A Call for Other Bodies: Disabled Models Are Beautiful Too

By Amy-Willard Cross    

Over the last few years, you’ve seen curvier models, more people of color, and older women showcasing products. Soon you might see more disabled people modeling.

The UK-based Models of Diversity has joined forces with Global Disability Inclusion in a campaign to encourage the hiring of more disabled models in the US. MOD was founded back in 2008 by Angel Sinclair; judging by the number of "firsts" Sinclair has achieved in the UK, this project is sure to go her way. 

Danielle Sheypuck, who made world news at Carrie Hammer’s recent NY Fashion Week runway show, is a spokeswoman for the British-American project. She says the show was an "aha moment for many people who never think to link disability with fashion, or the beauty industry. It spread around the world and it opened people’s eyes." Now she thinks the pure data might change the industry.

There are 56 million Americans with disabilities—presumably most of them wear clothes and buy other products—and would like to see themselves in advertising. More importantly, their spending power represents $175 billion according to Global Diversity Inclusion. Yet only 3% of Fortune 500 companies had marketing that included people with disabilities, which is 1 in 5 people.

When Dr. Sheypuk—she has a PhD in psychology—first read the stats, she too had an aha moment: I am completely ignored. "I get emotional. You don’t realize how entrenched the stigma is in our society." When you have a disability, you’re told there are things you can’t do or groups you can’t belong to, and you accept that."

But enough accepting. "I use mascara too; pitch to me, I wear lipstick. I shop at Victoria’s Secret, I read fashion magazines. The message is subtle but potent. When I’m looking through fashion magazines, I accept that I'm not going to see anyone like me."

Or at least just a few. A British department store recently used a disabled model, Diesel featured a woman in a wheelchair this year, and GAP just hired the son from "Breaking Bad" to wear their clothes. He plays a kid with cerebral palsy, and he actually has it.

Sinclair, who was once a model herself, says, "During my time of modeling, it wasn’t diverse, you hardly ever saw any black models. I wanted to do something about it." Her campaign seeks to show that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, sizes, and abilities.

"Every year, I dedicate a year of my time to one issue. I’ve done plus-size, mature, models. I did a show called Catwalk for Change, using models over the age of 35. I wanted to raise awareness, we don’t see many models over the lifespan. Once you’re 30, you’re over, you won’t get runway, you’ll just get lifestyle work."

The slideshow shows some of the firsts from Models of Diversity—expect more to come.

It ran the first plus-sized show in 2012 called Curves & Couture, for which super models showed up. Transgender model Nicole Gibson was also in one of the shows.

The campaign produced a billboard featuring three atypical models that was displayed right in London town showing how different beauty can be.

What's Sinclair's next goal? To do another billboard showing disabled models in lingerie and looking sexy. They’ll be holding casting calls on both sides of the pond later this year.

Sinclair has already had a meeting with a government minister for disabled affairs about the billboard and doing an exhibit in the Parliament buildings.

"My ultimate goal, my heart lies in the disabled models. Once I start seeing fashion’s big brands and name designers using them, I will be more than satisfied, that’s my dream."

Title Image: Simon Barnes


On the Catwalk for Change, a woman who has reached a certain age does the walk. Image: Walterlan Papetti.