These Empowering Photos Prove Beauty Isn't One Size Fits All
When you hear the word "beauty," visions of Gisele Bündchen, Cara Delevingne, and Kate Moss often come to mind. But what happens when you don't fit the stereotype? When model Wendy Crawford was rendered a quadriplegic by way of a drunk driver at the age of 19, her life transformed overnight — not only did she lose all of her bookings and much of her freedom, but also people started to look at her in a dramatically different way. "I began to see how beauty was perceived in the eyes of the world, and women with disabilities were not considered beautiful," said Crawford. After years of feeling isolated, she started to get more involved with organizations designed for those with disabilities. By learning from other women and sharing in their experiences, she felt motivated and empowered and partnered with five women to create The Raw Beauty Project in 2006.
Crawford, her colleagues, and a team of photographers created an exhibit of sensual, powerful, and confident portraits of 20 disabled women — including themselves — paired with their biographies. Recently, The Raw Beauty Project collaborated with mobileWOMEN.org (Crawford's online magazine for women in wheelchairs) and The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to bring these images to ACA Galleries in New York City. While they've already raised more than $45,000, the project has brought awareness to disabled women, a particularly underserved section of the disabled community. And by putting a different spotlight on disabled women, The Raw Beauty Project not only challenges the beauty status quo, but also helps these women feel more empowered in their own lives. One model, Emily, shared how she is often subjected to stares and insecurity, but after being in a photo shoot with an award-winning photojournalist, she still felt stared at, but felt beautiful, too.
"We hope to see this reflected in the media so that beauty is not limited to a certain size, color, age or physical ability," says Crawford. "Beauty is in strength, confidence, and uniqueness." To learn how you can contribute, visit ChristopherReeve.org/RawBeauty. Source: Walter Chin
Her story: "At age 17 I was a gymnast, a cheerleader and class president. After a night of drinking, I got into the car with friends and in an instant I went from cheerleader to paraplegic. I realized that the miracle cure doesn't come in the form of me walking again, but from learning to love and celebrate and accept who I am. I became the first wheelchair-bound TV reporter for an ABC affiliate in Miami, I ride motorcycles, fly planes, and I use my wheelchair as less of a restraint and more of a force in my life."
Her story: "I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. Later, I experienced an allergic reaction to Motrin that caused lower spinal damage. Today, I work assisting adults with chronic illnesses to live independently. My hope is to empower, embrace, and educate — blazing a trail for all with disabilities. I feel like I am a groundbreaker, a woman who is filled with a multitude of expressions and has elegance and integrity."
Her story: “Beauty. Sensuality. Empowerment. Words have power to both heal and destroy. On the I-5, a driver lost control and my spinal cord was severed. That moment was a choice. I picked a positive path and never looked back! I'm engaged, an actress in commercials and movies, a spokesmodel, and an advocate. Life is a gift and what we do with it, is our gift back to the world, to others and to ourselves.”
Her story: "After becoming a paraplegic at the age of 30 due to Transverse Myelitis, I went through a journey to redefine myself as a woman in a wheelchair. I've realized that a wheelchair is just something I use, and doesn't define who I am. I am someone's wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. I am the CEO and founder of my household. I never let my disability stop me from living the life I've dreamed. Instead of being ashamed, today I have the strongest sense of self — ever."
Her story: "Living with a disability has without a doubt shaped who I am and how I view the world; however, my disability does not define me. I've looked up at most of the world from day one, and even from this seated position, I was raised to reach for the stars. Yes, I am a mom on wheels, but to be a parent, you only need a heart. I am continually grateful for the path I'm on, and I wouldn't change a thing."
Her story: "Getting my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and being single in Manhattan has launched me on my crusade for the complete integration of people with disabilities into the dating and fashion scene. Being called the Carrie Bradshaw of people in wheelchairs is flattery that enervates every muscle in my body, regardless of the weak nerves from my spinal muscular atrophy! With my Louboutins strapped on for the fight, I am calling for a revolutionary change of image in our society for people with disabilities."
Her story: "On an Italian highway, the driver of a truck fell asleep causing a multiple crash. I went through an endless number of surgical procedures, but I lost the use of my legs. I found the strength inside myself to keep going and live my life no matter what. Boundaries and limits do no not define me."
Her story: "The choice to amputate my lower left leg in my early 20s had liberated me from terrible pain, suicidal thoughts and immobility; a result of injuries incurred as an armed service member of the United States. I moved on to greener, more carbon fiber-filled pastures. I now pursue a career in film and modeling in hopes to one day fund a non-profit. My goal is to help differently abled youth achieve their dreams in the creative and performing arts."
