Who’s my role model?
This is a question that almost everybody asks themselves at multiple points throughout their lives and not just when we are children or teenagers. We as human beings seek to fit in with groups or individuals that we aspire to be like. In the 21st century, the world of fashion provides most people with any type of role model they may wish to find, through a variety of fashion subcultures.
Psychological research suggests that within a role model we look for similarities in major personality characteristics, and ignore the differences between us and our role models. The problem is, this process can be difficult or problematic for a person with a disability.
Existing disabled role models within fashion are often fantastic examples of how we can champion inclusivity despite differences, and overcome hardship to achieve our dreams. But these role models are often few and far between and end up feeling tokenised or shoehorned into a one-disability-fits-all mould.
A long path ahead
The reality is, that this just doesn’t cut the cake. And we may be reinforcing existing social problems by not addressing this issue candidly. Disabled individuals with an interest in fashion have much less choice of their role models than their more able-bodied or minded peers. Despite this, it is human nature to choose a role model anyways, and therefore a role model with less suitability for that individual is often selected.
Whilst a role model with another disability can still be inspiring for an individual with another, and teach positive lessons. It does not equal proper representation of that type of life experience for some particular disabilities. For example, someone with a physical disability caused by injury may be dealing with a very different type of trauma, and a very different day to day life, compared to someone who has been blind their whole life, or someone with a lifelong mental disability. Because living with a disability can be so difficult due to many social factors, not having a role model who has succeeded with a similar struggle denies those with these disabilities any real catharsis from their pursuits within the industry.
Historically, fashion has been generally more accepting of using models or designers with physical disabilities such as lost limbs or skin conditions, then those with mental disabilities, or those who are wheelchair-bound or with limited mobility. For this reason, the most visible and successful disabled role models within the industry have had similar conditions to each other, as they have inspired each other and younger generations to take part.
What needs to change?
What could be possible if fashion was diversified to the extent that all disabilities had representation, and therefore offered suitable role models can only be imagined, but we still have a very long way to go.
This piece is not intended to criticise the fashion world at all, but instead to rally troops to encourage others with disabilities to join those in the fashion who came before them. Understanding just what we are missing under the fashion world’s umbrella allows us to properly bring others in who wish to be out of the rain.
Encouraging those with a newfound interest in fashion is great, but we should focus as well on promoting and supporting those already trying to make their way up the ladder. The more voices and stories that are shared on social media and within and on our fashion platforms, the more inspired and included those with disabilities will feel within the fashion world.
Will it be enough?
Perhaps not, but what’s most important at the moment is that we continue to listen to what we can do to help, and to learn about different experiences, and appreciate the difficulties and differences of our peers when they offer their stories to us. Such learning opportunities will provide us with plenty of fuel and perspective to collaboratively inspire the changes needed to make fashion the most inclusive place of all.
There’s so much to enjoy within the fashion world. It’s difficult to name an industry with more potential in becoming a place for celebration for every type of person and culture within the world, and we should make sure that we invite everyone to the party.
What’s important- enjoying what fashion has to offer- culture, a home, expression, comfort. All we can do is listen, appreciate and adapt to make others feel the same.