(role) model shaholly ayers

1911_550280571679024_415004854_nShaholly Ayers is the type of girl you can easily picture gracing the cover of any major fashion magazine. She’s tall and tanned with beautiful exotic features and the kind of perfect figure that women spend countless hours at the gym trying to achieve. She’s also very photogenic. So it’s not hard to believe that she’s a model. But Shaholly is up against some pretty tough odds when it comes to the fashion industry. It’s hard enough trying to make it in the modeling world when you have the looks and the talent, but Shaholly has something else that makes her unique in her chosen field: she was born without her right arm below the elbow. But if you think that’s deterred her from pursuing her passion in any way, you couldn’t be more wrong. Shaholly is determined to become the first amputee model to make it in the fashion world.

I recently had a Skype chat with Shaholly and asked her a few questions about her work as a model and her future goals. Read on:

So how did you get started in modeling?

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved posing for the camera and always wanted to be the center of attention. But as I grew up, I really started to feel that there was a stigma with disability in society. People said things to me like, “Oh, you’d be so pretty if you had two arms.” But I’m pretty just the way I am. I grew up thinking that I was perfectly fine and that there was nothing wrong with me. So when other people started saying condescending things, it made me realize that I was different. And now I’m determined to change other people’s notions of what it means to be beautiful. So my interest in modeling goes a lot deeper for me. It’s not all about just looking pretty. It’s a big statement I’m making on behalf of people like myself, who are amputees and who look different.

49526a1d05a86How old were you when you started modeling?

I entered my first modeling competition when I was 12. I remember getting really upset because I got honorable mention but no awards. My mom didn’t let me enroll in any more competitions after that. So I had to wait until I was 18 to really pursue it once I moved out.

Have you been to any any auditions where they commented on your arm or dismissed you because of it?

I tried out for America’s Next Top Model several times. I went the farthest in cycle 13, when they featured the shorter models – I’m 5’7″. I made the top 20, but I was surprised that I made it so far without anyone mentioning my arm. That was very different from my experience at the first modeling agency I went to. It was when I first got to Hawaii and didn’t have a portfolio but thought I’d give it a try. The people at the agency told me there was no way I would ever model, that having one arm meant I would never get signed. The woman said that she didn’t see anybody taking my photograph and that it was never going to happen for me. So that was my first encounter with modeling.

What has been your proudest moment as a model?

After being told by the first agency I visited that I would never be a model because of my arm, I worked hard to build up my portfolio. I went to photographer after photographer and started working with as many people as I could. Some of the photoshoots were bad, but overall I got a lot of good photographs out of the experience. When I went back to that same agency some time later and showed them my portfolio, the woman looked through it and immediately signed me. She said there was no way that she could turn me away after looking at my pictures. It went full circle, so that was really cool.

74410_549563358417412_1613244659_nIn some of your photos, you’re wearing a prosthetic. How do you feel about prosthetics in general? Do you prefer to wear one? 

I think a prosthetic is a tool, and I think it’s a very positive thing. I had one when I was little and used it all the time. But as I grew older and went through puberty, I had a stick-it-to-the-man attitude about it because I wanted to just be myself and not have to conform. So I took it off. But what I soon realized was that sometimes I need it. So I use my prosthetic when I work out and when I’m kayaking or paddleboarding, but it’s not something I use day-to-day. I think it’s also a tool when it comes to modeling. As a model, I’m going to have to fill out shirts and jackets. I don’t think wearing my prosthetic in that situation is negative at all. If anything, I can make it part of my outfit or make it really ornate and cool. If there’s something I want to convey that I can better convey with the prosthesis, then I’ll go with that. Otherwise, no. So I’m fine with both, but I’m more comfortable with it off because I can move better. It just depends on the situation. But whether or not I’m wearing my prosthetic, I don’t let it define me. I am my own person.

What sort of pressure have you, as an amputee model, felt from the industry or from people commenting on your role as a model?

When I first started out, there was a lot of hiding. Photographers often don’t want to show my arm, so I was turning to the side and hiding myself in the beginning because they would work with me only if they didn’t see my arm. But I felt like the industry forced me to be somebody else in order to create an image that wasn’t me and wasn’t the whole truth. I think the media and the society we live in pressure us women to think that we have to be perfect, that just because I’m missing a portion of my arm somehow means that I’m less of a person by beauty standards. That got to me a lot because no matter how much makeup you put on me, I’m still going to be missing my arm. That was difficult for me to deal with, especially when I was younger.

Were you ever teased or picked on because of your arm?

Yes, I was. I actually think that molded me and helped me to become who I am. I mean, it was hard. I grew up in a small town in central Oregon, and children weren’t the only ones who stared and made comments. When it was a kid who did it, I was a lot more understanding. But I never thought adults could be so mean too. In high school I was picked on by both teachers and students. My track coach used to refer to me as the “one-armed freak,” and I was teased quite a lot. I used to wear long-sleeved shirts to hide my arm because I didn’t want people to see it. I did that for about a year until finally – I think it was in seventh grade – I decided that I didn’t care anymore what people thought of me. It made me strong to say, “This is who I am, like it or not.” And I still got crap for it – I still do to this day. You don’t get used to that, but you learn how to deal with it.

