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Teen Vogue expands modeling industry’s inclusivity

Teen Vogue displays disabled models as queens.
Illustration: Jeremy Holder · The Sentry

Magazine shows different types of physical ability

wave of diversity is sweeping across movies and television shows by casting members across the entire skin color spectrum. The September issue of Teen Vogue is now taking diversity a step further by not only featuring models who represent the entire color spectrum but who also have disabilities, giving readers of the magazine relatable role models they can look up to with the tagline “The New Faces of Fashion.”

In one of their many threads on Twitter regarding this month’s issue, Teen Vogue tweeted: “Modeling has historically relied on a rigid set of ideals of beauty: thin, able-bodied, white, and tall. Our September cover stars @jilly_peppa, @mama_cax, and #ChelseaWerner [who] are at the forefront of a much-needed shift in the industry.” 

This kind of thought process has the potential to break ground in the modeling industry by slowly ridding the stereotypes affiliated with it.

Each of the three models has a different disability, but they don’t overshadow the beauty that each model radiates in their pictures. 

Jillian Mercado is a woman of color who has been diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy, causing her to be in a wheelchair. She is pictured in the magazine as a poised woman both in her wheelchair and simply sitting on props, showcasing her as a person and not focusing on her disability. While growing up, she didn’t see people like her represented in the media. Now she’s being that much-needed role model for others.

Mama Cax is another woman of color; however, unlike Mercado, she has an amputated leg. While Cax is Instagram famous for dressing up her prosthetic leg, she is featured in some pictures in Teen Vogue without it. Her self-esteem is evident in her pictures, showing readers that it’s good to embrace differences. 

Lastly, Chelsea Werner is a white woman with Down Syndrome. She is pictured in the magazine exuding confidence with her contagious smile, proving to the other modeling agencies that turned her away that she’s an inspirational beauty. Beyond her modeling career, Werner is also famous for being a four-time Special Olympics US Champion.

All three woman have previous modeling experience, some gigs that are rather lofty, but their appearance on Teen Vogue is making strides in the modeling industry and in the lives of teenagers. 

Mary Koski, a CU Denver student who organizes fashion shows as fundraisers, said, “The lack of representation in fashion and media is overwhelming. These trailblazers are inspiring more and more models, designers, and agencies to break the ingrained mold of the industry and develop representation of more diverse groups.” 

Koski has worked with Madeline Stuart, a model with Down Syndrome, so the subject is close to her. Koski added, “Shows such as Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show hosted annually by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation are crucial to this transition as well.” 

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