Tasha Tilberg refuses to play straight

Fashion ads that suggest girl/girl attraction are everywhere we look these days (and we are very, very grateful).

But fake lesbians don’t do a lot for visibility. And being an out model still has its challenges — especially when the lesbian happens to be a self-assured individualist like Tasha Tilberg.

Tilberg, 30, has been a top model since she appeared on the cover of W in 1996 — and she’s been out for most of her career.

In its February issue, The Advocate talked to Tilberg about how she maintains her sense of self in an industry that values homogeneity.

Tasha admits that her early years were a struggle to find herself in the sudden whirlwind of success. Her W cover led to major New York and Paris shows, a Harper’s Bazaar cover and a multi-year deal with CoverGirl by the time she was 17. She was overwhelmed by it all.

“It seemed surreal to be paid for your face or your picture,” she says of those years. “I didn’t have a lot of self-respect at that time.”

She did something that few 17-year-olds have the wisdom to do: She quit and moved to a farm near Toronto to get a sense of what she wanted. By the time she returned to her modeling career in 2000, she insisted on doing it her way. She cut her hair short, pierced her septum (and other unspecified body parts) and discovered a love of tattoos, especially prison tattoos. She has “20 or 30” tattoos now — most done without the use of a professional tattoo machine. To which I say, Ow!

“I got my ears stretched [with gauges in her lobes]. People got pretty freaked about that,” she laughs. “But I figured I may lose jobs, but maybe I’ll gain others. At least I can feel good when I wake up in the morning.” She also set some boundaries: No lingerie shoots and no assignments where she has to play straight.

The industry loved her look. She got ads for Louis Vuitton and Burberry, along with spate of magazine spreads shot by “megaphotographers” like Steven Meisel. More importantly, though, Tasha found that by transforming her body into something that couldn’t easily be disguised by makeup and wardrobe, she was able to maintain her identity.

“I needed to express the freedom of my own body,” she explains. “I didn’t want to be a blank canvas for somebody else. I wanted to own myself and to say, ‘This is me. If you want me, fine.’”

My guess is that a lot of you want her at this point. But she is happily married to talent agent Laura Wilson. (That’s designer Stephen Webster in the middle.)

And she understands how important being an out model is.

“The fashion industry used to be much more closeted for girls. I think it’s great for people to realize that we are everywhere and not a stereotype. We are everywhere, and we look like everybody else.”

Well, I don’t know about the “look like everybody else” part, but I do know that I’m glad to be represented by someone like Tasha Tilberg.