Breaking Barriers: The Journey of a Disabled Creative in the Modelling Industry Breaking Barriers: The Journey of a Disabled Creative in the Modelling Industry

Breaking Barriers: The Journey of a Disabled Creative in the Modelling Industry

In an industry that has long been criticised for its narrow definition of beauty, Luna has found their own path in the modelling world, breaking down barriers and inspiring others to embrace their unique identities. In this blog, Luna shares their journey with me about their experiences as a model with limited mobility.

Luna also offers their perspective on the fashion and beauty industry, discussing the need for greater inclusivity and representation of models with disabilities. Join us as we explore Luna's story and discover how they are using their platform to make a difference:

Can you give me an introduction to yourself, your work and how you identify?

Hi, I’m Luna (they/them). I’m a non binary, disabled creative - I prefer to use the term creative because I tend to dip my toe into anything my body can handle in that moment, though I started out modelling, and still continue to do so, that was my gateway into a love for styling, photography, set designing and retouching too!

Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got started in modelling?

So I’m originally from Bolton, Manchester and moved around a lot when I was younger before settling into Nottingham.

I went to university in Brighton, waist deep in the sludge of PTSD and very much at rock bottom. A friend of mine did a photoshoot via purpleport and pushed me into joining too, it made me realise that academia wasn’t what I wanted to do, I couldn’t get out of bed for a 1hr lecture but a chance to be creative all day and I’d practically sprint to the train station.

What are some of your favorite modelling experiences or achievements, and why are they so meaningful to you?

I did an underwater photoshoot with EarlGreyHot, a good friend of mine, I’d been in intense therapy for almost a year and water on my face was one of the only triggers I hadn’t ‘faced’ - it felt like a perfect opportunity to put everything I’d learnt into practice and create something beautiful too. Not only are they some of my favourite photos, they mean a lot, they represent me coming to the end of healing and letting go, allowing the water to engulf me. This was also my last shoot before my mobility severely deteriorated, I half joke a lot that being in the tank was the last time I didn’t feel pain and my body could move how it wanted to.

What are some of the challenges you've faced as a model with limited mobility, and how have you overcome them?

There’s a lot of issues within freelance spaces that have affected me more as a disabled person, specifically the entitlement and boundary crossing from paying clients who believe they almost own you for the time you’re booked. I sadly can’t give a big inspiring story about overcoming that, because I quit modelling professionally. 

My biggest challenge since has been insecurity, if someone messages me to say they’d love to shoot but they don’t put forward dates or they’re ‘wishy washy’ I panic and think they were just being polite and don’t actually want to shoot a disabled model - I’m still working on that one, but with amazing friends in the industry I’m learning that I have so much to offer and if someone can’t view a walking stick or wheelchair as a part of my creative process, that’s on them.

I’ve also had to tone down my frustration and ‘fear’ of being tokenised, a lot of photographers are looking to diversify their portfolio, many for entirely wholesome reasons of wanting to be inclusive, but sometimes those approaches can come across as “I only want to shoot you because you’re disabled and it’ll make me look good” I now try to emphasise what else I can bring, whether that be a concept, location or styling.

How important is it to you to see models with disabilities or limited mobility represented in advertising campaigns and media, and why?

If you google ‘model with a walking stick’ what shows up is ‘pimp’ themed shoots, or fantasy shots with a staph, typically with non disabled models, or stock photos of an elderly person and a few casual photos of Lucy Dawson. When transitioning from a full time fashion model to a disabled creative, I couldn’t find someone who looked like me.

Even when I went to a showroom to buy my wheelchair, their brochure only showed those 60+.

I remember the pure joy I saw on social media when it was announced there’d be a disabled Victoria Secret model, when Skims had adaptive underwear with disabled models and when Glamour UK had 3 disabled cover models. Moreso, I remember the hurt when the same people in those campaigns were called slurs, told they’re not able to consent to modelling lingerie and were being exploited by a ‘woke agenda’.

We all just want to be seen, to be heard and to be listened to, I want so much representation that I don’t immediately feel a need to buy the product being sold because a brand finally thought of people like me, like I have to prove they made a good decision to include us.

How do you feel the fashion and beauty industry can become more inclusive of models with disabilities or limited mobility, to ensure that their work is more inclusive and representative of all people?

Create accessible spaces. I’ve heard too many stories of wheelchair users having to carried up stairs to the shoot they were booked for, thinking about it, I can’t actually name a fully accessible studio outside of London.

I think these industries just need to listen, the purple pound (collective spending power of disabled folk) is huge, it’s actually pretty ridiculous to not market to us!

I also thinking agencies need to do better advocating for the access needs of disabled models. The only disability specific agency I know had on their website that models have to be able to be in front of flashing lights .. like continuous doesn’t exist? like migraines, seizures, light sensitivity and sensory issues aren’t fairly common symptoms of many disabilities?

Have you noticed any changes in the industry's attitude toward inclusivity and diversity during your time as a model?

In the industries? Yes. I’m maybe too cynical and don’t truly believe it’s because they want to include us (see above) I think a lot of the time it’s tokenism and many disabled influencers have called out brands who send them PR or do ads with them, but don’t invite them to their events .. which then becomes clear it’s because they’re held in non-accessible buildings.

What advice would you give to other models with disabilities or limited mobility who are just starting out in the industry?

Please just fiercely advocate for yourself, if I’m honest, I’ve yet to see a way that disabled models can find agencies or do commercial work that isn’t exploitative. Unfortunately a lot of disabled models you do see in the media are influencers who have more power negotiating their contracts and terms.

In your opinion, what role do you think social media plays in promoting inclusivity and diversity in the fashion and beauty industry?

I’m not quite sure. I think the industry now focuses on influencers who already have large followings who are part of their community. Yeah you could hire a disabled model, but you could also hire a disabled influencer who then also has a huge following of disabled consumers behind them too. I don’t think it’s quite black or white on whether that’s good or bad, there’s a lot of nuance I’m not clued in on enough to answer generally but from a personal perspective, I’ve accepted I’ll never model professionally, I just don’t have the energy to cultivate a following online too😂

Do you have any specific goals or aspirations for your modelling career moving forward?

I have a lot of ideas. A lot of collaborative project ideas that I’d love to do once I have more contacts in the industry. I want to continue doing it for fun, the second it becomes work I’ll 100% stop doing it.

What message do you hope to send to the fashion and beauty industry through your work as a model with limited mobility?

Honestly, no message.

What I do is for my community. I don’t care to ‘inspire’ anyone who isn’t disabled.

How do you hope to see the industry evolve in the future to become more inclusive and representative of all people?

I want them to back it up with action. I want brands who use disabled models to make damn sure their physical stores and launch events are accessible, that they alt text their social media posts, that commit to using disabled models outside of promotional campaigns.

How can we get in touch with you and see your work?

I’m on instagram @lunajay_r

I tend to keep everything there so I don’t get confused! 🥰

(Image by Halo)

About this blog

I'm Hannah Lunn, a Yorkshire fashion and beauty photographer. I'm passionate about promoting inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry by amplifying the voices of underrepresented individuals. 

In this blog series, I'll be sharing stories of those who have experienced marginalisation in the world of fashion photography and social media and helping them with a platform to voice their thoughts about representation. 

Check out my inclusivity resources below to stay updated on this important mission.