Celebrating diversity through our disability division
According to government data, there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK (1 in 5), that's why the advertising and marketing industry should champion diversity and represent more disabled people in commercials and campaigns. We have recently launched our Disability Division so we can provide the industry with more inclusivity and celebrate diversity!
We chatted with some of the models in our Disability Division and discussed what it meant to them to represent people with visible and invisible differences.
Lolly was diagnosed with stills disease at just 18 months old. Stills disease is a rare disease that affects the immune system and caused Lolly to develop rheumatoid arthritis in various joints and uveitis in her eyes. Lolly tells us, "this directly impacts my everyday life and I've had many years of fevers, rashes, pain and immobility with long hospital stays and numerous surgeries. As a result of such long term illness I also now have osteoarthritis and blindness in my left eye". Having done various modelling jobs when she was younger, Lolly says, "with disability and grey hair becoming more represented within mainstream advertising and feeling like I had a story to share, I thought it would be a good time for me to explore the possibilities again so I took the plunge and joined an agency".
Can you tell us why you're proud to represent people with visible and invisible differences as a model?
"I began acting and modelling to share my journey with a wider audience, break the norms of representation of older women and challenge the stereotypes of being disabled, partially sighted or having silver hair. I want to be an ‘inspirational icon’, motivating others to tap into their own energy of fiercely loving themselves and those around them. I am proud of my life and have always embraced my disabilities and the positive side of living with differences so by sharing my story with a wider platform I can encourage clients to have faith in booking disabled talent and inspire others to follow their own path without being restricted by outdated social norms".
Can you tell us your thoughts about the industry celebrating diversity more within marketing and advertising?
"The representation of disabled models and actors is getting better but there is still huge room for improvement. Disabled people are often represented as victims or villains, more positive and realistic portrayals in media will help create more awareness and opportunities for all people with disabilities. It is important that agencies, clients and casting directors are ready to ask the right questions and listen to disabled talent to understand how needs can be met including access needs and whether they need a PA/Carer to assist them. There are lots of people with lots of different needs, by making these questions the norm, the disabled talent won’t feel awkward or that their disability will get in the way of them getting booked. By being cared for on set, they will provide their very best work for the client whilst still ensuring their own safety and enjoyment at work. I am so proud to be able to work with clients who are confident enough to be inclusive, are challenging the stereotypes and leading their fields in making these long-overdue changes. I have had some incredible opportunities come my way and have worked with such amazing brands and people. I am so grateful to every one of them that have put their faith in me and booked me for their campaigns! Cheers to everyone out there who is discovering their dream, telling their story, and finding their tribe to help them succeed".
Christelle has albinism which is a genetic condition that affects the production of melanin causing the skin, hair and sometimes eyes to appear more pale. The lack of melanin can also affect vision and cause some people with the condition to be more prone to skin cancer due to having no natural protection against UV. Christelle says that it's about time the industry represents people with visible differences "I have been freelancing in the industry for over 10 years and when I began it was impossible to get signed by a reputable agency as the beauty standards were way more restricted. I have been rejected, ignored and even advised to give up so many times but I never gave up and I always knew that eventually, I would make it, it's now time to shine!"
Tell us why you're proud to embrace your albinism through modelling?
"This wasn't always the case but I'm very proud of my uniqueness and modelling helped me a lot through that journey. I have learned to appreciate and embrace my uniqueness by seeing myself in pictures, it's almost like therapy. Because it took me so many years to accept my albinism for myself and then to have it accepted by others, I am proud of the confident woman that I have become".
Can you tell us why it's important to you, as a model to be able to represent people with albinism?
"Growing up I had very low self-esteem and self-worth as I couldn't see anyone that looked like me. I'm from an African background but it was hard for me to identify with one community as I felt rejected and mocked by both white and black people. I have 6 siblings but none of them have albinism. My life experience made me realise how important representation is, having never seen anybody looking like me in a movie, magazine or on TV is why I am proud to represent people with albinism as a model and I want to be a part of the change of mentality".
Grace's disabilities are Fibromyalgia & Functional Neurological Disorder for which she uses walking sticks and a rollator the majority of the time. Grace says, "I've been so fortunate to work with both Cool Crutches and Neo-Walk, which are two incredible businesses run by disabled females who spread the message that disability at any age is nothing to be ashamed of. As somebody who struggled to embrace using mobility aids for a long time, the fact that these beautiful, custom walking sticks and crutches exist to give their users confidence, as well as support, is something I wholeheartedly celebrate".
Can you tell us why you're proud to be an advocate for disabled models?
