I’m honoured to have the opportunity to speak to Gemma Flanagan. Gemma is the Assistant Director for Models with Disabilities at Models of Diversity. She has a disability herself and here I ask her a few questions about the charity and about the latest campaign.
What is Models with Disabilities/Models of Diversity?
Models of Diversity was set up in 2008, by our amazing CEO Angel Sinclair.
Angel had a career as a model herself and realised the distinct lack of diversity within fashion and has ever since been campaigning for change.
Models of Diversity has gone from strength to strength each year and has had some major successes.
So much so that we were assigned charitable status at the start of 2016.
What is the recent petition about? When did it start and why did it start?
We launched our #disabilityfight4fashionright petition in September 2015 at Parliament.
We wanted to gain the support of the public.
We are four young women who all met through Models of Diversity and have all had to deal with disabilities late on in our lives, through various illnesses.
Why are you involved with the petition?
I discovered Models of Diversity in 2012 when I was recovering from an illness called Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) that totally changed my life and has left me with longstanding disabilities.
GBS is an autoimmune system disorder that attacks your peripheral nervous system.
It attacks the body from its extremities (fingers & toes) and then works inwards towards the vital organs.
It can be fatal or it can be quite minor.
There is no cure for it but there are various treatments to help slow down the effects of it.
In my case, at my worst I was totally paralysed, unable to speak or swallow and now at my best I’m in constant pain and unable to stand or walk unaided, so rely on a wheelchair most of the time.
I had to give up my job I loved as cabin crew.
I discovered Angel and I in turn found a new passion and a new confidence in myself.
Meeting Angel made me realise that I was still the same girl inside and just because my body may have changed, I could still be as glamorous and fashion loving as I was before.
How important is it that models are from a diverse background? Why?
Models are thrown into the public eye at every opportunity, through advertising campaigns, magazines, shop windows… everywhere we look there is a model advertising and trying to sell us something.
We need to set a much more positive message to the younger generation who are growing up in an image obsessed society with huge pressures on them.
Should a youngster with a disability not be given the right to see themselves in an advertisement or a shop window or in an advertising campaign?
And finally, what would you say to someone who has a diverse feature that wants to be a model?
As Assistant Director for the disability section of Models of Diversity, part of my role is to speak with aspiring models.
I always encourage them to follow there dreams but also give realistic advice and share my experiences with them.
Models regardless of diversity, still need to be able to work as models and with that comes certain traits that a person needs to have.
Modelling is a tough business especially for a more diverse model, and they need to be aware of that.
Confidence plays a massive part as if you don’t believe in yourself then it is going to be hard for others to believe, a thick skin goes a long way as you won’t get every job you go and often face more rejection than reward, so you need to be able to handle the critique as well as the compliments.
On the whole, personality and attitude is the one thing that will make model stand apart from the others, as you need to be able to get on with so many people from different walks of life.
I would say to anyone if you think you have what it takes to be a model then seek advice on what it actually involves and then see if it is for you.
Being diverse should not hold anyone back from following their dreams of being a model but also on the other hand it isn’t a golden ticket to be able to make it as a model either.
We are working so hard to change people’s attitudes towards being a disabled model.
You can sign and share the petition here.