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Fashion is a Tool for Self Expression for Disabled People

by Laaibah Amjad

Fashion has always been a powerful medium for self-expression, allowing individuals to communicate their personality, beliefs, and creativity without uttering a single word. 

For disabled people, fashion takes on an even more profound significance. It becomes a means to assert identity, challenge societal perceptions, and promote inclusivity. 

Fashion serves as a vital tool for self-expression for disabled people, and it’s crucial to explore its role in fostering confidence, advocating for diversity, and breaking down barriers.

In Jessica Kellgren-Fozard’s YouTube video titled, ‘Is Fashion Important to Disabled People?,’ she commented, “When you’re in a wheelchair, walking with a stick or looking slightly like a fool because you kind of missed what’s on earth going on in this conversation now, because you can’t hear… people are going to look at you anyway so you should give them something to look at.” 

Her statement demonstrates how society tends to look or stare at people that seem “different” whether that is a good that or bad thing. 

Fashion can empower people, abled or disabled, but it can make disabled people feel more comfortable instead of feeling singled out. Kellgren-Fozard further explained that “how we look isn’t important in terms of our own identity and how we feel about ourselves. It also impacts how other people look at us and see us and react to us.”

It isn’t just important for disabled people to feel good comfortable about themselves, for some it’s also important that they feel like they fit in. Fashion is often associated with identity and empowerment; this is particularly important amongst the disabled community who may struggle with identity and empowerment:

“The process of identity construction relies on the meanings associated with our clothes. These meanings might relate to the style of the garment, in terms of its silhouette, detail or material, or to the designer or manufacturer, as communicated via […] branding.” (Twigger, 2017)

Clothing choices enable them to showcase their unique style, interests and cultural backgrounds. In a world where disabled people are often reduced to their disabilities, fashion provides a platform to emphasise their individuality beyond physical or mental conditions. 

By choosing outfits that resonates with their personality, disabled individuals can assert their identity and challenge the often one-dimensional narrative imposed by society. Fashion has the power to challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity. 

By featuring disabled models and creating adaptive clothing lines, the fashion industry can confront and dismantle the beauty and ability that dominate mainstream media. Disabled people using fashion to express themselves publicly can help shift societal perceptions, demonstrating that beauty and style are not confined to able-bodied individuals. This visibility is crucial in creating a more inclusive and accepting society.

Disabled people using fashion as a tool for self expression also advocate for broader diversity and inclusion within the industry. Their presence and visibility highlight the need for more inclusive practices, from runway shows to marketing campaigns. 

For example, Sinead Burke, who is an Irish writer, academic and disability advocate who has made significant strides in promoting inclusivity in fashion. As someone with achondroplasia, Burke has worked with major brands like Burberry and participated in high-profile events such as the Met Gala. She uses her platform to address issues in fashion and design, pushing for a more inclusive practices within the industry.

Fashion is more than just clothing; it is a powerful tool for self-expression, especially for disabled people. It allows them to asset their identity, enhance their self-confidence, and challenge societal stereotypes. 

Through fashion, disabled people can tell their stories celebrate their individuality, and inspire change.

Edited by Emily Duff

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