4af60fcd226eeThe fashion world is very exclusive and usually sticks to a very rigid ideal of beauty. Do you think the industry will soon open up to diversity and include models with disabilities?

They’d better! I can just see it. Right now, I’m excited because there are so many women out there changing the way people look at disability. There’s Nicole Kelly, who was just crowned Miss Iowa and will compete in the Miss America pageant. And then there’s Sarah Herron who was on The Bachelor. I think that it’s only a matter of time before the fashion world embraces this kind of diversity. I mean, Lady Gaga is so avant garde and out there. Why not take somebody who was actually born that way, with a physical difference, and use her as a model? I honestly feel like this is right around the corner.

Who do you look up to in terms of inspiration?

I really admire the artist P!nk. She’s so strong and ballsy, I love it! She speaks her mind and I think she’s a great role model.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for young kids with limb differences or disabilities who have big dreams?

Go for your dreams, whatever they are. Whether or not you’re disabled, people like to tell you that you’re never going to accomplish your dreams. Ever. But you have to listen to your inner voice and be true to yourself anyway. All of us have that drive and that voice inside us that says, “No, I’ve got this and I can feel this.” Follow that voice, no matter what your passion is.

I’ve read a lot about an organization called Models of Diversity. What’s your role with them?

This is a really cool story. When I first started modeling, I heard about a show called Britain’s Missing Top Model. I looked up one of the models competing on the show, Debbie van der Putten, and contacted her through a modeling website about wanting to be on the show. That was five years ago. In December of last year, Debbie emailed me and told me that they’d actually been using some of my modeling images to promote the show! It was very coincidental that I met her. And she was involved with Models of Diversity, an organization committed to promoting differences in the fashion world. Angel, who is the founder, wanted to use me as one of their models. So that’s how it all started.

What are you working on right now and what upcoming projects are you excited about?

At the moment, I’m acting in a movie that we’re going to start filming soon. It’s called Olympia Reborn and it’s an independent film, so it should be shown at the different film festivals. I’m very excited about that because I’ve never acted in my life, so it will be something new for me. I’m also hoping that I will be going to the U.K. soon. I’m trying to get more recognition and put some money together so that I can fly over there and get work as a model. I’m  filming a documentary for Models of Diversity right now too. It’s a new campaign for them. And I’m looking at putting together my own prosthetics company in the near future, so I’m trying to get all the people together for that.

 

Follow Shaholly on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 

(I do not own any of the images in this post)
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meet ryan sawlsville

-1Last night, America watched as 24-year-old Wisconsin native Ryan Sawlsville turned his life around and lost more than half of his body weight on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. After a car accident in 2009 cost him his left arm, Ryan’s unhealthy eating and exercising habits caused him to balloon to over 400 pounds. In the span of a year (and with the help of trainer Chris Powell and a few pro football players), he dropped the pounds and the negative attitude to become what he is today: a man who is amazingly faith-filled and incredibly inspiring, regardless of the arm.

The episode was very emotional and well-done, but I was curious about Ryan’s life today and about all the progress he’s continued to make. I had the chance to talk to him about his story a few days ago. Read on for the interview….

Ryan's 'before' photo

Ryan’s ‘before’ photo

What inspired you to lose the weight?

I realized how much of a problem my weight was after my car accident in 2009. Honestly, I’ve viewed my weight as more of a disability than missing an arm because I can still do everything I could do before. It takes a little bit longer now, but that’s it. With my weight, it was just hard to move around and maneuver things, so I realized that I needed to lose the weight in order to fully live my life.

Did you always struggle with your weight?

I was always a bigger kid. I was an athlete in high school, but my weight never got in my way or really affected how I thought about myself. Because I was involved in sports, I always had friends. But a lot of things changed after my accident. I was actually going to culinary school at the time and ended up giving up culinary arts and moving back in with my parents. I also couldn’t find a job. I realized that my weight, probably more so than my amputation, was what acted as a double-edged sword and held me back. So the first time I ever realized that it was something I had to fix and get under control was after the car accident.

Can you tell me a little more about how you bounced back after the accident? 

I had just turned 21 and was getting started on doing my own thing. I think the biggest issue for me was having to rethink my life and just start over after I lost my arm. I was so set in my ways and thought I knew what path I was taking. But when I went home after the accident, I fell into a depression where I wasn’t doing anything and there was nothing going on in my life. The first part of my recovery was surgery and relearning how to do things. If I wanted to do anything, I had to be driven around or helped by other people. It was hard to adapt in the beginning. But now I’m able to live a normal life.

