One of the rarest sights on the planet is a model in a wheelchair on a runway the entire fashion universe is watching. An up-and-coming designer recently broke the pattern.
Our idea of body image is changing, often for the better, with a huge push towards allowing young girls (and boys) to be more comfortable in their own skin and be happy with the body they have, rather than pursuing an unrealistic version of beauty. Even NBC’s Today show ran a week-long series kicking off a “Love Your Selfie” campaign, which highlighted concepts such as “No Makeup Monday” (the staff went without makeup for a segment), the effects of Photoshopping on magazine photos, and the tricks weight-loss companies play with “before” and “after” photos.
In the past, Fashion Week runways featured only models whom designers believed showed new styles to their best advantage—tall, willowy women with long, seemingly never-ending legs and a “cat” walk that never varies from model to model.
There is, however, one area where body type is beginning to feel the warmth of the spotlight, and that’s the growing demographic of people with disabilities. Recently, during 2014 New York Fashion Week, a bold wheelchair-bound doctor with spinal muscular atrophy “strutted” the runway in her motorized wheelchair.
Designer Carrie Hammer invited Dr. Danielle Sheypuk to model new clothing designs in Hammer’s fashion show during the fashion week campaign.
“I was invited by the designer Carrie Hammer to be in her first runway show, and she used role models as the models on the runway, so they were influential females in the community.” Dr. Sheypuk said. “I have my Ph.D. in clinical psychology so I’m a psychologist that works with adults, and my daytime job is at a clinic, and I work with individuals with chronic and persistent mental illness.”
At 35, Dr. Sheypuk is thrilled to be cast in this light and is eager to increase awareness regarding the long-running lack of people with disabilities in magazines or ad campaigns.
“I remember reading fashion magazines throughout my teenage years, and even now I still do it on a daily basis, and I never see anyone in a wheelchair,” she said. “[As] a reader it makes you feel excluded. It makes you feel like, ‘OK, I’m not really a part of it,’ when we’re consumers like everyone else.”
She goes on to say, “I want to change the image of people with disabilities. They’re really prevalent and they’re really negative. And they include things like if you have a physical disability you’re not sexy, you’re not glamorous, you’re not stylish, and that’s simply not true.”
Dr. Sheypuk is no stranger to the runway, having previously been Miss Wheelchair NY, but she hopes that the recent increase in visibility for people with disabilities will open up more opportunities for this underserved demographic in the fashion industry.
“I mean, it’s 2014 and this community—we’re educated, we’re professionals, we’re married. We have children. We’re single. We’re dating. We’ve been integrated into a lot of areas except this one area, so I hope to really change that image,” she said. “I think it would have a huge impact on the well-being of our whole community.”
Between television appearances and her clinical psychology practice, Dr. Sheypuk is always on the go. Watch the videos to see how Dr. Sheypuk is bringing the beauty of people in wheelchairs to the world! If you were a runway model, whose clothes would you want to roll out?