Model With Bionic Arm Hits the Catwalk

The conventional view of models is that they’re white, slim and lanky, with shampoo-commercial hair, compelling eyes and flawless bodies, embodying a cultural ideal of female beauty. That’s finally starting to change, however, with some modeling agencies accepting more diverse models, like plus size model Tess Holliday for MiLK.

While the majority of women on the catwalk today still resemble the “model” stereotype, more disabled people, people of color, plus size women and other diverse bodies are showcasing fashion even at elite shows like those seen during New York Fashion Week, one of the premiere events in the global fashion industry. This week, model Rebekah Marine will be among those representing diversity on the runway — she calls herself the “bionic model” after the i-limb quantum prosthesis she proudly wears on her right arm.

Marine always wanted to be a model, but she was told that her disability excluded her from the industry at casting call after casting call. She kept pushing, however, and the growing interest in diversity has created opportunities for her where doors were slammed in her face before. Before she made her break into fashion, she struggled with various prosthetic limbs, a common problem for amputees looking for the right fit; she was born missing the lower part of her right arm, and the prosthetic limbs she wore during childhood were clunky and difficult to wear, even in the case of those with crude gesture-based bionic controls like those used in the i-limb quantum. When she finally found a prosthesis that worked for her body, it also gave her confidence, and she went from hiding her disability to flaunting it.

The stunning woman has represented Nordstrom’s and appeared earlier this year in February’s New York Fashion Week. This year, she’ll be walking with a handful of other disabled models, reflecting the fact that some agencies and designers are starting to grow more interested in working with the disability community. She notes that with some 20 percent of the population living with disability, it’s important to see representation on the catwalk and in fashion — disabled people like dressing up too, and have an interest in high-concept fashion, ready to wear collections and custom garments alike. Living with disability can be challenging when people who look like you don’t appear anywhere in media and pop culture, and Marine’s appearance on the catwalk is important for disabled people of all ages, but especially children, who are used to being told they can’t pursue the careers they’re interested in.

For many, models represent the peak of beauty, and Marine is illustrating that diverse bodies are beautiful. Her work with Models of Diversity highlights the need for more diverse representations in fashion, including not just disabled people but also more women of color and others who don’t fit within the familiar model standard. Critically, increasing diverse representation also decreases the use of disabled models in flashy publicity stunts designed to get attention without actually contributing to progress in terms of diverse representations. Marine and models like her show that diverse people can neutrally represent fashion without needing to be singled out — her role on the catwalk, like that of all other models, is to showcase new developments in the industry.

In addition to modeling, Marine is also an ambassador for the Lucky Fin Project, an organization that works with children who have experienced limb loss as a result of congenital conditions. The organization promotes acceptance, supports parents, and provides education on congenital limb loss. In addition, it offers financial assistance to help children attend camps and other events aimed at other disabled kids so they can spend time with people who share similar experiences and interests. The group also provides assistance to children who cannot afford prosthetic limbs or need help finding models that are suitable for their needs, as a prosthesis can potentially cost upwards of $10,000, a challenge even with insurance.

Photo credit: BitchBuzz

59 comments

Cindy S
Cindy Smith8 months ago

cool

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Danuta W
Danuta W8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago

Noted

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Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

If she's happy, I'm happy.
I don't care much about fashion.

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Catrin NoForwardsPlease

Diversity.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thanks

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Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Cathleen K.
Cathleen K3 years ago

Um, I clicked on this article because I wanted to see a picture of the model, and I doubt I'm alone. And no, I didn't bother to read it looking for a link because I'm not very interested in fashion models.

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Jan N.
Jan N3 years ago

Diversity is one thing, but I fail to see how a model with down syndrome or a prosthesis or who's in a wheelchair is of a benefit to the designer. Models are supposed to be the clothes hangers for the garments, not the focus of attention. I am especially confused by the model in a wheelchair; you can't show off the clothes to full advantage when you're sitting down.

My two cents, since I don't really care. I'm not into fashion, so if the designers want to use someone "different" go for it.

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