It took decades but finally… disABLED Models are being featured and it feels amazing!
I was scrolling through the 'gram per the usual, laughing at the meme's and glazing over the gossip, when I saw it; it… being the ground-breaking Teen Vogue article "What It's Like to Be a Disabled Model in the Fashion Industry" featuring multiple disABLED models, including a beautiful disABLED model sitting in an electric wheelchair! I was shocked, happy, and honored that for the first time I was able to see someone, like myself in a major media publication. For the first time, a disABLED woman was featured as a beautiful model and not a "pity feature", or "charity story." For many decades, I would look at magazines and browse socials, but as I looked at the models featured they hardly represented someone like myself, a curvy, African-American women who also is differently-abled and uses a power wheelchair! This was just unheard of… until September 5, 2018 with the release of this momentous photo.
As a teenager and young adult, I was very insecure of my disability and limitations; I never wanted to take full body pictures… I always took them waist up. In my mind, the wheelchair was an eye-sore, a constant reminder of how "different" I was… and if I didn't take full body pictures I couldn't see the wheelchair, which allowed me to pretend it wasn't there.
For years I was not comfortable seeing myself in this contraption that at the time I felt held me captive to what I presumed was "a normal life" especially when everything and everyone around me, including media images were portraying people with disabilities as weak/helpless and portrayed abled-bodied women and men as fully capable and "normal/ perfect" image. It makes it extremely hard to embrace your uniqueness and have a genuine love for yourself when the world ignores your existence or consistently mocks it with public displays of condescending remarks and/or pity. Accurate representation is mandatory and should not take decades to achieve. Throughout life, the more I lived (and thrived), the more I prayed… slowly learned to love myself and my wheelchair because although it does not define me it allows me the ability to move and access the world and gave me a sense of pride in how I live.
For me to embrace true self love and belief in my abilities, I had to embrace the fact that I am different and that is ok because this is MY journey. Seeing this Teen Vogue photo is so refreshing, now young girls who are differently-abled will be able to see themselves represented in a positive and beautiful way; they will see that being in a wheelchair doesn't mean you aren't beautiful and/or sexy. Being in a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't achieve your goals… whether it be modeling, acting, or professional careers; it can be achieved. If God choses to bless me with a child in the future, I will be able to show him/her this photo of Jillian Mercado and the many to follow that we matter and there is no shame in being different, being different is what makes you beautiful.
I didn't have this representation as a child but with Teen Vogue breaking down the door of stereotypes and women like Jillian Mercado paving the way for change, it proves we are here and we don't intend to fade away anytime soon.
Until next time, this is my world… on wheelz!