This season’s Grazia Big Fashion Issue was dedicated to highlighting the fashion industry’s final taboo aka disability representation. So in 2018 why does a cover featuring inspiring, powerful women (who happen to have disabilities) have to be seen as revolutionary?
The fashion industry has made strides to becoming a more inclusive and diverse space, speaking fluently of its desire to represent a wider spectrum of genders, ethnicities and cultures.
But… there is one minority group that remains severely underrepresented- individuals with disabilities. The release of Grazia's Big Fashion Issue in September aimed to address this exclusion with a front cover that brought together five women, among them an athlete, dance champion, designer and full-time model - all of whom have an impairment or condition but feel completely empowered by the clothes they wear. It illustrated how being fashion-conscious and having a disability are not (and newsflash: never have never been) mutually exclusive.
"I decided I'd have to change perceptions of disabled people in fashion - to show we can be desirable, too. Growing up, I bought loads of magazines and never once saw myself represented. Today it must be even worse for young girls, because social media peddles this notion of 'perfection'. If non-disabled girls are feeling the pressure to look a certain way, imagine how disabled girls, who can't hide behind a filter, must feel scrolling through Instagram?" Kelly Knox explains to Grazia.
Shockingly, the last time a major UK publication featured a disabled female model on its cover was in 1998 with Nick Knight and Katy England's Fashion-Able cover of Dazed & Confused. Guest edited by Alexander McQueen and starring Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins, the issue tackled this previously unchartered territory within fashion. It was inspired by the late designer's belief that beauty can be found in extreme difference or individuality. So 20 years later, why is this move still considered ground-breaking?
Although Grazia's cover is a powerful symbol and gestures a movement towards disability diversity, the fashion industry still has a long way to go before it can be fully inclusive to those with disabilities. In addition to addressing negative attitudes and misconceptions, there are many practical issues facing disabled consumers as cover star Monique Jarrett illustrates in the accompanying feature 'We Deserve To Feel Part Of Fashion': "I've always loved fashion but I often have to appreciate it from afar. It's always the same: I see something I like in a shop window, go inside and ask if they have disabled changing rooms and watch the attendant's face fall as she tells me - no they don't. It's deflating but I force myself to be overly polite as I watch them freak out and try and get me into a regular changing room - where I already know my wheelchair won't fit."
Grazia's Big Fashion Issue is aiming to draw attention to the importance of placing all types of bodies in front of the camera. As Monique Jarrett says "We can all relate to fashion, don't leave us out of the conversation." It will be interesting to see how Grazia continues this progressive dialogue in its future editions.
Since its publication last month, I came across a profile on Lauren Wasser aka Fashion's Girl With the Golden Legs on Vogue.com. Lauren is a model and activist who recently returned to New York Fashion Week after losing both legs and overcoming toxic shock syndrome. Of her disability she explains, "I look like a warrior. I look like I just went through some crazy stuff and I survived. I feel like I can take on the world. In a business that is so perfect all of the time, and beauty's only shown in one way, I see it as an opportunity to highlight people in similar situations as myself, who have never been publicised especially in the fashion world". In addition to her modelling career, she is now working with American lawmakers and young women to raise awareness about toxic shock syndrome.
This month Lauren Wasser can be seen gracing the cover of ELLE Czech, and I'm sure it won't be long before other high profile covers come her way. We need to continue asking ourselves how traditional notions of beauty compare with the beauty of inner strength, power and survival?