Her story: "When I was 10, I appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about life with a physical disability, so my passion for advocacy blossomed quite early. My goal is to encourage people with all types of disabilities to develop their advocacy skills by embracing the power of communication and social media. I believe we can all learn to love ourselves exactly as we are."
Her story: "I'm a rebel. That means being an educator when being a bystander could be much easier, being seen as a threat not as a charity case, and being comfortable with my body even when others aren't. I use my wheelchair not as a seat, but a tool with which I weave through obstacles and speed past situations meant to slow me down. Success through hard work and not pity is my definition of true beauty."
Her story: "I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 2. For 32 years, this disease has taken quite a toll on my body. I began using a walker and a wheelchair before I entered middle school. I refuse to let arthritis stop me from achieving my dreams. I work long hours for the government and as a writer for numerous publications and websites serving people with disabilities. And while arthritis may slow down some people, you will never see grass growing between my wheels!"
Her story: "I've worn many hats in my life, including being a 2008 Beijing Paralympian, harpist who performed at Carnegie Hall, Penn State graduate, and Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey 2013. None of that would have been possible had it not been for a stroke of luck. I was adopted from India at age two, after having contracted Polio as an infant. I have never let my disability define me and owe a lot of my uniqueness to it. I have been asked that if I could change things, would I? Absolutely not!"
Her story: "I slipped on ice, fell down the stairs and broke my back. My life changed in an instant. Ironically, I had just met the most wonderful man. I was on my way to my 2nd dinner date with him the night I fell. I was in the hospital for nearly three years, and we were married six months after I got out. I had an accident . . . but I choose to live . . . I choose to dance!"
Her story: "At the age of 19, I was on my way to the airport for my first international modeling assignment in Tokyo, when my car was hit by a drunk driver. The accident left me a quadriplegic. After finally spending some time around other women with disabilities, I began to learn from them and gradually [they motivated me]. I am honored to be included in this sisterhood, of this group of amazing, unstoppable women, proud now to be 'one of them.'"
Her story: "I have Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, officially diagnosed at age 16. I was unable to walk by age 13, and have used a power wheelchair for mobility ever since. While acknowledging my limitations, and despite these challenges, I earned a masters degree in Counseling Psychology. Being independent has always been a priority. To be honest, I don't think of myself as an inspiration, I am simply making the most out of what I was given. I am not content with just existing. I am determined to live."
Her story: "Eight years ago, I stood up, fell down and never walked again: a rare connective tissue disease wrapped around my spinal cord. After two brain surgeries, a rare heart condition and seizures, God instilled in me a fighting spirit. Through Canine Companions for Independence, I met my husband who also has a service dog. My husband Frank and I, along with our two dogs will be celebrating our first anniversary in October! I’ve learned that my diagnosis or medical condition shouldn’t define you: I define me!"
Her story: "When I was injured at age 16 due to a car accident, my plans for my career as a hair stylist and makeup artist were side-tracked. How did I reinvent myself? What career would suit me? I became a social worker to help others like me. Turning pain into power is the mantra that gives me strength."
Her story: "Due to a fall when I was 28, I became a paraplegic. I grew up in Minnesota, and moved to NYC two years ago. I work as a quality assurance director for an interactive digital agency, based in downtown Manhattan. I'm settling into my New York life with my boyfriend and cat. I tried sled hockey four years ago and I fell in love with it immediately. The best part of sled hockey was becoming open to trying new sports: handcycling, wheelchair softball, downhill skiing, waterskiing, surfing . . . and I continuously discover more fun things to try every day."
Her story: "Speaker . . . facilitator . . . athlete . . . artist . . . I was born a four-way amputee and both my legs end above the knee. My 40+ years have seen more experiences than most people manage in a lifetime. Despite being an amputee, I have climbed mountains in Nepal without my prosthetic legs, won a bronze medal in alpine skiing and a gold in a Martin 16 at the Lake Ontario Racing Council Regatta. I have multiple college degrees. I hope to challenge misperceptions about disability and inspire achievements in all people."
Her story: "There I was in the hospital, looking down at one leg instead of two, having to deal with cancer and chemotherapy. I often remind others that I still have two legs and it’s just that they can see only one of them. The one you see represents what the world expects of me, the one you don't see represents what I expect of myself. Life is not how you survive the storm but more how you dance in the rain. I have taken the shattered pieces of my life and created a tapestry made of pieces woven together to create beauty and power in the way I experience my disability — on one leg."