Disability, Fashion -


Bonjour fashion,

This is an open letter from a concerned friend.

I think you’ve gone a tad off the rails, darling, and – as Taylor Swift half-spoke, half-sang recently – you need to calm down.

Like Shia LaBoeuf, you make many faux pas in between your moments of genius. But it has to be said, you are harmful in a way that he is not.

So, I need you to read this message:

Please, for the love of God/evolutionary science, stop using illness as an accessory. Whether mental or physical, it is not and never will be okay. It undermines the real-life experience of millions of people worldwide who have to negotiate their lives under the weight of an illness.

Whether it’s airbrushing out able-bodied model’s limbs to make them look like amputees (why not just use a model with a limb difference) or posing that Kardashian/Jenner girl (sorry, I don’t know the different ones) in a wheelchair for some BDSM photo shoot (again, why not use a wheelchair model, seriously?) there’s no excuse. You’ve been doing this for a while now and, frankly darling, people are starting to talk.

I thought the wheelchair thing was as pretentious and tone-deaf as you could get, but I was wrong, wasn’t I? That’s why we’ve just witnessed models wearing t-shirts reading ‘SICK’, pushing IV drip bags down the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week.

A model holding onto an IV drip walks down a catwalk in a t-shirt that reads 'SICK'

Not everyone is happy to silently tolerate your bullshit.

And it comes hot on the Gucci heels of the weird, airport escalator display of straitjacket-wearing models at Milan Fashion Week. And I know you’ll say they were making a statement about the repressiveness and forced uniformity created by society and the media, but not everyone believes you. Ayesha Tan Jones – one of Gucci’s models – even protested during the show, writing, “Mental health is not fashion” on her palms and holding them up for everyone to see. 

Please stop using illness as a way to be edgy. It’s not glamorous having an eating disorder – standing in the light of the fridge eating without feeling anything until you suddenly feel everything. Grabbing the sides of the sink as you frantically try to remedy your mistake. You know, bulimia is one of the conditions most likely to cause heart attacks in young people. And the electrolyte imbalances it causes might be remedied by an IV drip, but is this the kind of image - the kind of reality - you want to accessorize with?

And you can pose non-disabled models with mobility aids without having to actually understand the reality of being disabled by the world around you. The humiliation of not being able to access venues, products and services that everyone else can because this world is not designed with you in mind. Sexing this up by using a super privileged, thin, able model is the height of new lows.

So, fashion, darling, can you please have a little word with yourself? You’ve done so many positive things - made so many impactful statements about the wrongs in society - and I feel so disappointed when you undo this good work. You can make a difference but exploiting and accessorising with illness is simply not the way to do it.

Thanks for reading, darling. See you at brunch.


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