The Jenner/Kardashian clan is no stranger to controversy, and this past week, it was one of Kylie Jenner's lnterview Magazine covers that sparked an important discussion about ableism and the lack of visibility for people with disabilities in the mainstream. The image of Jenner shows her with an almost doll-like expression, wearing latex and sitting in a gold wheelchair. After the photo began to gain traction, Interview Senior Editor Chris Wallace told Mashable that the goal of the images was to show Jenner as "the object of Internet fetishization and curiosity and wonder and celebrity." But the reaction to these images from individuals in wheelchairs showed how damaging presenting an able-bodied person in a wheelchair, seemingly as a means to make a fashion statement, can really be. Especially when there are so few images of disabled models in fashion in the first place.
On The Toast, Kayla Whaley wrote, "When Interview Magazine chose to photograph Kylie Jenner in a wheelchair, they chose to contribute to a history of oppression. They chose to treat a wheelchair as a prop, while wheelchairs are our mobility, our freedom, our agency, our identities. They chose to ignore the context, to dismiss the harm they caused, and to deny their responsibility for that harm."
However, social media can be a powerful tool for educating people. Immediately after the cover made it to cyberspace, I started to see reaction images spread across multiple platforms, all making a statement about Jenner's cover. Here are just nine powerful responses that combat ableism and the lack of representation for disabled bodies in fashion and in the mainstream.
1. Annie Segarra
Blogger Annie Segarra recreated Jenner's cover and posted the two images side by side. And the captions speak volumes. Segarra reflected on the notion that Jenner was supposed to be perceived as being bound by fame. She wrote, "I am LUCKY to have a wheelchair, even if it’s not the right size, even if it is difficult to push myself because of said fit; wheelchairs are not economically accessible to everyone who needs them as a mobility device. A wheelchair is FREEDOM, not imprisonment."
2. Amy Richardson
I saw this tweet shared so many times, and it definitely hits on the stigma still associated with being in a wheelchair. UK-based model Amy Richardson told ET that they don't need to use their chair all the time; but that when they do, they've had to cancel shoots because of it.
Richardson wrote: "If disabled people weren't excluded from the fashion world, then there would be no problem with able-bodied people using wheelchairs in fashion. It would all be equal. But right now we're almost invisible and so what I hope for is more visibility. More opportunity and more acceptance of the disabled body."
Kiera tweeted this photo and noted that her wheelchair does not limit her — "limiting" being Interview Magazine's implication by using a wheelchair in this shoot. Kiera is a engineer with a degree from Georgia Tech, and her message that "you can only limit yourself" is so important.
4. Ophelia Brown
Seventeen-year-old Ophelia Brown first shared this photo on Dec. 1, and it's been retweeted nearly 30,000 times since. She also penned a story for MTV News, for which she wrote, "We live in a world where we are constantly told that being disabled is a bad thing. We are shamed for our mobility devices. We are shamed for having 'broken' bodies. Disabled models are almost always turned down from a job. Hundreds — even thousands — of people want a place in the ever-changing spotlight of the media, yet people like me never get a chance. You being able to sit and pose confidently in a wheelchair astounded me."
5. Lauren Wasser
Lauren Wasser of the Impossible Muse was quick to respond with this recreation; and this is a case in which an image is really worth 1,000 words. There's so much about this photo that makes a strong statement, but the leg posed on a pile of tabloid magazines was a particularly nice touch.
6. Erin Tatum
You can always expect amazing commentary from blogger Erin Tatum on Tumblr, and this Interview cover was no different. In her post, Tatum wrote, "If being in a wheelchair is trendy now, I’ve apparently been a trendsetter since before Kylie was born." The post has over 123,000 notes and counting.
This tweet sheds light on the still-existing stigma surrounding disabled visibility. Disabled bodies have long been marginalized. Yet when Jenner sports a wheelchair, disability is turned into a fashion statement. Fashion at its best should be inclusive, though, and there should be a place for everyone.
8. Kayla Whaley
Whaley's story on The Toast along with this series of tweets have been so important to this conversation on ableism and visibility in fashion. This honest and raw account of Whaley's reaction and experience really resonated with me and drove home why visibility is so necessary.
9. H. Jordyn Taylor
I saw this beautiful image from queer disabled artist H. Jordyn Taylor before I read the caption; and once I did, I had to chuckle at the cleverness.
If bringing visibility to disabled bodies through fashion is anyone's goal, it should be noted that there do exist disabled models out there, such as, but not limited to, Jillian Mercado and Danielle Sheypuk. And they would all make for excellent cover stars.