Growing up I would watch my mother put her makeup on and wished one day it would be me in that Revlon red lipstick. We would head downtown to Macy’s down by 34th street, my mother in her Calvin Klein shoes, me in my wheelchair.
I have been disabled since birth. When I was born, a student doctor displaced my hip, but my parents didn’t realized this had affected me till the age of three. From then on, I was the wheelchair girl.
But no matter how I was regarded, I still had a fascination with fashion and style. At a very young age, I would watch while my mother made dresses. I studied people’s clothing choices. It seemed like I always had fashion in my blood. I remember wanting to see more colors and different styles instead of the same boring blue jean and tee shirt. Why couldn’t people dress up? They seemed sad—their choice of clothing expressed that to me.
I was lucky to grow up in this wonderful island New York. As a child living in the Upper West Side, I was always fascinated with the city; full of electricity, energy and style. But I was afraid that a girl in a wheelchair would not be accepted into a community where you are judged by your appearance. Little did I know that I was soon going to change that. I would be the one woman who looked different at fashion shows. But that would be years later. First, I needed to learn how to like myself and understand how I could be beautiful too.
Not that I wasn’t obsessed with fashion from that start. Throughout school I always had some sort of a beauty product in my bag. Whether it was a those over-the-counter Wet n Wild lip glosses or black eye liner, I would make sure I was ready. Most girls my age went for the all-natural look, but makeup made me feel powerful, and that feeling alone boosted my self-esteem. Although that feeling would come with a price. I would get strange looks from people as I rode around the streets and classroom hallways in my skinny jeans clothes and my Cover Girl bright pink lipstick, and it took a lot of self-determination to keep being me. Being that I am in a wheelchair, looking or feeling beautiful was something that I didn’t think I could feel.
As I grew older and bolder, I experimented with different makeup products and clothes. Slowly, I started understanding what suited me best. Not everything that’s trending fits you, so you pick and choose to what represents you best—for me it was print leggings, bold accessories, and button up shirts. I began styling myself. I graduated high school and enrolled at Fashion Institute of Technology for Merchandising Management. Many girls had completely different looks and ideas of how to mix and match outfits. I felt as if these people got me, they didn’t look at me funny—they were welcoming, supportive and impressed at my differences and how I took the time to dress up. With their daring clothing and experimentation, they understood my way of looking at the beauty and fashion world, as a powerful tool.
In the FIT dorms, we would all wake up minutes earlier just so we would have time to add that perfect eye wing or that hot pink lip liner with lipstick on top so it wouldn’t feather-proof. We held our heads high as we moved down those hallways. Having makeup on and dressing as we wanted was empowering.
Then we graduated, and it became time to leave the bird’s nest and enter the sometimes difficult real world of the fashion industry. Living in New York, there are times when a door closes just because of your looks. Searching for an internship, I would sometimes get rejected on the spot, which was even worse than getting rejected in an email a week later.
One morning, I went for an interview at a well-known fashion magazine company for a position as a beauty assistant. The front desk girl saw me and asked if I was in the right building, I told her that I was in for a meeting. Her look said it all. She took a half hour to tell me that they had to reschedule. Two days later, I got an email from the editor and she explained how I wasn’t suited for the job but wished me luck—just one rejection out of many that I experienced when I first started making my mark in the industry.
During my college days, I interned for Allure Magazine in the beauty department. I never complained when I was given mundane tasks like opening products and organizing them in the closet or filing thousands of Fashion Week photos by the last name of the designers. At every meeting, we would sit in and take notes on what trends were going to be a hit next season, or how a runway photo can turn into a makeup look—this was more for us to get a sense of how each page created a magazine. I was among some of the best editors and graphic designers in the city, and that feeling was life-altering in itself.
Everyone came dressed as if Fashion Week was every day. My favorite thing about working there was the sound of heels walking down the hallways. My skin would crawl with excitement because everyone was working hard, dedicated to what they were doing in the most fashionable way. There was one editor who I loved to watch walk; she had her desk near mine. I remember she was wearing a high-waisted pencil skirt with an Alice + Olivia shirt, a Hermes bag, and YSL pumps. With that walk alone, I felt her power. That’s when I knew, that this is what I wanted to be like in years to come.
The experience you get interning for a magazine provides a huge education on the industry as a whole, but for me it was more than just a job. I learned that I offered a different point of view that no one had tried before, and I realized it was my duty to show the fashion industry that my chair had nothing to do with my passion. From then on, I would have the freedom to express my fashion style without the thought that someone was going to judge me.
So here I am, still living and fashion blogging in New York City and working for celebrity photographer Patrick McMullan as a creative assistant. Being a part of the fashion world has taught me a lot of things, but one thing stands out most of all: people may not accept how you look or what you wear, but that doesn’t matter. You’re not here to please everyone. Being yourself is all that truly matters.