For International Women’s Day, This Photographer Took Photos Of Women That Represent People With Disabilities And Visible Differences
For this year’s International Women’s Day, Zebedee, a modeling and talent agency that represents people with disabilities and visible differences, decided to have a special photoshoot, showcasing the real and unique beauty many of us tend to underappreciate.
“When it comes to gender equality, especially in media and the fashion industry, women with disabilities and visible differences often find themselves left out of the narrative,” says Zebedee. “Disabled people are the most underrepresented minority in the media, there are more fashion lines for pets than there are for people with disabilities, and 8 in 10 disabled people feel underrepresented.” The agency says that it is time to create true equality and fair representation for all women.
In the photoshoot, shot by photographer Shelley Richmond, 10 women shared their own experiences, giving us a unique glimpse at what it’s like to live with both visible and invisible disabilities. See the photos and their stories in the gallery below!
Photographer: Shelley Richmond
Art Direction: Zoe Proctor
HMUA: Jen Edwards & Kelly Richardson
All models represented by Zebedee
“I am Niamh, I am 20. I have ectodermal skin dysplasia, which is a name used to group closely related genetic disorders. Specifically, I have Hay-Wells syndrome. It is an extremely rare disorder. It causes abnormal development of ectodermal tissues including skin, hair, nails, teeth, and sweat glands. Most noticeably, it has caused a complete hair loss. Most who are diagnosed with my disorder are born without hair but I was born with hair. To me, International Women’s Day is a celebration of our gender and what we have achieved. It is not only about achieving equality but about feeling empowered in all that we have achieved as a community together. It is about standing as one, uniting to demonstrate the love we have for our gender. It is about doing whatever the hell we want to do with no judgment from each other, only celebration, respect, and love. IWD, Inclusion, and Diversity are important to me because I grew up always standing out from the crowd, feeling different. I got used to the stares and whispers but just because I was used to it doesn’t mean that I was comfortable with it. I wish that there was someone like me to look up to, to show me that I was and am beautiful and that I should love myself. I feel like the world has grown a lot in recent years and has become a lot more inclusive for everyone who feels ‘different.’ However, there is still a lot of room for improvement, we are all equal and everyone should feel like they belong. This photoshoot took me out of my comfort zone because I am extremely vulnerable, and it is showcasing all of my insecurities for the world to see. However, it made me feel so incredibly empowered, and it showed me a new way to look at myself which gave me a new appreciation and love for myself that I have never had before.”
“I use a wheelchair full-time and my disability is paraplegia, which also means I can’t stand or walk. When I was younger, I always struggled with my self-esteem and the perspective that I had of myself. I always felt like in the fashion industry I wasn’t represented, and I wanted to be a part of the movement towards creating a more inclusive world. I think this is why days like International Women’s Day are so important to show women that we are all beautiful, we are all worthy and all have things we struggle to accept about ourselves but that doesn’t take away from who we are or define us. I’m hoping by being a part of something amazing as a shoot for International Women’s Day, I’m helping women across the world accept themselves deeply and unconditionally. I’m hoping that I can help people embrace and love all the things that make them unique, instead of hating them.”
“I’m 20, my disability is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which I’ve had for almost 11 years now. I wasn’t born with my disability, instead, ME/CFS came into my life when I was 10 years old and it flipped my life upside down. Due to my condition, I need a wheelchair and I got my first one when I was 12. It’s been a long road getting my life back on track and being a part of positive campaigns like this one are a huge help. Where do I begin to talk about this day? I guess I’ll start with the fact that I am genuinely so proud of each of these beautiful women who took part in this shoot. We all had our reasons for doing this shoot but one thing that linked us all was the knowledge that this may help not only our confidences but those of other women, whether they have a disability/difference or not. I did this shoot because if I had seen this when I was growing up, I probably wouldn’t have been so hard on myself for trying to fit in because now I know, you don’t need to conform to fit in. We are all different and that is ok. In fact, it’s more than ok, it’s beautiful. No two people are the same and that’s the way Mother Nature intended us to be. Seeing myself in my natural form in the raw images reminded me that this is me and I am proud. I felt freed, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Yes, I felt nervous but that feeling soon dispersed into this magical moment. Being in front of the camera, with the fabric draped around me, I felt graceful combined with strength. Everything felt right. I think it’s easy to forget and fall into the loop of thinking you’re not good enough or you don’t look a certain way. When in reality, we need more celebrations of who we are and not get caught up in stigma. Personally, I’ve never felt more like myself in the body I’m in today, disability and all. I worked hard for this body, I’m not going to let anything take that away from me and if I ever feel like that again, I can just think back to those moments in the shoot where I felt the most beautiful, the most empowered.
