Atwell is taking over the fashion world, challenging the norms and perceptions of beauty and provoking changes and new ways of thinking with grace, elegance and class. And, Atwell is doing it all by simply being Atwell — undefined by gender, sexuality or stereotype, what Atwell calls gender fluid.
We chatted with the 22 year old gender fluid model from Kentville, Nova Scotia about Atwell’s life, influences, and the fashionable world around this daunting beauty.
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ERICA: WHAT’S KENTVILLE LIKE?
SETH: There’s about 12,000 people. It’s really small and really country. We grew up on a dairy farm for 12 years. So I graduated high school and worked at Wendy’s for two years. My parents divorced when I was 12, so I lived with my dad, then my mom, then back with my dad again. I was living with my dad when I moved to Toronto.
CHARLOTTE: NOW AT THAT TIME, YOU CAME TO THE CITY TO BE A MODEL?
SETH: Yeah, an androgynous model, because I heard about Andreja Pejic and what he was doing, and some other people in Europe. But I had been seeing this for quite a while, and I thought I had the potential to be the new face. So I moved to Toronto and visited agencies. No one was really interested in me — they didn’t really know how to place me or what to do with me, so my last decision was to talk to a scout named Peggi Lepage. I sent her my pictures through e-mail and she signed me on the spot, and she placed me at Plutino Group.
CHARLOTTE: SO, WHEN YOU SAW THESE OTHER MODELS, WERE YOU AWARE OR HAD YOU DECIDED THAT YOU WERE TRANSGENDER?
SETH: I just always felt like that. When I was younger, I thought I could have been transgender, but I was living in such a small town that I could never come out as transgender. When I went to high school, I started wearing makeup, and that’s when my gender bending started. I would never go too girly, but also never be too masculine. So it was then that I started playing around with makeup and organizing clothing.
CHARLOTTE: WHEN DID YOU DECIDE YOU WERE GENDER FLUID AND NOT TRANSGENDER?
SETH: So far in life, I have not felt transgender, but I never really knew how to place my gender pronoun. So I discovered gender fluidity and that I was when I was about 14 years old.
CHARLOTTE: WAS THERE A POINT PRIOR TO THAT WHEN YOU FELT ANY SENSE OF SHAME OR NOT KNOWING EXACTLY HOW YOU FIT IN?
SETH: I was outcasted. It was a very preppy, redneck town. My sister was pretty popular and my dad was really well known, so I was never physically hurt or anything. But I was bullied in high school. They didn’t understand me. People thought, you go by Seth and you’re a boy, but you look like a girl, I don’t really know if you’re trans or what you are. They were of the mind that it’s okay if I’m gay, but it’s not okay if I dress like this.
CHARLOTTE: HAVE YOU ALWAYS FELT A LEVEL OF SELF-CONFIDENCE?
SETH: Always. I always knew that it was just Kentville, Nova Scotia. I knew that there’s a whole world out there that I hadn’t seen yet, and neither had the others. I had a good group of friends and family who supported me there, too.
CHARLOTTE: WHERE DO YOU LIVE PREDOMINANTLY NOW?
SETH: I’m mostly based in New York right now, but I have family in Toronto, so I’m kind of all over the city.
CHARLOTTE: SO YOU’RE A PRETTY CLOSE-KNIT FAMILY. DO THEY ALL GET YOU?
SETH: I mean, now they do. My mom always used to take away my makeup, and my dad never really got it. I don’t know if he gets it even now, but he accepts it. He sees what I’m doing and sees that I’m modeling and that everyone else gets it. He reads the interviews and stuff too, so he knows what I’m doing. My parents never really understood it, but they would never really control me. I don’t think we’ve ever really even had a conversation about it.
CHARLOTTE: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRANSSEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER AND GENDER FLUID?
SETH: Transgender and transsexual is the same thing, I think. I don’t know for sure. But I know that trans people go by transgender, not transsexual. I think transsexual is a harsher word, and that it’s an outdated word. Gender fluid means you’re fluid with however you want to portray yourself. For me, some days I portray myself like a woman fully, like when I go out dancing. And then the next day I can be kind of manlier, wearing Doc Martens and skinny pants, but I’ll throw on a baggy shirt. I’m kind of in between man and woman – that’s what gender fluid means to me.
CHARLOTTE: WOULD YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS BOTH A MAN AND A WOMAN?
SETH: I feel like it’s neither. I am who I am, and I’m just gender fluid as in I can kind of look boyish I guess, but also have a beautiful, feminine quality about me. So it depends.
