Body confidence has become synonymous with feeling happy with your dress size, but for many people it goes beyond that.
One in six people in the UK have a disability, yet you wouldn’t know that if you looked at the London Fashion Week catwalks or advertising campaigns.
Model Kelly Knox has spoken out in support of The Huffington Post UK’s Fashion For All campaign to celebrate moments of diversity in fashion, as she is on a mission to make the industry more inclusive before her five-month-old son Jenson reaches an age where this exclusion becomes an issue for him.
“Fashion For All sings the song of my heart,” she explained. “Fashion needs to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of colour, size, age or disability.
“People with disabilities are often the most visible section of society, but in the fashion industry it’s like they don’t exist at all.”
“We live in a diverse society and I want my son to grow up in a world where he and his peers are empowered by the images they see, so they can feel confident no matter what their skin colour or what their body is like,” Knox continued.
“I believe it’s every person’s birth right to grow up with confidence, in an inclusive society where they can celebrate their individuality, embrace their differences and just be human beings.
“But when only one type of body is represented in fashion it makes people feel unconfident in their skin and that holds them back in all aspects of life, from job interviews to relationships.”
Knox has been modelling since 2008 when she won ‘Britain’s Missing Top Model’ a BBC show about women with disabilities trying to get their break in the modelling industry.
Knox was born without a left forearm, but it wasn’t until filming for the series began that she began to think of herself as “disabled”.
“Growing up I never classed myself as ‘disabled’, I know that might sound weird, but in my house we never used the word,” she explained.
“My friends didn’t see me that way. My family didn’t see me that way. I didn’t see me that way.
“But when I joined ‘Britain’s Missing Top Model’, it was as though all of a sudden I was labelled as a ‘disabled person’ and it felt like that came to be my defining feature.
“It was only then that I started learning about how society perceives disability.
“That’s when I knew I needed to work to change this.”
Kelly Knox shot by Rankin
Knox has landed some major jobs: being shot by Rankin, modelling for P&G and featuring on Vogue.com as part of a Debenhams campaign.
Last September she was approached to walk in Lenie Boya’s spring/summer 2016 London Fashion Week show alongside Paralympian Stephanie Reid, but she had to pass up the opportunity as she had given birth to her son just the month before.
But Knox has been disappointed to note that almost all of her jobs have been part of a push by the company to highlight disability – a trend that only ever seems to last one season.
“This tokenism has been the problem I’ve faced all throughout my career,” she said.
“I do something massive and then suddenly it’s like I don’t exist. Not only that, but it’s like models with disabilities don’t exist. It’s very frustrating.
“It’s like brands are just ticking a box – using a disabled model for one campaign. But what about the next campaign?
“It has to be consistent to make a difference to how people with disabilities are perceived.”
“There has only been one job I’ve had so far that I’ve got from an open casting,” said Knox. “For everything else my management have been contacted by a team saying they want to use Kelly to fit a brief for a ‘disabled model’.
“And I don’t want that to be taken the wrong way, I’m grateful for that – the brands who are actively casting disabled models are the innovators.
“They can see that diversity isn’t a passing trend, it does sell, it’s what people want to see. They’re the people who are making the changes.
“But for true change we need to get to a stage where all models can turn up to open castings – regardless of any disability they may have – and have an equal chance of getting the job.”
Knox is the co-founder of Diversity Not Disability – a campaign that launched at the start of the year to celebrate all body types and promote equal representation of models with disabilities across all platforms of the media.
It is her hope that her campaign will lead to more opportunites for people with disabilities.
“I’ve always said I don’t feel disabled myself, it’s the attitudes of others that ‘disable’ me and create barriers to what I can achieve,” she explained.
“I want to be part of bringing change to the fashion industry, to break down the barriers so all models can achieve their potential, no matter what their body type.
“And that, in turn, will help a younger generation grow up to feel body confident.”
This February, HuffPost UK Style is running a month-long focus on our Fashion For All campaign, which aims to highlight moments of colour, size, gender and age diversity and disability inclusivity in the fashion and beauty world.
We will be sharing moments of diversity with the hashtag #LFW4All and we’d like to invite you to do the same. If you’d like to blog about diversity or get involved, email us here.