In an exclusive interview with USA Today published Monday, supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele revealed that she is intersex.
The Intersex Society of North America defines intersex as "a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male." Rather than being a self-identity issue, like gender dysphoria or transgenderism, intersexuality relates to those born with ambiguous genitalia or some other form of anatomical and/or chromosomal anomaly.
The Belgian model is famous for striking poses at fashion shows, walking the runway for Prada, Chanel, and Givenchy. Odiele began her career in 2005 and quickly shot to stardom, appearing on the covers of Vogue, Elle, and Marie Claire. The 29-year-old has landed lucrative contracts with Vera Wang, DKNY, and Mulberry, among other top brands.
Now she’s advocating on behalf of a deeply personal cause. Hoping to alleviate the shame experienced by intersex youth, Odiele has teamed up with advocacy organization, interACT to share her own experience and correct many of the cultural misunderstandings associated with the condition.
"It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo," the supermodel told USA Today. "At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this."
As USA Today notes, Odiele is "one of the first high-profile people to disclose her intersex status and share her story."
USA Today provides more details on her struggles with her intersex condition:
She was born with an intersex trait known as
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome(AIS) in which a woman has XY chromosomes more typically found in men. She also had internal, undescended testes, and her parents were told that if she did not have her testicles removed, “I might develop cancer and I would not develop as a normal, female girl,” she says.
At 10, she had surgery to remove her testes, an experience she could barely process at the time. “I knew at one point after the surgery I could not have kids, I was not having my period. I knew something was wrong with me.”
At 18, Odiele — whose modeling career took root when she was discovered a year earlier at a music festival in Belgium — underwent an equally distressing procedure in the form of vaginal reconstructive surgery.
Today might be one of the most important days in my life, I've decide to announce with you all I'm #intersex, read my story in USA Today (link in bio) I want to bring awerness and put to light the irreversible Unnecessary non consent surgeries we often go trough as kids ️FEEL FREE TO SHARE #intersex #StopIGM (Intersex Genital Mutilation) #intersexHanne #intersexy @interact_adv
“I am proud to be intersex,” she stated, conveying her dismay at the fact that parents continue to push for invasive, potentially unnecessary surgeries to make sure their children pass as “normal.”
In fact, Odiele reflected on her own two surgeries with mixed feelings. “If they were just honest from the beginning... It became a trauma because of what they did.”
In changing the way society looks at intersex bodies, Odiele hopes that intersex children will one day feel comfortable in their skins.
Backed by a strong support network, the supermodel plans on continuing her advocacy for years to come.
“[I am] incredibly proud and happy,” Odiele’s husband and fellow model John Swiatek told USA Today. “I am very impressed with her decision to advocate for intersex children in order to give them an opportunity to make up their own minds about their bodies, unlike the lack of options and information Hanne and her family (and many others) were given.”