Emma Ellingsen, Norway's Rising Kendall Jenner, Wants You to Know That She's Transgender
Emma Ellingsen photographed by Luke Abby for W magazine. Ellingsen wears Holzweiler knit, Tom Wood jeans. Styled by Yael Quint. Hair by Drew Schaefering. Makeup by Thomas Erdis. Produced by Yael Quint and Anna Skavlan.
Most of the Scandinavian It girls whoâve been making such a splash these days achieved their status by showing off their street style between fashion shows in cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen. Emma Ellingsen is the latest to join their influential ranks, despite the fact that she lives an hour outside of Oslo and has never been to Fashion Week. She does, however, have 250,000 followers on Instagram and 250,000 subscribers on YouTube. With a quick scroll through her selfie-filled feed, itâs easy enough to understand h ow Ellingsen, who just turned 17, has already made it. And itâs also easy enough to fall in love with her feed without knowing that sheâs transgender.
Ellingsen was already making a name for herself before she took a departure from her usual YouTube videos by uploading her first in English, titled simply âIâM TRANSGENDER,â last July. After that, her follower count and popularity exploded, and hasnât stopped growing since.
This summer, while her friends were preparing to head back to school, Ellingsen was signed to Heartbreak Management, the Oslo- and Copenhagen-based agency that represents models like the fashion favorite Lexi Boling. Sheâll be taking the year off from school, she explained on a recent afternoon on the phone from Norway, to focus on modeling and make the time to star in an upcoming Norwegian TV series. Kicking off the new phase of her career, she posed in a shoot for W, wearing only Norwegian designers, and tried her hand at something sheâll also no doubt soon be devoting her time to: doing press in English. She talked about mixing social media with activism, dealing with haters, and why she wants the world to know that she takes up to 1,000 selfies before posting on Instagram, here.
Are you getting into back-to-school mode right now?
I actually just took a year off to focus on everything, which is pretty cool. I went on summer vacation with all of my friends, and now that theyâve started school, Iâve started working, trying to do different things with social media and modeling and post more videos and everything. I really want to go back to school one dayâ"I have two years left until I graduateâ"but I just feel like this is the right thing to do right now.
How have your parents reacted to you taking time off? Are they supportive?
Theyâr e very supportiveâ"they said that school will always be there, but I get so many opportunities now that will just go away if I put them off. I want to try modelingâ"I just signed with an agencyâ"and Iâve started doing social media collaborations with Norwegian brands. I also just want to post more videos and get better at uploading. But itâs definitely something different to my parents; my mom works in a doctorâs office, and my dad works on cars, and they donât really know about this world, about social media and everything, so theyâre pretty impressed and I think proud of what Iâve achieved. I look at it as work, because I do make and try to make money, but I also do it for my own pleasure. I definitely try to have fun.
What was your first experience with Instagram?
I first got it in sixth grade, probably when I was 11 or something. I just thought it was a lot of fun and got a passion for it really quick, so I just started posting picture s, and then I started gaining followers.
Who did you first start following?
Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrusâ"all of the people from the Disney community, because thatâs what I was watching. But after a while, I started following fashion pages for inspiration, like @passiionforfashion.
What about nowâ"who are some of your favorite people to follow?
I really love how Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid post a lot of fashion, but also just very cool, kind of different pictures. I donât know of any Norweg ian models who post like they do. But thereâs a Norwegian blogger, Anniken JÃ¸rgensen, whose page I loveâ"I think she has really cool style.
What are some of your favorite places to shop in Norway?
I live an hour away from Osloâ"itâs just a train ride and Iâm thereâ"so I go there for work and to shop at vintage stores. Where I live, though, we donât have Zara or anything, and I really feel like no one really wants to be different. All of the girls wear the same thing. So Iâve been trying be be more myself in my styleâ"Iâve been wearing a lot of mom jeans lately. [Laughs.] I really admire Kendall Jennerâs style, because itâs really laid-back, so I get a lot of inspiration from her and whoever else I see on my Explore page on Instagramâ"when itâs not all makeup and cute boys. [Laughs.]
Do you ever slide into peopleâs DMs?
Not that much, but sometimes I try. Sometimes I get answers, and sometimes I donâtâ"I usually just say, âHey,â or âYouâre cute,â and hope they answer, which they donât always do.
Do you read your own DMs?
I donât get to answer every single person, but I actually try to read every one I get. But some of itâs just hate or weird things, like people asking me to send them money. [Laughs.]
Do you read the comments, too?
Always, and I like every single one of the nice ones, because people actually take time out of their day to do that. I only sometimes respond to the negative ones, because I can get irritated, but a lot of the time I just ignore them. The first hate comments I got made me a little bit sad, but now, if anything, Iâm just like, Ugh. But Iâd say, like, 99 percent of the comments I get are nice and positive.
Did the comments you get change at all after you came out as trans?
