Fashion, for many is their passion, their life. For others, the fashion industry might seem as superficial. In this world, it is very typical to find perfect looking models, long, lean, great bodies, people who all around seem to “have it amazingly together,” and usually full abilities. You don’t expect to see people in wheelchairs or with disabilities, but why not?? We are just as part of society, part of the consumers… And at times we are even part of the creative team and it is TIME THAT PEOPLE SEE US. Seeing people who might have a disability more and more as part of this world would be very influential and help many people become more accepting of those differently-abled.
THAT’S how I feel and is also what I’m trying to do in life! That’s why I ask that you please read this blog post.
For so long under so many different circumstances, not just fashion, I’ve questioned, “why are we not seeing people in wheelchairs or more differently-abled?” Especially in the U.S. I feel that we are honestly staying behind, as other countries worldwide are moving towards what is called “disability inclusion” simply including people with disabilities in fashion and in other industries… Why is that? I believe the number one reason is as we say, “out of sight, out of mind.” We need to be seen more, basically! But of course, a huge reason is prejudgments, people’s perceptions of people with disabilities such as not being competent, able enough, etc., And maybe many of us have not challenged these perceptions enough or certain industries’ prejudgments…
So what happens when Fashion Week Los Angeles sees someone fashionable, rolling proudly in a wheelchair? Well it makes for a very interesting experience and conversation because this is a world that is not used to seeing people like me, for many reasons I’m sure… As a matter of fact, I was the only one in a wheelchair at this event. So yes, people seemed surprised when they first saw me. I can understand why. But my biggest point is it shouldn’t be like this!
Fashion is something I’ve always loved, ever since I was little. I liked being somewhat of a trendsetter. So my attendance to Fashion Week LA can make some sense. However, my journey to Fashion Week LA *and as a host is not that simple…
After I had an accident and became paralyzed, I still loved clothes and yes, I still wanted to be fashionable. I’m sure a lot of people would agree on that with me; just because I’m now in a wheelchair, not able to walk, does not mean I no longer want to look good, be in shape, feel good about myself and that includes wearing clothes I like and that make me feel good. Whether you realize it or not, clothes have that effect; they can make you feel beautiful, sexy, powerful, cool, just give you that “swag” or all the opposites. And still, we need more brands to consider being “adaptive clothing” to consider, explore and implement the many different adaptations that can be done to clothing, and sometimes little changes or adaptations but that can make people’s lives with disabilities, more independent, better, such as making dressing themselves possible or simply easier.
After getting my bachelor’s degree in communication, and after a lot of sacrifices, I moved to LA just some months ago, all to grow in my hosting and modeling career. Shortly after that I started hosting my own show called “Beauty on wheels” a beauty and fashion segment, on LATV’s network and co-produced with Cosme Reyes. One of my goals became to cover fashion week in LA for Beauty on Wheels, to highlight some of the fashion that is being showcased in LA! I knew I wanted to “make that happen” for sure!
I reached out to Fashion Week LA, and explained about the segment I host and expressed my interest in covering their event. I later got a call saying I would have full press pass and that I was also invited to be a panelist for a beauty panel called “face it” . For me, to be in a world that normally doesn’t see disAbility and to be given that platform and speak from my perspective and my take on beauty became very important and interesting also.
As a panelist on the runway, in a wheelchair, as a panelist who’s had to face adversity and learn how to live life in a wheelchair I said, “the media, ads etc., constantly bombard us with information about how to be perfect, be flawless, etc, but let’s face it, no one is perfect. We have to stop striving to be perfect and instead embrace our own beauty and embrace different types of beauty… And being here as a model and host, in a wheelchair, something we normally don’t see in these worlds, means a lot to me because we should see more people like me! It’s about time! We need more disability inclusion and true diversity! Fashion is for all so therefore we should see more people like me or with different abilities and it should not be a shocking factor…”
*But the sad thing is that not everyone is as willing and as open to incorporate models and/or people with different abilities in different settings.
