Models with Disabilities

Changing the Perception of Beauty

Jessica - a HOH teen model (AMS Models, Syracuse NY). William Schoff Photography

Modeling isn’t just for people who have absolutely perfect bodies, as defined by the modeling industry, anymore. In recent years there have been more disabled individuals modeling than ever before. Companies are not only choosing models that are ethnically diverse, they are choosing people with a variety of disabilities as well. The companies that choose disabled models aren’t just companies that are selling products to the disabled community.

Companies that are choosing disabled models are doing so to appeal to a wider audience, which includes the disabled as a typical consumer.

Disabled Child Models with Down Syndrome

When Sarah Palin brought her baby Trig on stage with her during her campaign for Vice President of the United States it caused a variety of reactions, including ‘what a cute baby!’ Thankfully, babies that have Down Syndrome are no longer hidden behind closed doors. The modeling world has embraced the beauty of these children as well, featuring young talent like Ryan Langston in national campaigns with Target and Nordstrom. Seb White, a young boy with Down Syndrome in the UK, also created a positive stir in his commercial for Marks and Spencers. Valentina Guerrero, a disabled baby model in Miami, has found success modeling swim suits for Dolores Cortés Kids USA.

Teen and Adult Disabled Models

Disabled teen and adult models have also found more success in the fashion industry.

Reality shows like Push Girls has helped to educate the public about the similarities between the disabled and able-bodied individuals. This show has also helped one of its stars, Angela Rockwood, to jumpstart her modeling career.

In the reality television show, Britain’s Missing Top Model , eight women with a variety of disabilities vied for a professional photo shoot that would appear in the magazine, Marie Claire.

Each week the beauties would learn new skills that they could use in future castings, such as appearing in a television commercial or walking the catwalk. Some of the photo shoots included lingerie and nude modeling, which challenged the concept of beauty for viewers. Kellie Knox, a model who was born missing her left forearm, eventually won the competition.

Other successful disabled models include the U.K.’s Shannon Murray, who got her start in modeling in the competition, Model in a Million. Shannon became disabled at the age of 14, sustaining a spinal injury, due to a diving accident. Aimee Mullins, who has fibular hemimelia, is a fashion model as well as being a paralympian. Debbie van der Putten, an arm amputee, and Sophie Morgan, a wheelchair user, both launched their modeling careers after appearing on Britain’s Missing Top Model.

Future of Disabled Models

While society, in general, seems more accepting of the disabled, the world of high fashion may not be. The modeling world doesn’t bend easily to anyone’s will, as evidenced by the attempted regulation of models that were too thin appearing on the catwalk.

However, there appears to be more acceptance of disabled models outside of the United States, as evidenced by the number of agencies representing the differently-abled. New York City, a modeling mecca, doesn’t seem ready for the change. In a city that doesn’t think providing accessible taxis is a priority, NYC may be the last town to embrace the differently-abled model. Hollywood, a town obsessed with beauty, seems open to using the disabled, but is just as likely to hire an able-bodied actor to play the part of a disabled person (i.e. Artie on the hit television show Glee).

Consumers are the people who will either bring about change in the modeling world, or allow it to remain the same. If consumers are willing to accept the disabled as equals, the modeling world will eventually have to accept them too, and that would be a welcome change.

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