Photos of model

Carmen Szukaitis, a 21-year-old transgender fashion model attending Ohio University, will be profiled in Here-TV’s upcoming docuseries, Road to the Runway, premiering this August 5th.

The series profiles twenty hopefuls competing in this year’s annual Slay Model search. Slay Model Management is the premier management company representing transgender fashion talent.

Cameras followed the twenty women to their hometowns, including Athens, Ohio, to uncover their roots: the environments they were reared in and the circumstances that helped shape them into the beautiful, statuesque, fashionable young women they are today. 

Rural Ohio and transgender people go together like oil and sweet water. But thankfully this is Athens, an island of open mindedness.

Nonetheless, Szukaitis, who was raised in Wooster, has faced a lifetime of scrutiny and judgement no “cis” could ever imagine. But after all the sour glances and cold shoulders, she suddenly finds herself on the cusp of stardom.

“Speaking from experience, sometimes living as a trans person in a cisgender dominated society can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable,” says Szukaitis. “During my high school years, I had a lot of insecurities within myself. It was always, ‘Oh, I’m not feminine enough,’ and ‘I feel like I look like a man.’”

Road to the Runway examines the roles that gender, race, socio-economic status, and familial approval play in the lives of young, beautiful women charting their course toward fashion’s latest frontier: the transgender supermodel. 

Moms love unconditionally, and it was Szukaitis’s mother who first inspired her to seek the runway.

“I have been around 6 feet tall since my first year of high school, and I also started my transition during that year,” she said. “Once I began to look more feminine, I got told countless times by my community around me that I would make a great model. At first, my mom told me I should do it and go for it, but I was hesitant. I told her that’s not what I wanted to do, but I did not even know what I wanted out of life at the time.”

Szukaitis found her true identity in what many feel is Ohio’s coolest and most inclusive small town – Athens.

“It wasn’t until the summer of 2021 that I started the journey to realize my self-worth. I began to love myself for my trans identity and my appearance. I then realized that I love being in front of the camera and having my photo taken. From there, I started working on Thread Magazine at OU as a model, and that’s where it all started,” she said.

Szukaitis has already made her mark at OU, as the journalism major re-energized and rebuilt the Trans Student Group into T.R.A.N.S (Team of Really Amazing Non-cis Students). She then moved on to The Post, the independent student-run news publication, and now serves as an editor for Thread Magazine.

But while in that leadership position for Trans students, she would say, “We are proud, and we are here. We want to be seen and heard!”

In October of 2021 she applied to Slay Model Management thinking nothing would happen. Within that same week she was followed on Instagram by @slaymodelsla. Several months passed, but she didn’t agonize. Life went on, she said.

“I felt an overwhelming sense that this year (2022) would be my year. Little did I know that a few days into the new year, I would receive an email from Cece Asuncion, founder of Slay Model Management, asking to set up a Zoom call,” she said.

“I went on to tell him about my current situation in school, my hobbies, family. I vividly remember Cece telling me that I was a breath of fresh air because I did not start telling him about my trans experience but my general life experiences. That was one of the greatest compliments I received on that call,” she said.

Road to the Runway is an important reminder that these Trans models are more than mannequins: they are daughters, friends, and partners in love, with stories that deserve to be heard.

“It is powerful to witness models who enjoy the support of their families back home,” said Slay Model’s Cece Asuncion. “They present as confident and secure. They’re armed with the knowledge that no matter what happens in the model search, they will be ok because they are loved.”  

Sadly, not all of the women are so lucky. 

“The reality is a majority of our models have struggled their whole lives with living as their authentic true selves,” Asuncion said. “They live in a world where simply walking out of the house takes incredible courage.”

Still, their anguish could prove an advantage in the harrowing world of fashion. 

“Courage builds resiliency and that kind of tenacity is key to surviving the inevitable pitfalls on the Road to the Runway,” Asuncion contends. “The model life is not an easy one. It is filled with unforgiving scrutinization and unavoidable rejection. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Szukaitis biggest goal in modeling is to be a part of Paris Fashion Week as a runway model and walk for designer brands such as Louis Vuitton. Her greatest passion is traveling.

“After I graduate from OU, my first plan is to get out of Ohio and explore and experience something new. Ohio is okay, but I love change and having new experiences. I feel very cooped after living here my whole life, so I’m incredibly ready to go out and do something new,” she said.

What is not lost on Columbus and the Ohio LGBTQ community is how precarious the times have become for transgenders. Anti-trans hate is out in the open like never before, while political leaders vehemently push anti-trans legislation into law.

Carmen Szukaitis says it best…“We are proud, and we are here. We want to be seen and heard!”