When it comes to fashion as a disabled woman I often find myself being excluded. I rarely see disabled models being used on catwalks and campaigns and just dressing for sitting down all the time as a powerchair user can be tough and something that brands don’t take into consideration. Disabled people are quite simply not seen as a target market for most companies despite the fact that the purple pound (the spending power of disabled people in the UK) is estimated to be around £249bn a year. That’s a lot of money that brands are missing out on. So whenever I see something disability related when it comes to fashion I’m always interested – and most recently it’s a Yours Clothing post that has caught my attention.
Yours Clothing teamed up with disabled and plus size model, Katie Knowles, to create a guide on how to dress if you’re disabled. However, I was disappointed before the main section of the post had even begun. Yours Clothing described Katie as an ‘inspirational model’ and followed up with one of my most hated phrases: ‘despite her disability‘. Let me tell you why this is problematic. They said that Katie remains ‘positive and aspirational’ despite her disability but this is super problematic because saying ‘despite’ assumes that disabled people aren’t positive people, it assumes that we can’t be aspirational. These assumptions are super damaging and they reinforce the stereotyping that disabled people experience on a daily basis. Some people assume that disabled people don’t have anything to be happy or positive about and statements like this only contribute to this. I’d love them to expand on why Yours Clothing find Katie inspirational as well, if they are valid reasons like ‘she’s a badass model’ then great but if it’s more along the lines of ‘she’s inspirational because she’s disabled’ then that’s not so great.
I carried on reading though, in hopes that things would improve. The post was introduced as a guide using Katie’s own personal experiences so it surprised me when advice and statements about prosthetics popped up as Katie isn’t an amputee. I instantly wondered where this advice had come from – had an amputee been involved in the process? More than likely the answer is probably no. It quickly dawned on me as well that this post wasn’t ‘dressing with a disability’ but more ‘dressing with a mobility impairment’ as there was no mention of tips for those with a visual impairment, hearing impairment, learning disability etc. Enough people already assume that disability = physical without this post adding to that idea.
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There’s also a part about prosthetics where the focus is on covering the joint and not drawing attention to the prosthetic – basically recommending to someone with a disability that they should be ashamed and hide. No one with a disability should feel ashamed of it and like they should hide it. By this point I was pretty frustrated and angry.
Throughout the post there were also references to dressing in flattering clothes and dressing for your body shape, I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sick of people and companies telling me that I can only wear certain types of clothes that look ‘flattering’ on my body shape. If you want to wear a dress that’s designed for pear shapes but you’re an hourglass shape, go for it!
I think Katie’s tips that are specific to her type of disability are great and as someone who has similar disabilities to her I can definitely agree with some of them. However, the focus on only one type of disability, the lack of involvement by people with prosthetics despite the advice for them and the problematic language meant that by the time I’d finished reading the post I was feeling very frustrated indeed. This was such a missed opportunity to piece together a post full of tips and tricks for every kind of disability, with people with first hand experiences of such disabilities involved. I see missed opportunities like this all the time and I often wonder when things will change, when brands will wake up and see where they are going wrong.