I can tell you and be sure of that because, unfortunately, in the last few months, living here in LA, specifically as a model and host on wheels, I have faced discrimination, simply for the fact that I’m in a wheelchair, sadly… At times not even given a chance, without even knowing what I look like, just based on prejudgments and ruling me out for the simple fact that I’m in a wheelchair. And it’s made me wonder, “am I supposed to not tell people that I’m in a wheelchair so I’m not discriminated?”
But my WHEELCHAIR IS PART OF ME SO I SHOULD NEVER HIDE IT! I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SO I’M NOT DISCRIMINATED UPON. And that hasn’t been easy for me to accept… To see that in this day in age there are still so many close minded people in the U.S. has been difficult to process.
I’m a woman who is up for challenges and I like breaking stereotypes etc. So knowing what I’m trying to accomplish as a host and model in a wheelchair is somewhat of a challenge, makes it interesting and pushes me to go forward to also, hopefully, pave the way for others. But at the same time, I’m not okay with now knowing that some doors have been completely shut for the only fact that I am in a wheelchair. It has hurt me to know some people seriously have not given me a chance just for that reason. You can say, no to me. “you are not where we want our models, hosts, etc to be at,” but don’t be so close-minded to not even give me a fair shot just because I live life in a wheelchair!
In 2016, we must not be so closed off, so ignorant! So I wanted to use these negative experiences to propel me forward in a positive way, which is why I’m sharing this and launching a campaign!
If all this is new to you let me ask you, how would you like to not even be given an opportunity, a fair shot, just because you do things differently or because you might look different than most people? It’s not okay.
There must be more ACCEPTANCE, TOLERANCE, and DIVERSITY INCLUSION. In the end, this is really not just about being open to “including” but about #EQUALITY!
This is what I want:
I want to get people to open up their hearts and minds and see that there’s ABILITY in the word “disability” to see in the word “disabled” the word ABLE exists! In a nutshell, despite the fact I cannot walk, despite I get around on two wheels, I can still show what I’m capable of and that I can still do everything… but simply in a different way. And that my way of doing things is not any better or worse; it’s just different!
BUT I’m still ABLE TO DO EVERYTHING, HOST, MODEL AND JUST GO AFTER ALL I’VE EVER WANTED AND DREAMED OF.
For all this, I will be launching a campaign to get people to see this! It will raise awareness about all the prejudgements that we have to fight to hopefully, open up more opportunities for people in wheelchairs and fight against discrimination. More details on that campaign will be coming. But the goal of that campaign will be real inclusion and opportunities for those in a wheelchair, to be considered seriously and professionally.
No one in this world should be so foreign to people with different abilities, because anyone of us, can acquire a disability at any time. No one is exempt from that… So no one should feel excluded from this world. We’re all part of it. That’s why it’s important for me to represent the millions of people living in wheelchairs around the world!
My experience at Fashion Week LA rolling proudly, hosting interviewing etc was great, all in all very positive., thankfully . Not everything or everyone is close minded. You can certainly picture looks of complete surprise, without a doubt. And I get it; it’s new. I couldn’t take those looks personal when I’m the only one on wheels there. The designers were all wonderful. But the majority of them did seem surprised that I was there as a host and interviewer. Some seemed more surprised than others, but it usually just took them a second to warm up to the idea.
But it’s great that people at events like this can see a person in a wheelchair as a professional, able to still do so much, and that my wheels just help me get around . Perhaps some people still think people in wheelchairs are not as able or competent or at least is what some people would assume, but I truly hope I showed them quite a different story.
I want people to take this with them, just because you are now limited in a certain way, it does not mean you can’t do things in a whole new way. Sometimes you just have to open up to that thought.
Can you picture a host or interviewer interviewing a fashion designer on the red carpet, sitting down? It’s something we have not seen much all together, but it is possible!!
Why not?! It’s different, yes! I’ve had to accept and embrace those differences myself first; just be comfortable in my own skin, be confident in my skills, and then encourage people to see and accept those differences also. So here are a few pictures for you to get a good visual of the designers sitting with me on the pink carpet as I interview them.
