azz Jennings is no stranger to the spotlight.
In 2015, the 15-year-old got the chance to do what most teens only dream of when she was selected to participate in Johnson & Johnson's Clean & Clear® See the Real Me™ campaign for their line of acne treatment products.
It was a bold step for both the company and Jennings, who was born male but has identified as a female since she was a small child—and a big vote of support for the transgender community.
Since the campaign’s launch last year, the spunky advocate has kept busy working on several exciting projects, including the second season of her TLC reality show, I Am Jazz, and a new memoir, Being Jazz. We caught up with the Florida-based Jennings to see what her "real me" life is like today.
Johnson & Johnson: What inspired you to join Johnson & Johnson's Clean & Clear #SeeTheRealMe campaign?
Jazz Jennings: It's about girls who are learning to live their lives authentically—and be proud of who they are. I can definitely relate to the message, and I'm really proud to be a part of it.
It's not common to see transgender people as spokespeople for major brands. Do you feel like you're breaking down barriers?
I don't consider myself to be someone who is breaking down barriers—I’m just a regular teenage girl who’s trying to make a difference. There have definitely been walls that have been put up that shouldn't have been there in the first place. So I'm doing what I can with my community to promote equality and acceptance.
Do you feel the Clean & Clear campaign helped change the way society views transgender people?
Definitely. My video for the campaign got over 4 million views, which was astounding. And with [that kind of] visibility and awareness comes a sense of open-mindedness. I think people are finally wrapping their heads around what it means to be transgender and starting to accept and appreciate who we are.
What’s the best thing that’s come from working on the campaign?
I think that when people watch the video, they tell themselves, “Wow! This girl is just like me, and just trying to make friends.” The video makes being transgender relatable to other teenage girls, because [they see that] I'm just going through the same things that a lot of other kids are.
You’ve described your childhood as "feeling like a girl trapped in a boy's body." When did you first realize that you identified as a female?
As soon as I could express myself. I always considered myself a girl and gravitated towards dolls and dresses. I was 100% confident that I was a girl, and I was going to do everything that I could to convey that to my family, so they would let me live my life as who I always knew I was.
When people write to me saying that I've not only changed their lives, but even saved their lives, it's so rewarding.
How did your parents react?
They were a little confused at first, because they weren't sure what it meant to be transgender. But when doctors explained that I had gender dysphoria, and my parents realized that I wouldn't be happy unless I could live my life as a girl, they did everything they could to help me. All children deserve to have a family who supports them the way mine supports me.
What kind of struggles have you faced?
The biggest one is the intolerance many people in society have toward transgender individuals. Some people are afraid of what they don't know or understand, and that can cause them to be cruel or harsh. They're simply not educated on the subject. I always say that people should get to know us before they judge us.
In 2007, you and your parents created the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation. What is it?
There are so many others going through the same things that I went through, and we realized that we had to do something that could help those people. The organization raises money so kids can go to transgender-inclusive camps. We hold an annual pool party, which is a serious thing for transgender kids who often feel uncomfortable wearing a bathing suit. So this pool party is a place where we can be proud of our bodies and just have fun.
You love to play soccer, but you had to battle to play on a girls’ team. Can you tell us more about that?
When I was eight, I was banned from playing girls' travel soccer. I was allowed to go to practices, but I had to sit on the bench during games. It was devastating, so my parents got into a legal battle with my state soccer organization, and after two years, I got the right to play on girls' teams. After that, the U.S. Soccer Federation started a trans-inclusive policy so that all transgender people could play on the right teams.
You not only have a reality show now, but you’ve also written a new memoir. What motivates you to continue to put yourself out there?
My main motivation is seeing the impact that my family and I can create just by sharing my story. When people write to me saying that I've not only changed their lives, but sometimes even saved their lives, it's so rewarding.
What advice would you give to others who are afraid to be their true selves?
Stay strong, keep moving forward, and keep thinking positively. If you love yourself and you're proud of who you are, things will get better. You will find happiness and people who care about you—and love you.