Disabled in Fashion: 6 Models on Ableism and Their Style – Who What Wear

Fashion has always been based on labels: which labels are the trendiest at the moment, which ones are worth buying, and which ones are being worn by celebrities. But these labels aren’t just sewn into the hem of our newest slip skirt. Labels, on a deeper level, are what have also contributed to the homogeneity of the fashion industry. You see, these visual signifiers or societal labels determine who the industry deems valuable, and as a result, anti-blackness, fatphobiatransphobia, and other prejudices permeate every aspect of the industry. And while the industry is taking strides toward inclusive sizing and hiring more POC, ableism is still very much an issue that needs to be addressed. 

Ableism is defined as when able-bodied individuals are viewed as “normal” or superior to those with a disability. This manifests in various forms of discrimination, from who gets hired for the runway to who can afford to and can actually wear the ready-to-wear collection to if a brick-and-mortar store is handicap-friendly to if a digital publisher uses ableist language. And while you may be thinking this is fashion, and it’s supposed to be fun, I’m in no means saying that we can’t enjoy fashion. But it’s naïve not to acknowledge the fact that clothing has always been a visual signifier of ability or inability to socially assimilate for Black, queer, disabled, and marginalized people that has often led to discrimination, poverty, violence, and even death

And as such, it’s critical to advocate for an industry in which all bodies—including those we’ve labeled as disabled—are worth designing for and regarded as beautiful, including in campaigns. But you don’t have to solely take my word for it. Ahead, we’ve spoken with six models on their experience in the industry, visibility, and of course their personal style. 


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