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INSIDE THE IDENTITY ISSUE ARTICLE Bethanie Moran discusses disability and the fashion industry with expert, Mik Scarlet. PHOTOGRAPHY Photographer, Bethanie Moran produces a series of thought provoking photographs with model, Rebecca Earl. STREET STYLE What do your hands say about you? We take to the streets to photograph some of the best hands around.
“BROKEN AND IMPERFECT” Bethanie Moran and Mik Scarlet discuss the inclusion of disability within the fashion industry. Words by Bethanie Moran
There are over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain (myself included), alone. Yet models with disabilities are very rarely seen within the fashion industry. Alexander McQueen was the last high end designer to feature a model with a disability on the catwalk when Paralympic runner, Aimee Mullins, strode the catwalk in his spring/summer 1999 show. Sadly, this was not an effort to promote more models with disabilities but to show that, as McQueen said, ‘real beauty comes from within’. Is this suggesting that Aimee Mullins is not physically beautiful because of her disability? This has given the view that the fashion industry sees disability in a negative way. Is the fashion industry scared of disabilities? As somebody who is registered as disabled due to being profoundly deaf and partially sighted and aspiring to have a career in the fashion industry, this is something that deeply affects me. I discuss the issue with Mik Scarlet, renowned for his efforts to ensure that disability is accepted in society. Mik Scarlet, a broadcaster, journalist, actor and musician also has experience in the sports industry. He performed in the opening ceremony for the 2012 Paralympic Games and has presented for the wheel chair rugby. From his experience, Mik concludes that people with disabilities are accepted within the sport industry more so than the fashion industry. He describes the reason being, that disabled people are ‘broken and imperfect’ and the
fashion industry ‘sells fantasy and dreams’. Though there are more disabled models cropping up in the fashion industry with the likes of Stefanie Reid, Mik makes the valid point that, ‘many of the disabled people who have managed to break into the modelling industry are from the sport arena’. As brave and inspirational that Paralympians are, they are still ‘thought of as more perfect that the usual disabled person’ suggesting that, the ‘usual’ disabled person would not have as much of a chance to represent the fashion industry. That said, ‘usual’ disabled people have been used to represent the fashion industry with Seb White, a four year old child with Down’s syndrome was included in a Marks and Spencer’s Christmas advert, where he is captured as a normal, healthy, happy child, portraying disabilities in a positive way. Another leading high street brand, Debenhams, also attempted to break the pattern by including disabled model, Kelly Knox and Paralympian amputee, Stefanie Reid in their spring/summer 2013 campaign. People may see these examples as positive changes within the fashion industry but the reality is, these brands have not included models with disabilities since then and do not regularly use models with disabilities. Another major concern is when brands like Dove, claim to use ‘diverse’ models and include models of different sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities but not models with disabilities. Mik believes that this is a separate issue and one created by
the advertising industry, ‘as they are selling a mixture of a dream and a possible reality’ but agrees stating, ‘of course we should be everywhere in ads’. He really hits home how I and I’m sure, many others feel in the fashion and advertising industries with his statement, ‘we are the last minority group who are airbrushed out the world that advertising creates’. Brands that have featured models with disabilities but have not done since need to question if they really care about the cause or if their act is pure tokenism. Although promoting different sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities to be commonly used within the fashion industry is positive, the brands promoting this should question their view on ‘diversity’. If we live in a world where there are so many people with disabilities, brands should encourage their presence as part of diversity. The fashion industry is a false portrayal of reality; everybody is beautiful, even with a disability. Yes, beauty does also come from within as Alexander McQueen stated but, just because somebody is in a wheel chair or has a missing limb; it does not mean that they would not be described as physically beautiful. As Mik describes, ‘Alexander McQueen only did it to shock’ and that similarly to high street brands, ‘he had no interest in changing the industry’. The fashion industry needs to change their narrow view on ‘ideals’, if this industry is as Mik would say, ‘almost entirely staffed by people who would rather be dead than disabled’. Is this view what
people really want to adopt? Although the fashion industry should recognise that promoting disability is part of a ‘normal’ society, we, as disabled people should also remember that the ‘ideal’ that the fashion industry does promote, does not exist. That said, disabled people would still benefit from being included in the fashion industry and advertisements, as agreed by Mik stating, ‘if more disabled people were seen in whatever public medium’, that they, ‘would feel great about themselves’.
‘almost entirely staffed by people who would rather be dead than disabled’
It is not only the fashion industry that needs to change, society does too. ‘Society could only not buy stuff by companies that don’t use disabled models, but then they’d be naked, smell awful and look even worse’, declares Mik, society needs to ‘demand change’. Though it may not seem that there has been much advancement on this issue but change is happening thanks to the campaign, ‘Models of Diversity’ founded in 2008. Models of Diversity is challenging the body ideal and the negative preconception of disability that the fashion industry has by representing people such as Kelly Knox, Stefanie Reid and Jack Eyers. They also work hard by campaigning at fashion events, conducting street surveys and offering workshops to change the fashion ‘ideal’ for the better. As Mik describes, ‘it’s just going to take a brave and forward thinking company to make that change’, hopefully Models Of Diversity is that company or, as Mik would say, ‘fingers crossed eh?’
WHAT DO YOUR HANDS SAY ABOUT YOU? Hands are believed to reflect a personâ€™s identity, their identity, their personality, their job, their gender, their age, their martial status, their hobbies and their favourite objects. We capture hands on the street and explore their identities.