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A former Marine, transgender fashion model from Sheboygan has a message for her hometown: Support others and don’t give up – The Sheboygan Press

Hannah Noelle remembers watching “The Devil Wears Prada” as a U.S. Marine and wanting to be like the models in the movie, with their long hair and chic dresses and gowns.
“I always thought, ‘I want to do that.’ But never in a million years would I have imagined actually being able to do it,” she said.
Fast forward several years, and Noelle is the face of an inclusive modeling agency in Arizona that sends its recruits to national and international shows. Born and raised in Sheboygan, Noelle wants the challenges and successes of her life path — from a Marine to a professional model — to be an inspiration for others.
Noelle is signed with the Willow Scott Agency in Arizona, a modeling agency that recruits models outside of those traditionally represented in the industry. As the brand ambassador of Willow Scott, Noelle represents the agency, not only modeling but also speaking to audiences about what the agency is trying to do in a changing fashion world.
“Modeling is a lot of work — it’s not as fun and glamorous as everybody thinks. You spend 8 to 10 hours in rehearsals and getting hair and makeup done for 20 seconds of work on that runway,” she said with a laugh.
But she still loves the job: the camaraderie, the craziness, being backstage, “all of it.”
When the show starts and models walk down the runway in one outfit after another, Noelle described it as “change, change, change, crazy, crazy, crazy — and then it ends, and everybody’s clapping and the energy’s all high. It’s such a wonderful feeling, I can’t even describe how wonderful it feels to walk out and have 200 people scream, clap and holler,” Noelle said.
Randi England, a fashion show producer, model and stylist and longtime friend of Noelle’s, said that Noelle projects confidence and composure on the runway.
“She has an aura of power about her, and kindness, that definitely transfers in her walk and her photos. You can tell when people are nervous or anxious, that translates in their walk. That’s not the case with Hannah — never has been,” England said.
In retrospect, a defining characteristic of Sheboygan in Hannah Noelle’s mind was its small-town feel.
“I didn’t realize how small of a town it was until I got out of there. It was eye-opening, how a small-town mindset can be exactly that — you don’t think of anything outside of that small area,” she said, explaining that she didn’t really have ways to immerse herself in other cultures and meet people who grew up differently from her.
“I had never seen true poverty, and when I did, when I got out of that small town, it was like, wow, some of the things I complained about I really don’t think compared to true struggles and sadness in this world.”
Noelle also didn’t have any transgender role models growing up. “The Sheboygan I grew up in, we never talked about gays or transgenders or anything like that,” she said.
It was after graduating from Sheboygan North High School and then enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps at age 19 that Noelle first learned about the transgender identity, from a video she watched of another trans former Marine named Sona Avedian.
“I didn’t realize people actually can transition,” she said. She watched the video and thought, “That’s me.”
But Noelle didn’t come out until she got out of the Marines eight years later, at age 28.
“I was never big and macho, but that’s how I would portray myself. That was my cover, when inside, all I wanted to be, is this,” she said, gesturing to herself now.
Noelle was initially stationed in Japan for two years and then served in Southern California at Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. 
Despite the challenges of life as a Marine, Noelle values her time as a Marine firefighter for the lasting friendships she made. “My crew became a family for me. I still have friends that, I’d leave even at the drop of a dime to go help them, because when you go through the things that we did, that’s a bond that can’t be broken.”
It was leaving the Marines a few years after she injured her back while fighting a wildfire that presented a new challenge for Noelle, as she confronted choices about her future.
“This person I had been for eight and a half years, when I was Marine — that person was gone. I couldn’t be that macho, angry firefighter anymore, and I struggled a lot. A lot,” she repeated. “Coming out, I didn’t know what to expect. I literally expected the absolute worst. But I knew what I was doing wasn’t right for me.”
Things started to change when she met someone she trusted enough to confide in, and that friend immediately showed Noelle support. “She told me, ‘If you feel like a girl, then be a girl!’ She was the first person that told me, ‘Hey, you’re fine. There’s not anything wrong with you except you were born in the wrong body, so let’s change that,’” Noelle said.
The friend bought Noelle a wig and the two dressed up and went out in public.
“It was more than I could have ever hoped for. It was everything I had been missing and so much more. I knew at that point that I was a girl, and all of these feelings I’d had for all these years were absolutely right. There was nothing wrong with me,” Noelle said.
Sadly, Noelle faced rejection from some friends and family after coming out. At the time, she was living with her then-wife and her wife’s parents, who were at first hostile toward Noelle, she said. But most people showed acceptance and support for her, and after a lot of work and communication, Noelle’s ex-wife and her family also came around.
“Me and my ex-wife are better friends now than we ever have been,” said Noelle, who is now engaged and co-parents her two children.
After coming out, Noelle met someone at a charity event who helped her get set up with her first show and photo shoot as a model, and her career immediately took off from there.
“It gave me so much confidence and reassurance that me being me was right, and that I can use my platform as a model to actually make real change in this world,” Noelle said.
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Now, Noelle says she’s at the forefront of a fashion industry that is changing for the better.
In the past, models have all followed the same “cookie-cutter” prototype, she said, and there are still agencies that won’t sign transgender models or models who are tattooed, plus-size, too short, too tall or have other characteristics outside of the rigid skinny and tall norm. But some agencies, like Willow Scott, are driving the change to make modeling something for everyone. 
“That’s what this world needs, is we need to be supporting each other and helping each other instead of tearing each other down,” Noelle said.
And there’s more to modeling than most people think. “There are all these people that say, ‘Oh, I’m not photogenic.’ Well, everybody is, you just have to learn how to take a picture,” Noelle said, explaining that she had to learn angles and positions and how to walk on the runway when she first started modeling. 
“You have to learn how to position your shoulders, your stomach, your butt — you have to do all these different movements at the same exact time, while also not looking awkward,” she said.
To aspiring models and other young people, Noelle’s advice is to persevere through failures.
“As a model, I’m both living my dream and experiencing heartbreak,” she said, because she still often goes to castings and does not get chosen to model for certain brands or events.
“That’s just part of the job,” she said. “Don’t give up.”
Noelle says she’s on her way to becoming a supermodel — a model who travels the world and hits the big fashion weeks in cities like Paris, New York and Los Angeles. 
Fans can follow her latest work — such as casting for Tempe Fashion Week and opening the first annual She Awards Show earlier this year, where she won Best Pose — on Instagram at @hannahnoelle5839.
Reach Maya Hilty at 920-400-7485 or MHilty@sheboygan.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maya_hilty.

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