Monday, 29 March 2010

Debenhams, Disability & Dolls

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks since the Debenhams launch. Along with all the press I’ve been doing I’ve also had to continue to juggle my full time day job and law school, which hasn’t left me very much time for blogging. I’ve received really positive feedback from people for which I’m very appreciative, it’s been really good to know that it has touched other women, both those with a disability and those without. I was asked dozens of questions in interviews which I endeavoured to answer as honestly and accurately as possible, but there are always time limits and word counts to work around. I thought I’d use this blog as an opportunity to add a few things.

Let me begin by saying I love fashion, I love make up, I love jewellery, I love magazines, I love looking at beautiful or striking images and I love even more having the good fortune to work with photographers, stylists, hair and make up artists to create strong bold beautiful images. I’m well aware that fashion is a billion pound industry, not a charity. Millions of pounds are spent from start to finish; clothes and accessories are designed, manufactured, advertised with beautiful and aspirational images and sold in stores. We are all buying into to a little piece of a lifestyle that makes us look and feel better. How often have you bought a gorgeous evening gown with no special event in the diary but a hope that if you buy it, the event will come? These aspirational purchases are a joy and made complete when you finally get to wear the dress to an event sometime later.

Disabled women are fashion consumers too, like other women we fund the industry with our purchases, we also want to look good, feel good and buy into the trends or tribes with which we most identify. Young people growing up frequently want to belong to some kind of social group or niche and this applies equally to young people with disabilities who are too often isolated because of stereotypical prejudices of disability and assumptions that we must all want to hang out with each other so we can compare wheelchairs/ sticks/prosthesis/hearing aids. We don’t. It’s human nature to veer towards those you identify with most, and I guess I don’t identify myself primarily as a wheelchair user; it’s just an aspect of me, not the entirety,

It’s this aspect of seeing someone to identify with that I think it important. As a child I had dark brown hair (I’m currently blonde) and I can remember being incredibly excited and envious when my cousin arrived on holiday with a brunette Barbie!! This was like the Holy Grail of dolls; I loved playing with her for a week and was devastated when my cousin returned to South Africa taking her dark haired, enchanting Barbie with her. Every girl sub consciously identifies with someone growing up, all my dolls were brunette except Barbie, my favourite Charlie’s Angel was Kelly because she was the one I identified with and most wanted to emulate. (Though funnily enough I’ve never really had the desire to sign up to the LAPD and work for Blake Carrington’s voice on loudspeaker!)

Many women young and old feel under increasing pressure to try and match the perfection that is in magazines and advertising, I’m not suggesting brands should use less aesthetically attractive or obese models, I realise they need their brands to sell, they create illusions of perfection that we try to attain. I’m simply saying if there was more diversity in the models used, then more women would see images they could identify with rather than feel inadequate in comparison. There needs to be a balance, for every 16 year old size zero model, there should be a 26 year old size 14 model. Let’s remember who has greater spending power, women in their 30s and 40s have a greater disposable income to spend on clothes and accessories than teenagers and students in their 20s. I’ve asked dozens of women for their opinion and they all say they want to see more women in magazines not young teenage girls. They also said we should be giving younger girls a richer and more diverse group of role models rather than women like Katie Price, WAGs and Big Brother contestants who keep plastic surgeons in business; it’s all too easy to temporarily cash in on beauty and sexuality when you’re young…not so easy when you get older.

It would be nice to see images for more women to aspire to and connect with; so often disability is featured in the media to report on the Paralympics, hate crimes or euthanasia; It’s not that these aren’t worthy of media attention, just that there are many more dimensions to disability than that small sample. I think it is essential to see more healthy, vibrant, interesting and vivacious people with disabilities. The more diverse representation there is, the more normalised it will become.

Obviously I think what Debenhams have done is great and hope other high street retailers follow suit, but I think it’s a while before we’ll see the wheelchair being referred to in the fashion singular by Karl….

”Hmm…I know what this divine creation is missing darling…it needs a sexy wheel to accentuate the curves…”

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Just home from a brilliant busy day, a really great photoshoot.
I can't go into much detail yet, not until after the launch next week, but suffice to say it was a first....

There was a fabulous crew on board, everyone was so lovely and supportive.
Usually I don't feel particularly nervous ahead of photo shoots, I've been modelling for over 14 years, but this time it was different. It is a first and as I was getting ready in hair and make up, the potential of this shoot really struck me ; another small step towards inclusion and representation of disability. I hope the images challenge a few misconceptions about disability; it's been a long time coming.

