Conversations about diversity and inclusivity often overlook people with disabilities.
Teen Vogue seeks to remedy this oversight by creating three covers for its September issue, each prominently featuring a model with a different disability.
Models Jillian Mercado, who has spastic muscular dystrophy; Mama Cax, an amputee; and Chelsea Werner, who has Down syndrome, make powerful statements through their appearances on the covers. And each talked to the publication about why featuring women who look like them matters.
“There wasn’t anyone who looked like me in any magazines or mainstream media,” Mercado said. “It excluded me from something that I was very passionate about.”
Due to this, Mercado told the magazine she used to hide who she truly was.
“When I was younger, I would only show my face [on social media sites], that’s it. There was a time when I was just very ashamed of who I was because not only was I not seeing myself represented anywhere, but I was put into the category that I wasn’t enough, that I couldn’t feel good about myself,” she said. “One day I was like, enough is enough. I am going to embrace who I am.”
Mercado is now represented by IMG and has worked with brands such as Nordstrom, Target and Diesel and can be seen modeling swag on Beyoncé’s website. In early August, a photo of her taken for an Olay campaign was featured on a billboard in New York’s Times Square.
Cax, who is represented by Jag Models and has been featured in campaigns for Tommy Adaptive, ASOS and Chromat, is also a popular blogger who writes about fashion, travel and disability advocacy.
She is also known for dressing up her prosthetic leg in a variety of styles, which she proudly boasts about and displays on her blog and Instagram page.
She said that when she started blogging, many women amputees messaged her that they had never seen “an amputee on social media or anywhere showing their prosthetics.”
“I think it’s so important to show people who have physical disabilities because there are people out there who have physical disabilities who buy products and who never see themselves represented in any way, shape, or form,” she said.
Some brands have been including people with disabilities in their campaigns. In 2017, Tommy Hilfiger created a line made specifically for adults with disabilities. Aerie, the lingerie and intimate apparel brand for American Eagle, this July quietly added photos of disabled women, as well as those affected by diabetes and vitiligo, to product pages on its website. Numerous disables athletes are part of Nike’s new ad spotlighting former NFL player Colin Kaepernick.
Werner, a Special Olympics gymnast, posed with gold-medal winning Olympics gymnast Aly Raisman for an Aerie bra campaign in August.
According to Teen Vogue, Werner got her start in modeling after she submitted a video pitching herself to Aerie, saying that she should be included in a campaign because she’s “strong and proud.”
Hopefully. Teen Vogue’s September covers and the magazine’s accompanying article will lead more disabled people on the same, confident path as Werner, Cax and Mercado.
To read the whole story, head over to Teen Vogue.