Adolescence is the time when every young man and woman discovers and explores their bodies. It is also the time we most desire to fit in, to belong within a community that will accept us without judgement. We become our hardest critic, finding every pimple, every frizz in our hair, and every body flaw we can think of. The media does not help us feel more confident, but instead gives us unrealistic expectations, a physical appearance standard no human can fully obtain. We all go through this difficult time of maturity, but when you add DiverseAbilities into the mix, things become that much more challenging.

My imperfections could not be hidden

I was born with Arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disability that causes muscle weakness and severe joint contractures. During adolescence, no makeup, hair product, or name-brand clothes could hide my “flaws.” I found myself in a bizarre limbo of either being admired for being an “inspiration,” because I did “normal” life things, or being ostracized by my peers because of their misconception that anyone in a wheelchair was also intellectually delayed.

To feel like I belong

There were several years when I tried to assert myself so much to make people forget that I was different. This worked until I got left behind because a building was inaccessible, or I had to be lifted into a car, making a fun day trip a major hassle. I was also told I was not “disabled” enough. If I could graduate high school at 16, work from the age of 14, then I was too able. Where does one turn when they feel like they do not belong?

This was the real me, and I wanted to offer this to the world

I turned to my faith, my belief that God created us all with a purpose. When I truly found myself in God and realized my differences could be used for a great cause, I stopped asking myself, “What does the world have to offer me?” and started asking, “What do I have to offer the world?” This question opened my eyes to all the people who were like me, people who were living in a limbo, feeling like they had nowhere to turn. I believe my life’s calling is to help bridge the gap between the “able” and the DiversAble.

I finally found what I was searching for

In 2014 a direct sales high-fashion jewellery company caught my attention on Facebook. I was in desperate need of extra income and felt compelled to apply to be a Merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel. I love the company, in particular the community, and realized I found the perfect platform to promote DiversAbility. Through networking with other Merchandisers, I found Tiffany Yu, creator of the global award-winning movement, DiversAbility. I finally found a group of like-minded, strong, intelligent people who did not judge me.

Our real society and real women

Soon after connecting with DiversAbility, I created The DiversAble Model Project to create opportunities that support the inclusion of people with Diverse Abilities in all aspects of society, beginning with the fashion industry. I use my Chloe + Isabel business, social media, and any opportunity I get to unite and empower DiversAble Models and their allies. When you visit my online boutique, you see pictures of real women, with so many different abilities. My blog features many of their personal stories.

Bringing real bodies, real people and real images

Young people with DiversAbilities need to see men and women who look like them. The fashion industry can have a great impact on people’s perception of “disabilities.” Plus size models are still a relatively new idea. These curvy women were often forced to order clothes online with very limited design options. Now that companies like Dove and Playtex promote the beauty of curves, stores carry fashions to meet their needs.

I want to change every story, and reinvent Magazine’s front covers

There are few companies who design clothing with DiversAbility in mind. I have yet to see a DiversAble Model on the front cover of a magazine, not for her inspirational life story, but as the standard for the “latest look.” When only the “overcomers” and “inspirers” are featured in media, what message does this send the rest of us who just want to wear a pair of jeans that will not make our tummy pouch hang out? What about the young lady who just wants a prom dress that she does not have to pay hundreds of dollars altering to avoid the skirt getting caught in the wheels?

It’s time for a radical change!

All people should be treated equally! It is much easier to change laws and building infrastructures, than it is to change hearts and minds. My hope is that through movements like DiversAbility and The DiversAble Model Project, our voices will be heard and the gap bridged. I will do my part and hope the world will come around.

Writer: Amanda Frantz

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