Who said your life is over if you end up in a wheelchair? Or Who said you can’t go after your dreams and passion if you are different or if you have to do things in a different way??
Seeing people interested in my abilities as a host and public speaker was a big accomplishment. One of my highlights was interviewing the CEO of FWLA, Gio Ferrigno. I wanted to interview a person from their team for our show. At this point they had seen me around the event, covering, I had been a panelist so they had seen me as a public speaker. They said, Gio, their CEO, would give me the interview, even though he typically doesn’t give interviews. Not only was that a great honor, but I also interviewed him on the runway, publicly, and towards the end of our interview I said to him, “I believe fashion is for all, do you agree?” he agreed and even invited me to model on their runway, next season! Talk about an amazingly positive experience. It’s awesome when others are ready to expand!
*If I were to ask anything out of anyone is give me a chance, let me show you what I can do and just be open with collaborating with me, incorporating my differences. A great example of this is what fashion week LA did #FWLA! They not only were open to have a host on wheels, but saw another opportunity, inviting me as a guest, as the host of beauty on Wheels, and I was even invited on stage to model on their next runway!
They have been open to seeing and incorporating differences, but we need many more people to see this, more organizations, more people in wheelchairs to be seen, more people doing things differently! Sadly, not everyone is ready to embrace differences… But with this post, I hope we can change people’s minds and become more #accepting of #differences.
* Next time you are faced with someone who looks different than what you’re used to, PLEASE don’t close your mind to it and much less discriminate that individual. You’d be surprised all people CAN ACCOMPLISH REGARDLESS OF THEIR DIFFERENCES! So thumbs up to that!
OUR BIGGEST TOOL IS INFORMATION, MAKING PEOPLE AWARE OF ALL OF THIS. SO PLEASE SHARE THIS BLOG POST IF YOU AGREE WITH ANY OF THIS… AND THANK YOU!!!
SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL OF THE WONDERFUL PEOPLE AT FASHION WEEK LA and LATV, Co-Producer and Editor, COSME REYES, AND ALL OF YOU WHO IN ANY WAY WERE PART OF THIS EXPERIENCE WITH ME!
I’m passionate about making a difference, and sharing my talents and abilities to empower others! So I am VERY excited to announce that I just became an ambassador for Runway of Dreams, runwayofdreams.org, a nonprofit organization working with the fashion industry to adapt mainstream clothing for the differently-abled community. Something I’m very passionate about! I am also a new curator for cur8able.com, curating fashion for those with disabilities. And I am also one of the models for the Raw Beauty Project LA, therawbeautyproject.com, changing the way people see women with disABILITIES! Stay tuned for the details about the photo exhibit in LA so you can support the Raw Beauty LA!
And as an ambassador for Red Bull’s Wings For Life World Run, I will be participating again in the third world run on May 8th 2016, for a near and dear cause to me -spinal cord injuries- raising awareness and funds for SCI Research. Don’t miss the chance to run for those who can’t or support in any way, register at www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com. After you’ve registered to run, you can sign up on my team! Please run with me from wherever you are in the world #teamTamaraMena and it doesn’t matter how far you get, but that we do it together for a great cause!
If you are a photographer, videographer, organization, etc., interested in working with me, please send me an email through the booking request form on this website!
Be sure to check out some of MY COVERAGE WITH BEAUTY ON WHEELS AT FWLA IN THIS VIDEO:
https://youtu.be/Z8PLMlFEOXo Feel free to SHARE PLEASE!!!!
*More details on that campaign will be coming, stay tuned!
*Be sure to check all of my interviews with different designers at Fashion Week LA with Beauty on Wheels:
Fashion for men too, Konus, https://youtu.be/dwh2yBZuIUk
PLEASE SHARE ALL OF THIS! – THANKS A MILLION FOR THE SUPPORT!!!
Tamara Mena, Host of Beauty on Wheels, model and motivational speaker.