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Changing Media Perceptions, One Modeling Job at a Time

Tatiana Lee in a wheelchair wearing a pink jacket smiling

Courtesy of Zappos Adaptive styled by Stephanie Thomas

I wanted to be a model since I was a little girl. I grew up to be one. I know it sounds like a very vain profession, but it means the world to me and let me tell you why it is essential.

In American society, the emphasis we put on beauty for a woman is more than the pressure we put on men. We have to feel like we are beautiful all the time. We have to wear makeup, have our hair done, keep up with the trends and the list goes on. Society views women as objects to admire. It should not be that way, but that is the world in which we live.

The fashion and beauty industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry on its own. Mass media shapes that for us. Whatever is in the latest magazine or on the runway ends up being the trend to follow. Media develops everything we do as a culture.

What role does disability play?

More often than not, people with disabilities are not included. I was born with Spina Bifida, and I am a wheelchair user. Seeing someone involved in fashion and beauty who is a wheelchair user, or has any disability, is rare. However, since people with disabilities are most of the time seen as the societal eyesores, we are left out of almost all conversations that deal with mass media. Unless it is in the form of pity, to make people without a disability feel better about themselves, or we are a seen as a superhuman character that suddenly “overcomes” our disability — both which annoy me personally.

Tatiana Lee in lingerie holding onto her wheelchair behind her.

Courtesy of Parfait Lingerie

I am passionate about changing the perception of how society views people with disabilities. All people, disabled or not, can have times of doubt or low self-esteem. Most people with disabilities have a harder time, because of how society views us as societal outcasts. We’re automatically written off as “ugly” or “hideous.” So, we have to work harder on our confidence and being accepted.

I always have admired my beauty; some would say I am vain. However, it has been great for my well-being when tackling the big world of Hollywood and entertainment.

As a child, I never understood why some people did not think I was beautiful. I sometimes get the occasional “your cute,” but often I am left with that person feeling confused. My facial features are seen as desirable in a commercialized way, but when they see me rolling in my wheelchair, they are stumped by the idea they have regarding disability. I find it hilarious actually.

This Women’s History Month – and all year long – my mission is to unite all people by making sure people with disabilities see themselves in nothing but a positive light. I feel that helping the media know that women with disabilities are just as admired as any other women is a massive shift in changing the way we see disability as a whole.

Meet the Author

Tatiana Lee

Tatiana Lee is a Hollywood Inclusionist at RespectAbility. She was a Communications Fellow in Spring 2019, participating in the leadership program to gain better knowledge and skills to be a more effective advocate in Hollywood for disability inclusion. Now, she helps represent RespectAbility in Hollywood. Like RespectAbility, Lee has dedicated her life to fighting for inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of mass media.

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