transgender in an interview with CNN, Nathan Westling followed suit, prompting an outpouring of support from the fashion industry, where the flame-haired model has been beloved practically since the moment he opened the Marc Jacobs show in 2013, marking his runway debut.
Rest assured: Westling, who formerly modeled under the name Natalie Westling and who was notably absent from the runway this past season, isn’t leaving fashion any time soon. His agency, the Society Management, released a statement confirming that he is continuing his career as a model. This time, though, it’ll be without his long red mane; he’s now, as Westling put it in the interview, “growing into [his] young adult male body,” which has seen him cut his hair short and put on some 20 pounds. (“To his mild disappointment,” he has yet to grow facial hair.)
Glamorous as Westling’s career was—including campaigns for Prada, Versace, Chanel, Dior, and pretty much any other major house you can think of—for Westling it was also marked by the fact that it occurred during a time when he was receiving treatment for his depression, anxiety, and anger issues. It wasn’t until last April that he “finally decided to address what he’d always known to be the underlying problem”: his gender dysphoria.
“I hit a point where I was tired of just existing, because that was kind of my whole life and how I lived,” Westling said. “I always questioned how people just lived life, and just woke up and felt good and could just do things. And I couldn’t.”
So Westling decided to leave New York behind for Los Angeles and take a step back from modeling to focus on himself. (He last appeared on the runway at Paris Fashion Week in October 2018, when he was still using the name Natalie.) The first two months of Westling’s transition were “tough”: “It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in the beginning,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started to see physical changes that aligned with…my mental state that I finally woke up and [started] living.”
These days, things have significantly improved: “I’m happy,” Westling said. He’s been taking testosterone for six months and eagerly told CNN about his plans to get top surgery and “connect with the transgender community” when he moves back to New York. He also plans to return to fashion, though on quite a different note: “I can’t even imagine going back to how I was before because it’s just darkness,” he said.
It’s no wonder Westling is looking to the future: His transition, he said, is something he’s been looking forward to practically his whole life—not that he had anyone to discuss it with in his hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, where, he said, LGBTQ individuals are treated like “freaks.” In the hours since Westling came out on Tuesday, though, he seems to have only been met with support, particularly on his Instagram. In addition to changing his handle to @nathanwestling, he also posted a new photo of himself taken by Collier Schorr, the photographer whom the model Casil McArthur has praised for how supportive and comfortable she made him feel when she photographed him throughout his transition.
“This is @nathanwestling. This is his first picture even though we have made so many together. I love you Nathan ❤️,” Schorr wrote in the caption of her own post of the photo, thanking Westling’s agency, among others, and concluding with the hashtags “#KeepYourLawsOffMyGender” and “#KeepModelsSafe.”
Others in the industry have since flooded both posts with comments of support—many in the form of emojis. Like Kelly Mittendorf, the model Teddy Quinlivan, who came out as transgender in a story with CNN in 2017, responded with applause, while the models Kaia Gerber, Kiki Willems, and Helena Severin opted for hearts.
The stylist Alastair McKimm, the designer Alexander Wang, and the photographer Alasdair McLellan also joined models like Mica Arganaraz, Binx Walton, Lexi Boling, and Karen Elson in expressing their love and applause. (For as long as he’s been in the industry, Westling has been almost universally adored; Grace Coddington, for one, refers to him as her grandchild.) Even Miley Cyrus weighed in, with a very enthusiastic “Fucking love u! Ugh ur so hot.”