More to come next week....

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

More on Naked Tonight

There is more of Gok helping another woman feel fabulous tonight and little bit more of me too....

How to Look Good Naked With a Difference.

Channel 4, 8pm Tuesday 26 January.

Please sign our Naked petition

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

How to Look Good Naked With a Difference

I mentioned in a previous blog that I'd been busy with a great opportunity, and I'm pleased to say that some of it is on television tonight. Late last year I was offered the chance to participate in "How to Look Good Naked With a Difference" and I jumped at the chance. I've watched the programmes before and have appreciated how much attention Gok Wan pays to rebuilding self esteem and re educating women to see the best in themselves.

I do feel very strongly that negative body image is a big problem for disabled women. Millions of able bodied women complain about trying to strive for physical perfection through diets, exercise and plastic surgery; but what about us disabled women for whom there is no quick fix through those routes? We have to learn accept what we have and make the very best of it. I think that makes us pretty strong, formidable, sexy women.

And who dictates what physical perfection is? Who is our judge & jury? Is there some illusive organisation that dictates who is imperfect? Or is it just us as women running ourselves down? As a disabled model I often feel under scrutiny, but not because I'm paraplegic with no stomach muscles, but because in recent years I've put on weight. That has caused me more stress before stripping for a shoot than being paralysed in front of the camera ever did! We need to learn to love our bodies for the fabulous machines that they are; love every lump, bump, scar, stump, slack muscle, stretch mark, rebuilt bones. They all tell a story and contribute to the women we are; pretty damn perfect!

I haven't seen the final edit so I'll be watching tonight, but I had a brilliant time during filming, everyone involved was great to work with and it was a joy to collaborate with two gorgeous and talented disabled presenters Natasha Wood and Nikki Fox.

Hope you enjoy - Channel 4 8pm Tuesday 19 January


Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Alternate Blog

I know some of you have mentioned experiencing problems following/subscribing or commenting on my blog without a Googlemail account. With this in mind I have set up another blog on Wordpress, they'll both say the exact same stuff so don't worry I'm not expecting people to read both!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Plump Pout!

Haha! It was worth the teasing as a child!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Firstly I feel like I should apologise to anyone who actually reads this blog; I intended to be a regular blogger, not someone who half heartedly thinking up random things to write about once every 6 months. Anyway, first 2010 resolution is obviously to blog with regularity!

In late November an offer came my way which was too good an opportunity to refuse, (more next week) and that along with my full time day job, law school and the madness that is December left me with little time to write an intelligible and articulate blog. There have been lots of things that I've read or watched which have made me want to log in and write or rant but without the luxury of time they would have been incoherent ramblings.

One of the things I did do was a brief appearance on Channel 5 News and "Live from Studio 5" talking about the use of able bodied actors in disabled roles. If you missed it, here it is:

Whilst I realise there are instances when it is acceptable to use an able bodied actor (a big budget film which needs to guarantee large box office receipts will cast a well known actor, or a script where the character acquires their disability some way through the film). As an actor I know most of us love playing the most challenging roles that are far removed from who we are, and playing a disabled character would be an incredibly challenging and rewarding (and awarding!) opportunity. Without those instances we'd never have seen the brilliant performances by Daniel Day-Lewis as Christie Brown in "My Left Foot", Tom Cruise in "Born on the 4th of July" and Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby".

However, as a disabled actress I am against regularly casting able bodied actors in disabled roles; the work is just so thin on the ground, and though I know that is the case for the majority of able bodied actors too, I think it is only fair that if they can audition for disabled characters then equally we should be able to audition for characters where there is no explicit mention of a disability. Some casting directors have said there isn't a large pool of talented disabled actors from which to cast, this is largely due to the fact that until recent years, most drama courses were in buildings without sufficient facilities for disabled students. But this is also in part because the roles are so few, we aren't cast frequently enough to build on experience; there really needs to be more work done to nurture disabled talent so we can prove we've got what it takes.

That is why it was so great to watch "Cast Offs" on Channel 4 last month, finally a more positive and honest take on disability. Strong, well written and entertaining characters with diverse relationships on and off the island.

Why, it even had sex and disability....the last taboo!
Much more on that in a future blog. Until then, I wish you lots of good things in 2010.