Teen Vogue just ran an article about the new face of fashion: disabled models.
Written by disabled activist Keah Brown, the article highlights 3 disabled models: Chelsea Warner (who has Down syndrome), Mama Cax (an amputee), and Jillian Mercado (who has spastic muscular dystrophy).
Teen Vogue and Disabled Models:
The Teen Vogue article on disabled models is pretty freaking huge, and I want to talk about why:
It’s a Cover Story
This is not an article on page 83. This is not a story in some “inspirational” category; this is the COVER STORY.
This is the most important story, the featured story, the story that the magazine is banking on selling the issue on. And the story is about disabled models!! This means that times are changing so much so that Teen Vogue sees value in a cover story on disabled models.
2. Keah Brown Wrote it
Keah Brown is a disabled writer and activist. That she wrote this is extremely empowering to me as woman with a disability and a mother of a child with Down syndrome.
I am absolutely beyond thrilled to have a disabled writer telling this story.
For too long, we have had our stories being told by someone outside of our community, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I was us – disabled writers – telling the stories about our community: our people, the models from our community and who we are and why this means something to us.
The fact that Teen Vogue consciously chose to hire a disabled writer to tell this story also means a lot to me.
3. The Language: “Disabled”
Note: the article isn’t talking about models with “special needs“? Or even really, “person with a disability”?
Keah Brown is straight up going the full route with “disabled” which means, “identify.”
The fact that Teen Vogue went with this is meaningful to me, because they are clearly making a choice to listen to the voices of the disabled community and use the language that we want. They didn’t twist it into a “special needs” model case or try and force words from popular culture down our throat.
4. Disabled Models!!!!
When I was a teenager (in the late 80’s and early 90’s), it was rare enough to see a light-skinned person of color in a teen-focused fashion magazine. Having a model with Down syndrome? A model who is a wheelchair user or an amputee – and a dark-skinned amputee?!
This was completely outside the realm of what we saw back then.
We are shifting popular culture and mainstream beliefs about what constitutes “beauty.”
In that shift, we all play a part. We change our culture, each one by teaching one. All of the campaigns that we pass around on Facebook, all of the ‘likes” and “shares”, the tweets, the conversations about inclusion, the virality of Target models with disabilities and the picking up of other models with disabilities by other brands – all of this has a direct effect on articles like this being selected as a leading story.
Furthermore, those teens reading Teen Vogue?
They are growing up with this as their normal.
They are growing up reading about what it’s like to be a model with a disability, seeing hella cool images of gorgeous women who don’t look like Barbie.
This Ain’t The End and The All Though
This is a phenomenal article, but the thing is, it’s groundbreaking. Inclusion and acceptance have a long way to go so long as this type of article is groundbreaking, as opposed to simply normal.
The goal should of course be where we are so used to models with disabilities that writing an article about it makes as much as sense as a featured post in a fashion magazine on why the sky is blue.
But, like Mama was saying in the video (embedded above), disability isn’t often talked about as an identity; we need to reframe this and internalize it. We need to continue to consciously shift our culture and our perceptions and assumptions regarding disability.
Luckily, we’ll have leaders in this through the next generation of fashionistas who grew up reading Teen Vogue.
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.