Sunday, 28 September 2014

Disability and Fashion



In life if someone's perception of you is unfavourable then you can learn to shrug it off. Tell yourself that they don't know the real you. But what about when a whole industry and its related medias and companies has the wrong perception? Today I'm going to let you in on something that I'm involved with and am really proud to be a part of. Firstly though, to set you up for this post I want you all to watch this video. Note the looks of horror and disgust. It's incredibly sad. But in some ways this reaction is understandable because people do not associate beauty and fashion with disability. Why? Disability can be thought of as ugly, imperfect, with close links to accidents and illness. Almost the opposite to the beauty and perfection that the media and catwalks want to sell us. Disabled people seem so far from the medias bench mark because  you can make over and transform people  in all Miss Congeniality glory to try and 'make them fit in' but the fact  is they'll still be in a wheelchair, missing a limb, have a curved spine, blind, deaf, ill and many other forms of disability. And because of these implications it simply isn't shown. It's hidden like some shameful secret. But as you saw in the video and will see in the photos I have included in this post, (the above photos are of my gorgeous friend Hayley, taken with permission from her blog) disability can be beautiful and attractive. Disabled people can be fashionable. And we shouldn't have to 'fit in' to an unrealistic perception of beauty. We have beauty in abundance the world just needs to be open to beauty in all its forms, prosthetics and all. In a recent tweet author Ken Jennings wrote "nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair." As you can imagine this enraged many people. You can read more how on the following blog. And goes to show that we have a long way to go in getting disabled people represented in fashion in the media and the catwalks. Below is a photo of Britain's Missing Top Model (the show mentioned in the video), Kelly Knox. For more videos on Britain's Missing Top Model, click here. 

As a disabled person most of your expected role models are Paralympians for example. They are incredible athletes. However as a person disabled by illness the fact is I'm not going to be following in their footsteps. I can't. And neither can a lot of other people in wheelchairs. But what I can do is be fashionable. I realise that might sound contrite in comparison but there is more meaning behind it and to me too. As I can also be an advocate for the use of disabled models. I'm a woman that likes to buy clothes. Just because I'm disabled doesn't mean that I no longer do. Okay, I might not get to wear clothes that aren't pyjamas that often. In fact fashion has come to mean more to me as a sick/ disabled person than it did as a healthy person. Dressing up makes me feel happier. And we all need that. And this is why I got involved with Models of Diversity

Models of Diversity are questioning the beauty and fashion industries perceptions. You can read more about them in my blog post. They are actively campaigning to make the fashion industries a more diverse place and that includes presenting disability and proving that disability is beautiful/ fashionable/ attractive/ sexy. That it does deserve a place in advertising and on the catwalk. The following video explains Models of Diversity's perspective on disability within the fashion industry. Models of Diversity on Disability. We live in a society that knows it's wrong to dismiss or discredit disabled people. Even more so since the Paralympics. There has been debates over the use of words such as invalid, saying that we cannot tar disabled people with a name that says they have no place in society. Not that the word disabled is much better. So why then is it still happening? 


Above are photos of some of Models of Diversity's disabled models who are helping bring about change. The first image in this section is of Chelsey Jay, Models of Diversity's Director for models with a disability. When she became ill very suddenly with POTS, she found herself confined to a wheelchair. As a young woman keen to make a career as a model once she became disabled she found herself pushed out of the fashion world. As though the industry perceive that once she became disabled so too did her interests in fashion and beauty. And it's the same for so many of us and particularly hard on young people who are still finding their way. People assume that disabled people do not share the same interests as healthy people. Some people might be surprised if we look fashionable. I've heard a story about someone in a wheelchair looking at some shoes in a shop and someone standing in front of them; when asked to move out of the way they said "it's not as if you're actually going to buy them. What's the point when you are clearly paralysed?" Well news flash we're not all paralysed. And like that would affect our wanting a nice pair of shoes. Or just wanting to look nice in general. As though we're not entitled to. It's attitudes like this that stem from lack of representation. People just do not associate disability with fashion.

 For this reason, each disabled model is also an advocate and campaigner. Forging the way for others to aspire to be models despite their disability. And hopefully changing the industry in a way that it won't be a fight to be represented in future. That young disabled people that want to be a model can grow up knowing that they can be. That they do not have to feel ugly or ashamed. The four Models of Diversity models above are not only divine in their beauty but are  also wonderfully inspiring people that are sharing their stories. 

Of course the biggest influence on the fashion world stems from the catwalks of New York, London, Milan and Paris. This is where the world takes note. In another promotion for the tv show Britain's missing Top Model one of the models says "New York would rather burn their city down than have a disabled person on the catwalk." Well I guess New York is pretty hot as it happened! At New York Fashion Week AW2014 designer Carrie Hammer, used Danielle Sheypuk (above) Ms Wheelchair New York 2012. You can read more by clicking on the link below the photo. At the recent London Fashion Week the creative director, of Topshop spoke about how they wanted to make their shows more accessible. They made their show interactive with the use of instagram and live feeds at their store at the shows venue. For all the people that could interact with the show such a small percentage would have been represented on the catwalk. And for a high street store I feel they need to be doing more to represent the wealth of diversity that shop at their stores.

Alongside Chelsey Jay there are group of 20+ disabled people, of varying disabilities and walks of life that have all teamed together to form a pressure group. Each week we contact a brand en masse to encourage them to use disabled people in their advertising. That in their lack of representation they are isolating a large proportion of their customers. We want to know why this is? And hope to influence their future choices in who they employ to model their clothes. 


We even have the support of the Minister for Disabled People, Kate Green who will be alongside Chelsey in future meetings with the brands. She recently suggested we raise the issue with our local MP's and get them to address the issue in Parliament during London Fashion Week. We received some great responses saying that they would happily put it forward. Responses from brands so far have varied. Some have been keen to respond whilst others have ignored the emails of 20+ people and subsequent follow up emails. With brands that we have contacted so far we hope to hold meetings with them to discuss the issue further. As well as emailing more brands. Like the poster says above we don't want special treatment just the same treatment. 

I hope after reading this blog post you too believe there is much more to disabled people and that disability should not affect their place in the fashion and beauty industries. I'm really proud to be a part of the pressure group and for raising the profile of disability in fashion. We're a pretty determined group who are keen to make a real change. 

Sian x


  1. Fantastic post Sian and thank you so much for mentioning me/using my photos! I'm so happy and proud to be a part of this movement with some amazing people!