If anything, Tilberg’s new appearance seemed to increase her cachet. She booked ads for Louis Vuitton and Burberry and was cast in a steady stream of glossy magazine stories, some shot by megaphotographers like Steven Meisel. Surely her angular splendor outshone the ink and hardware. But more important, in transforming her body into something hard and less susceptible to the disguises of makeup and wardrobe, Tilberg found a more permanent identity and a form of modeling she could live with.

“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.’ ”

These days Tilberg works only when she wants to. The rest of the time she retreats to her country house near Vancouver, Canada (she likes to knit and can shear her own lamb, thank you), or to her apartment in Manhattan, where she’s working on her music (she sings and plays guitar) and lives with her wife, talent agent Laura Wilson.

“The fashion industry used to be much more closeted for girls,” she says, noting that ascension of lesbian models is a good thing not only for fashion but for culture. “I think it’s great for people to realize that we are everywhere and not a stereotype,” she says. “We are everywhere, and we look like everybody else.”

But part of her beauty is that she doesn’t act like she might appear—genetically superior to 99.9 % of humanity. And hers isn’t false modesty; it’s based largely in Tilberg’s refusal to be defined by the image her industry often projects.

“It took me years to come to terms with the business and to realize it’s an art form in itself,” she says. “But I finally accepted that I’m a great person aside from what I can do in front of a camera. That’s just my day job.”