"When I first started my journey with disability and chronic illness, there was very little visibility in terms of advocacy and disabled pride, especially in young people. Being disabled at a young age still remains very stigmatised and you get a lot of unsolicited comments about being "too young" to really be sick, which is difficult to navigate. It changed for me when I found the Chronic Illness (Spoonie) community on Instagram, which is filled with so many other young people like me who celebrate and uplift one another while being honest about their experiences. Their visibility gave me the validation to finally embrace and love myself as a young disabled person - even if being visible helps just one other person like the Community helped me that's invaluable. I use my mobility aids when I model because they give me the confidence to be my true self. They're an extension of me just like any other accessory (it just happens that this one helps me walk) but they don't define me. It's important for me to show that disability is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. True beauty and confidence come from being unapologetically who you are".
Why are you proud, as a model to represent people with visible and invisible differences?
"The world needs to know that our voices matter. We deserve equality and accessibility, to be seen and heard in a society that is so quick to pass judgement on things they don't understand. It's important for everybody to know that not all disabilities are visible, but it doesn't mean that our experiences or our needs are any less valid. People with disabilities still live full, joyful and meaningful lives - we just navigate them a little differently and there's no shame in that. Being honest about the challenges of my conditions instead of trying to appear 'perfect' on social media has really helped me to embrace and accept them and I've been able to open up to and meet so many other incredible young disabled creators in the process. I'm proud to be a model with a 'difference' because it shows how far the industry has moved away from the 'cookie-cutter' aesthetic I saw when I was growing up that was really harmful to my mental health (and I'm sure many others). The fact that modelling is now more diverse and inclusive than ever shows the industry is heading in the right direction - everybody is different, and we all deserve to feel beautiful and valid...because we are!"
Jessica lives with Ulcerative Colitis, Inflammatory Arthritis, Chronic Blood Cancer, ADHD and Fibromyalgia. She tells us "living with so many health issues is like having two full-time jobs. There is so much to manage and look after with doctors, medication and managing appointments and symptoms; And that's before the rest of my life and work! It's sometimes very hard, but I am passionate about representing disabled people and talking about the challenges, even when it's really tough". Jessica does a lot of advocacy work and talks at conferences about mental ill-health, depression and anxiety as an impact of living with Ulcerative Colitis. She also runs workshops on dating with cancer for Shine Cancer Support.
What makes you want to embrace your disabilities through modelling?
"When I was growing up there was no representation at all in the media of people with disabilities. If I’m able to give that to other people, it will help society be more accepting and understanding of those who live with disabilities. I am passionate about raising awareness, especially about diseases like Ulcerative Colitis which many people find hard to discuss. I am proud of my disabilities and not ashamed of them. I want to help more people feel acceptance and pride. I also want more opportunities to show off my snazzy walking sticks!"
Can you tell us your thoughts about the industry representing more and more models and actors with disabilities?
"It is great that things are starting to change. There's a long way to go, and the fact the industry now recognises that gives me hope. I'm so proud to be represented by Sandra Reynolds who since day one has gone out of their way to make me feel included and not excluded - which sadly is a rare feeling. The more representation we see in models and actors, hopefully, the more people will be inclusive and remove the barriers disabled people face daily".Browse our Disability Division here
Gemma has Hypermobility Syndrome, Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia and Spondylolisthesis/Degenerative Spinal Disease, which led to her having a spinal fusion last year, involving 2 discs being removed and 6 pins and bone grafts inserted. Gemma describes herself as an open book and is very happy sharing about her disabilities; "I've come to realise that I can't change the way my body and mobility is now. Hiding my crutches, wheelchair, braces or walking sticks isn't being true to who I really am, which serves to reinforce the idea that being disabled is something to be ashamed of. I want other people, especially younger people, to know that isn't the case and that life isn't over when you become disabled".
What made you want to get into modelling?
"I've always had a thing for fashion, dressing up and expressing myself through my appearance. Modelling seemed an excellent way to combine these interests. If you ask my family, they'll probably say that I've always been very comfortable in front of the camera so it was never a surprise to anyone. More recently, my modelling and social media presence has undergone a bit of a change, having gradually become more physically disabled over the past few years, I am now totally determined to bring disability into the forefront of mainstream media and advertising, ensuring that disabled people are represented in the content we consume. As a disabled woman, I know that I want to see myself represented and others definitely feel the same. I'm also using my platform to raise awareness of inclusively and ableism."
Why are you proud to represent people with visible and invisible differences as a model?
Disabled people are often written off as being incapable, undesirable and unattractive...I'm here to shake that up for everyone else who hasn't had the opportunities that I have. 1 in 5 of the population is disabled so we should be challenging why the mainstream media and advertising doesn't reflect that, I endeavour to help with that challenge".