To that moment when I looked at Shelley’s camera and went, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that’s me, I love that shot and genuinely mean it. The way Shelley captures me in these moments, translating Zoe and Laura’s beautiful visions for this shoot, I’m so thankful for. The vibes of the day were empowerment, feminity & softness. Being around this group of women from all different backgrounds and different ages felt like I had known them my whole life. As we sat around a really toasty fire, I just looked around with just the feeling of being so lucky. There was no awkwardness, there was no judgment, there were just uplifting words and female comradery.
And the group shots, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been apart of something like this before, incredible. The shoot was all about finding our inner strengths. Showing that we are strong but also delicate in such a stunning way that celebrates us as diverse women. In this one day, you could see us all grow and come into our own, which was beautiful. This day will forever stay with me. The memories, the feeling, and the photos. Photos can speak louder than words, this is why campaigns like #eachforequal are so important. We all didn’t come out of the same mold so why does society try and make us think that we did? We are beautifully unique, it’s time to embrace that! Sometimes in life you get to be apart of something incredible, this is one of them, I’m so grateful.”
“My name is Monique, I am 33 years young. I have a condition known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3, aka brittle bone disease, which means I can break my bones very easily, I suffer from fatigue, have extremely lax limbs, and I am of small stature (only 3’4″) and a full-time wheelchair user. International Women’s Day means so much to me. I’ve only been educated about this amazing day over the past couple of years, it’s a great day to celebrate all women no matter what their abilities, disabilities, or differences. I find that I’m usually seen as the woman last when people look at me: firstly, I’m disabled, then black, then, and only then, for those that don’t mistake me for a child, am I seen as a woman. After celebrating this day last year and realizing that only on this day I and many others had an amazing day just celebrating being women, I had to take part in this campaign to show that all women, no matter how different, should be celebrated, should be acknowledged, and should be seen as beautiful. If only one woman feels pride within themselves seeing this campaign, being in my birthday suit in front of others would have been so worth it.”
“My name is Cara and I’m 21 years old. I have a functional neurological disorder which affects all aspects of how my body should function and means I often use a wheelchair. Since becoming unwell, I had been so angry at my body for all it had taken away from me and the ways it had changed. Doing this shoot surrounded by the other beautiful Zebedee ladies, I finally felt pride in my body and beautiful not only despite my disability but because of it. I am proud of everyone involved in the shoot for taking international women’s day as an opportunity to empower and represent women often missed and show everyone deserves to be included and feel body positivity.”
“My name is Maya, I’m 19. I have a genetic nerve condition and scoliosis on my back. I’m also a manual wheelchair user. I feel International Women’s Day is so important to recognize and celebrate all the amazing achievements that different types of women have done all around the world. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where there is a lot of discrimination against women; however, International Women’s Day is an important step towards women’s equality and to slowly eliminating discrimination against women. Inclusion and diversity, especially in the media, matter so much to today’s society. The media is a reflection of our society and in a massive way, it also educates and influences the population. If there is a big lack of inclusion and diversity it can cause certain minorities to feel unimportant or different from the rest of society. Especially in the media, it is really vital that we have models/actors we can relate to. I know from personal experience that when I watch TV and there is a character who has a disability or when I open a magazine and there are models with disabilities’s/differences, I get a sense of empowerment and I feel more self-confident. Furthermore, if these minorities are getting media attention/representation it can cause the rest of society to be more accepting, empathetic, and inclusive towards these groups of people. The reason I got involved with this shoot is to have the opportunity to put myself out there, celebrate the gorgeous women in our society, and show the beauty in all different bodies. I also wanted to help anyone who is struggling with body confidence. In all honesty, this is one of the scariest things I have ever done but I am so grateful to have done it as it was one of the most freeing things. For over five years, I went through a battle of disliking my body as I knew my body shape was very different from my friends/family. I was especially self-conscious of my back and feet due to having multiple surgeries on both which caused a hump on my back and my feet to be deformed. By joining Zebedee Management and taking part in several projects like this shoot, I really have come to accept my body for what it is and find the beauty in it. I never thought that I would be able to do something like this and I hope that I can inspire others to take that step towards self-acceptance. The advice that I can give to anyone struggling with gender discrimination, self-acceptance, or body confidence is to try and celebrate your differences and put yourself out there. Maybe try posting a photo showing the part of you you feel self-conscious about? Make sure to surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are, and make you feel empowered to be yourself. Also, remember that you are not alone and there are so many people that you can reach out to who are going through the same experience. Most importantly, remember you are beautiful and matter so much in this world.”
