“I didn’t really have any disabled role models when I was younger, I can remember reading magazines and watching television and never really seeing anyone in a wheelchair modelling clothes or presenting and feeling very down about it,” says Sophie Bradbury-Cox, who has spinal muscular atrophy type three, is a wheelchair user and absolutely loves colour.
She posts images of herself in bright colours, stripes and polka dots, out and about in Northampton on Instagram and is hoping to get into the fashion industry. “There are more disabled people who are appearing within media on television, for example. It’s a different matter when it comes to the fashion world as disabled models on catwalks or in advertising campaigns are very rare,” she says.
Disability is drastically underrepresented in all aspects of the media. The importance of representation cannot be understated – when you don’t see anyone who looks like you, you can feel isolated and out of place. “Disability is not reflected in the media to anywhere near the degree that it exists in society, but because of some concerted efforts there are a few brands who are starting to explore that side of diversity through their advertising,” says Danni Gordon, a body positive advocate at The Chachi Power Project.
With brands like River Island and Tommy Hilfiger creating adaptive clothing and producing high profile campaigns, the lack of diversity is set to change, especially when businesses realise the power of the purple pound. But the media landscape has changed with the advent of social media, in good ways and bad. Social media is one of the main culprits when it comes to a lack of body confidence, especially in young people. When you idly scroll through your iPhone, you consume approximately 60,000 images a day.
While it’s impossible to remember every single thing you saw, the message seeps into your brain that there is a certain way to look: we’re bombarded with images of ‘perfection’ that are unattainable. It’s important not to fall down a rabbit hole of imagery which makes you feel bad about yourself, and instead seek out media that encourages, enables and inspires.
“My tip would be to curate all the media that you are able to. You need to be in control of how you feed your eyes and your mind,” says Danni. Don’t endlessly look at pictures of fashion models, instead check out #bodypositivity on Instagram and look at a diverse range of bodies.
“Immerse yourself in a body positive world. I’ve retrained my brain to normalise different bodies of all shapes and sizes and abilities by altering what my eyes see every day,” she says. Small steps to change your mindset can have a big impact. Danni advocates making a choice to stop being so judgemental as the biggest change. It can be hard to change the way you think, but when you do, it changes everything.
Social media is a game changer when it comes to representation: it’s a great leveller, and gives a platform to people who otherwise may have gone unheard. “I think Instagram is a fantastic platform for people with a huge array of body types and disabilities to create their own space to show who they are and to inspire others,” says Sophie. “I think it’s so important that body diversity is recognised within the media because no one is the same and that’s what makes us unique.”
Sophie’s presence on social media isn’t just about showcasing her favourite outfits. Her thoughtfully curated Instagram presence shows a full and colourful life of someone who is enjoying herself. “I want to be positive and confident on social media to show other disabled people that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and if you love fashion and clothing, then you should be who you want to be and dress how you want to,” she says.
Fashion is clearly a big part of Sophie’s life. “My sense of fashion is very important to my identity; I love fashion and I love wearing clothing that makes me feel confident,” she says. “I like to wear a lot of leggings, jeggings and dresses as they are usually the easiest to get on and off.” Fashion can seem like a trivial thing, but wearing clothes that express yourself, that you feel good and comfortable in, can be the start of your confidence journey. Whether you love to wear sharp suits or colourful dresses, fashion can be an inclusive way to showcase your personality.
In a world that judges disabled people at first glance, it’s important to feel proud of your accomplishments – whatever they are – and who you are. Sophie’s attitude is refreshingly positive and as bright as her fashion taste. “I’m proud of my disability because I feel like people do judge wheelchair users, they see someone who they may feel sorry for or pity and I believe that it shouldn’t be the case,” she says.
No one who has seen Sophie’s Instagram feed, however, would ever think that her life was in any way lacking. “I feel like I probably am quite naturally confident because I am really proud of being disabled and I’ve never wanted it to get in the way of anything I’ve wanted to do,” she says. Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards disabled people are still prevalent in the UK. According to Scope: 32% of disabled people reported that they feel targeted.
Shockingly, 67% of nondisabled people feel awkward talking to disabled people. It’s a situation that needs to change. “People in wheelchairs or disabled people in general are no less valuable in society than non-disabled people,” says Sophie. “I’m proud because of how I come across. I have achieved things I never thought possible when I was younger like driving or owning my own home. I think that’s because I’ve always wanted to have independence and push for a life that may be classed as ‘normal’.”
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