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CHARLOTTE: BUT, THEN, FOR YOUR AGENCY, WHY NOT REPRESENT YOU AS GENDER FLUID?
SETH: For the rest of the world, you’re either a man or a woman. There’s not really acceptance for gender fluid yet. I’d also be the only model in that division. But in New York, I’m with an all women’s agency (Stage). They don’t market me as a woman, but they don’t market me as a man either. It’s a women’s only agency so we don’t have any divisions, it’s just the one page, so they don’t really have a separation by gender fluid.
CHARLOTTE: I THOUGHT IT WAS AMAZING THAT PROCTOR AND GAMBLE MADE GIGI GORGEOUS THE FACE OF THE CREST CAMPAIGN. PHILIP ING, WHEN CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT MAC, MANY YEARS AGO WAS TRAILBLAZING BY HIRING K.D LANG, WELL KNOWN AS GAY AND RU PAUL, WHO IS A DRAG QUEEN FOR THE FACE OF MAC, WHEN NO ADVERTISING COMPANY, ESPECIALLY BEAUTY, WOULD TAKE WHAT WAS CONSIDERED A RISK LIKE THIS, BUT IT’S BECOMING MUCH MORE COMMON. I FEEL LIKE PEOPLE WILL LOOK AT YOU AND GIGI AND FEEL A SENSE OF BELONGING.
SETH: It’s empowering and exciting, but it’s also scary because I’m not used to being a leader, and you have to really be careful of how you use the power.
ERICA: WHAT’S THAT EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE FOR YOU? YOU COME FROM A SMALL TOWN AND ALL OF THE SUDDEN YOU HAVE SO MANY EYES ON YOU AND THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER.
SETH: I guess I always felt like I needed to be in a big city and I was always a city person at heart. Even when I was in a small town, I somehow knew internally that I wouldn’t always be there forever. When I first got to the city, it was crazy at first. I felt like I was going to New York. I adjusted quickly, though. When I go back home, I feel uncomfortable and not at ease. This is my home now, that’s my past.
ERICA: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY THAT COMES WITH PEOPLE WATCHING YOU?
SETH: It’s not too hard, as long as you say true to who you are. Then you can’t really say anything wrong. I always just stick to my word and what I’ve always believed in.
ERICA: IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR DEFINING MOMENT?
SETH: Being signed in New York, definitely. It took me almost two years to get signed. I wasn’t working much in Toronto. In New York, it put me down a bit, because no one would take me and no one really knew how to place me. And I thought New York would have been more accepting than Toronto, because Canada is a little more conservative. Everyone said I was beautiful, but it was a team decision and not everyone was sold on me. And, it was a final decision to pop into State, who was rebranding, and I was the very first gender fluid model they signed because I was the brand they were looking for — different, unique and breaking boundaries, being a spokesperson. They signed me on the spot, and it was a good connection. So that was my first big thing because I felt so comfortable in an agency in a city where I wanted to be for so long.
CHARLOTTE: DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A FAIR CHANCE OR AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD IN THE ADVERTISING AND BUSINESS WORLD?
SETH: No, but it’s something I’ve worked hard for and my agents have worked hard for and gotten my name out there. It’s been a lot of hard work. I was nominated for the P&G award for the best new face for 2015 — that was an all women’s competition, and I was in the top three.
CHARLOTTE: WHY WOULD YOU BE THE RIGHT CHOICE TO REPRESENT A BRAND?
SETH: I’m the new generation, and I’m more relevant to a lot of people now than any other regular boy or girl, because that definition and image most brands use is so classic and old-school. I’m part of a new generation that’s on the rise. I represent the concept that everyone is searching for, to own who you are just as you are.
CHARLOTTE: I FEEL LIKE THERE ARE NO REAL BOLD CHOICES THAT ARE AUTHENTIC AND COURAGEOUS IN FASHION OR ADVERTISING. IT’S LIKE BRANDS ARE AFRAID TO REALLY SAY ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT’S REALLY COOL WHICH IS ACCEPTANCE. SETH: I did a show in New York last season, and they put fake boobs on me. I didn’t mind it, but at the same time I was worried that they were trying to hide me. I thought they picked me because of what I looked like and that I’d be good for the brand, but I guess I’m not if I’m not a “girl.” I feel that they need to reinvent the whole industry.
CHARLOTTE: IT JUST SEEMS LIKE THE INDUSTRY IS TERRIFIED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
SETH: They’re keeping in the box, keeping what’s safe, and keeping what everybody else will just accept. I feel like now, though, everyone accepts that being different is more common.