“I am 65 and have a hearing disability. A hidden disability can prove difficult at times such as traveling, social occasions, etc. I don’t feel I should be embarrassed by my hearing aids any more—it’s who I am. I believe that when we look at another person, we should see the person first irrespective of age, size, ability, ethnicity or differences. We are all unique! I was delighted to take part in the photoshoot for IWD with Zebedee Management. Being myself and draped in cloth made me feel empowered, stronger as a woman, not being afraid to show who I am. It was a positive experience with lovely people. It is never too late to do something new. I want to celebrate womanhood and women who are strong and beautiful just like the Zebedee models.”
“My name is Clara, I am 39 years old. I have an inherited connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and I am a full-time wheelchair user. However, there is more to me than my condition, which is why I decided to take part in this campaign. I strongly believe inclusion and diversity matters, and it’s important that people feel/see that they are being represented in society, something I think there is a lack of now. I am a big supporter of body positivity, self-love, self-empowerment, and encouraging others to go after what their heart desires, regardless of their abilities. Because these ‘buzz words’ not just for the ‘able-bodied’ women who are a certain size, they are words for all women with all types of bodies everywhere.”
“#IWD. How much do you forget about them being a woman when they have a disability? I mean, should Kathleen be described as a woman who happens to have Down syndrome or someone with Down syndrome who happens to be a woman? It’s not as straightforward of an answer as you might think. Especially on IWD. On most days, just like on the day of that shoot, she’s definitely the former. But when it comes to having a voice, to fighting her corner, to processing the how’s and the why’s she might be shortchanged on the basis of her condition and/or her gender, well, she’s definitely the latter, and that’s when I take over. We all know normalization comes through representation, which comes through diversity, which comes through inclusion, which comes through awareness. It’s a loop. When it comes to women in general, I’m confident they’ve proved themselves through all that process. Although they must keep vigilant and remain on that loop. We went from seeing their gender before we saw their abilities to judging their abilities according to their gender to simply judging their abilities. The new generation doesn’t even notice the gender, they’re more concerned about the person and their abilities, as it should be. Throw a disability, or a condition, or a difference, visible or not, in that delicate mix, and, well, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Just like the sheer cloak of womanhood used to hide away a person’s abilities and confine them to a well-defined code of conduct, the sheer cloak of disability seems to be stripping them of their womanhood. That’s why it is important to see women like Kathleen and the other models represented in such campaigns so that they will remind or reveal to people that not only their condition or disability doesn’t make them any less of a woman, but that beyond it is the full range of feelings, emotions and urges of any other mainstream woman, the joys and sorrows, the longing and the disappointments, the need for validation and fulfillment. IWD has always been a great platform to expose some ginormous elephants in the room. This is one of them. So, let’s talk about it.
“My name is Gemma and I am a 25. I was born with congenital melanocytic naevus (CMN), in other words, hundreds of birthmarks of different sizes all over my body. I also underwent around 20 plastic surgeries for some of these as a baby, leaving me with some scarring and disfigurement. Like many girls, I struggled with my appearance at secondary school and used to cover up with clothes and make-up, passing on trips to the beach or swimming pool. Gradually, I started to embrace my differences—it’s still a journey but I have come a long way! International Women’s Day (IWD) is a fantastic opportunity for all of us to come together to celebrate the vast diversity, achievements, and experiences of women around the world. Sisterhood is an important concept to me—I feel lucky to have amazing girlfriends who will fiercely protect me, particularly if I ever face any discrimination or prejudice about the way I look. We share our highs and lows and are always there looking out for each other, working together to be our best selves. I work in a field that still has significant problems with gender inequality. Women make up 70% of the global health workforce but only 25% of the global health leadership positions. Events like IWD allow a platform to highlight these issues and facilitate progressive change. Through Zebedee, I am participating in this campaign to promote inclusivity and diversity, celebrate beauty in all its forms and recognize all the wonderful, hardworking women in this world!”