Well, also because I made that video i n English, I got a lot of comments from people from other countries saying things like, âThis is not right.â But I was very prepared for it. I knew I was going to get some hate from people from outside of Norway, because itâs a very open country and everyoneâs pretty supportive here, which I know isnât true for everywhere. And then here were also a lot of people who would tell me theyâd seen the video and were also trans, and some people from Norway whoâve told me that what I do has inspired them to come out and be themselves, which makes me very happy.
Has it always felt so accepting there? Have you ever felt like you were discriminated against in Norway?
Iâd say Norway is pretty accepting; itâs come a long way, maybe especially compared to other countries. Iâve never been bullied, and Iâve always been open about my situation, so maybe itâs because people donât want to say something rude. I think itâs pretty accepting for tra nsgender models in Norway, tooâ"I donât think the agencies here are really thinking about that.
Your coming out video was actually the first one that you posted in English. Was the idea behind that to reach a wider audience?
Definitely. I just wanted to talk about my story and share it with the world, and kind of normalize the fact that some people are transgender. I donât think I would have the amount of followers I do now if I didnât post in English; I actually just checked last night, and 39 percent of my followers are Norway, and the rest are from all over the world. I actually get a lot of comments now that I donât understand, because theyâre in languages I donât speak, like French.
Before that video, what was your first experience with going viral?
A year ago, a lot of English-speaking people saw a Nor wegian makeup video I posted on YouTube, and everyone was like, âYou have to speak in English!â I think I had around 40,000 subscribers then, but I didnât gain too many after, because it was all in Norwegian. After I started doing English videos, though, I gained a lot of followers, and another video of mine, which is me coloring my hair pink, just hit a million, which is the second most after my transgender video. After I posted that, I also got a lot of new followers on Instagram, and a lot of them were English-speaking, too.
You were also in a documentary when you were growing up that was quite popular in Norway. Did that make you famous there?
It wasnât like I was famous, but I got a lot of attention in Norway. A lot of people were curious and wanted to know more about my situation. I realized I was transgender when I was really young, like 8 or 9. My mom showed me a documentary she found on TV, and even though it was in English, which I coul dnât understand, I still understood a lot of it; I was like, Me, too. So the documentary that I did afterâ"the name translates to Born in the Wrong Bodyâ"was basically just me and other kids in Norway, just talking about our lives and everything about being trans. Iâm actually still pretty close with some of them, and Iâm going to be in another series soon, too, called Generation Z.
Is it related to Born in the Wrong Body?
Noâ"itâs still all Norwegian people, and a Norwegian show, but itâs just about how different our generationâs world is from the one that our parents knew, with social media and how you donât need to go to school to do everything, like how I started using YouTube. The series follows seven kids and shows how their lives are as artists, boxers, YouTubersâ"a lot of different things. The scenes Iâve filmed so far have been of me on the set of this shoot, visiting a modeling agency, hanging with friends. Nothingâs set upâ"theyâre just there with a camera, filmingâ"so itâs not really documentary or reality TV, but thereâs a bit of that.
Would you want to be, say, the Norwegian Kendall Jenner?
You know, I wouldnât mind. [Laughs.] But actually, I like her and I like her Instagram, but I donât know if I could have her life. I like to use social media as a platform for speaking out about me being transgender. And I also just think itâs a lot of fun. I love getting ready for and taking pictures for Instagram.
What are your tips for taking selfies?
The main thing is good lighting. Just wear something youâre comfortable in and do poses that you feel comfortable doing. Also, for me, I just hold down the button and take a lotâ"a lot, meaning, like, from 500 to 1,000.
Do you have a finsta?
I actually have two different accounts for my friends to follow. One is for all of my friendsâ"it has, like, 140 followersâ"and the other one is just for my closest friends, which has like 40-something followers. Thatâs where I put all the weird, silly things, like memes and ugly pictures of me, like, trying to be cute but looking super uglyâ"one of the thousand I take to actually get a good Instagram. [Laughs.]
How do you feel about thirst traps?
I donât know if we have something like that in Norway, but I think that if you feel hot in the picture, post it. I just donât like people posting pictures just to get likes or attention. Post it if youâre happy with the picture, but donât post it trying to get attention from every single girl in the world.
Is there anything you would never post?
I donât think I would post myself in underwear. Thatâs definitely a no.
Do you have a favorite meme?
I like Vine memes, and I definitely prefer English memes. Norwegian memes are definitely not as funny.
How do you unplug?
I try not to always have my phone with me. Like, I wonât bring it along when Iâm going to the grocery store or something. I just try to think of everything else. But Iâm definitely on the phone the most when Iâm in bed.
Is there anything about you that your followers donât see on social media, but you wish people knew about you?
I think a lot of people think this in general on Instagram, but some people will see pictures of me and think, Oh, thatâs a pretty girl. And I think itâs important to think about how I took probably 1,000 pictures before I made that post, and only two of them turned out good. You have to remember that not everyone on Instagram is perfect and pretty 24-7, because weâre not.
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