Do you still enjoy cooking?

Yes! A lot of people believe that if you want to lose weight, you can’t eat anything that tastes good. Fortunately, with my culinary background, I learned very quickly that food can be healthy and still taste amazing. I’m excited to really incorporate that into my lifestyle every day with friends and family.

Ryan's favorite Bible verse

Ryan’s favorite Bible verse

Is there a motto you live by?

I live by a Bible verse, actually. It’s Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” There were a lot of things that I set out to accomplish on the show that a lot of people would say was impossible. But it’s not impossible and there’s nothing that you can’t do. I don’t care if you’re missing an arm or missing two arms or missing half your body – you can do anything you want to do if you work hard and don’t give up on your dream. My faith is a huge part of my life, and I feel that there was a reason I survived my accident. The doctors told me that I really shouldn’t have survived that day. They couldn’t explain why I’m still alive.  It was so blatant to me that I survived for a purpose, but it took me four years to find out what that purpose is. Now that I see the platform God has given me with the show, I’m determined to make the best of it and inspire people with my story. I clearly remember waking up after the accident without the arm and praying that if I could impact one person and show him or her that you don’t have to give up in life and you can keep fighting, then I’d take it. I knew that, in a way, this would open up doors for me. I had to trust God, and it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of ups and downs, but my faith was a huge part of getting me through those downs.

What have you taken from the Extreme Weight Loss experience?

Through the show, I’ve realized just how true it is that I can do anything. There’s nothing that holds me back. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t do it, but I pushed myself. One goal that I set out to achieve last year that [the show’s host] Chris Powell motivated me to try was riding a bicycle. I’d never been able to ride a bike my entire life, even before the accident. For me to even try that proves just how much my mindset has changed. Another thing I learned from the experience is that transformation – whether it’s losing weight or something completely different – starts from the inside out. And that was the biggest part of my transformation this last year: changing how I felt about myself missing the arm and how I thought other people would see me.

What was the most memorable part of your experience on the show?

I got to meet Donald Driver and Clay Matthews! I’m a huge Green Bay Packers fan, and those two are my idols. They helped me overcome my fears and reach for my goals. It’s also really neat to see that even though they’re high-profile athletes, they’re just everyday, amazing people. That was an eye-opener for me too because I realized that I’m getting this really big platform on the show that I think will help me with my ultimate goal of helping other people. I was just fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity, and I feel like I need to take advantage of it. I think that even when people look up to you, you need to just be thankful for everything you’re given and not let it get to your head. So even after the show and the things I’ve accomplished, I’m still that young boy from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Ryan's 'after' photo

Ryan’s ‘after’ photo

Now that your story has aired on national television, what’s one thing you hope viewers are going to take with them after seeing the episode?

Do not give up on life. No matter what happens, there’s no reason you can’t accomplish your goal. A lot of things I set out for this past year seemed pretty impossible at first to do with one arm. It takes hard work, dedication, and trusting in something that will get you through the bad times. For me, it was my strong Christian faith. And I know that’s not what everybody has, but it’s important to just find something or someone to trust in and rely on to get through those times. In life, we’re always going to have to deal with something. Mine is just more physical and obvious. There are lots of people out there who are hurting, and I just want them to know that they can get through whatever they’re going through.

How has the process of working out and losing weight affected your confidence?

One of the first things that went through my head after the accident was that I was damaged goods and that no girl was ever going to want me. When I lost the arm, I really felt that I was going to impact people but that I was never going to get married or have kids. So it held me back. After the accident, I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything. And that thinking process didn’t change until this past year. As I lost the weight, I grew more confident. Now I’m out there living life and being an active and contributing member of society. I’m at the point where, in my heart, I accept myself and who I am no matter what. If a girl doesn’t want to date me because I’m missing an arm, then that’s her decision. But I know I’m an amazing guy and I’ve changed my thoughts a lot. Now I know without a doubt that someday I will have a wife and kids, and I’m going to be an amazing father and husband. That’s something that I never imagined would ever happen to me when I started the transformation.

Are your friends and family supportive of your decision to be healthy?

Definitely. That was one thing that contributed so much to my success this year because it was a family endeavor. We went to the gym and ate as a family. And it’s cool how getting healthy brought my family closer together. It’s because it’s been a combined effort. To have my family come on board with me in this process has been an amazing blessing and I’m very thankful for that.

BNtr600CQAAj4ikSo what’s next for Ryan Sawlsville?

I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have to share my story with people. Who knows how long that’s going to go? So after that I want to create my own future and go back to school for psychology. My ultimate goal is to become a motivational speaker and help others realize that they need to keep fighting in order to thrive. Eventually down the road, I want to start a family. So pretty soon maybe I’ll start looking for a girlfriend. I’m not going to focus on that, but if the right girl comes into my life I know I’ll be ready. I won’t be shy or freaked out. We’ll see. I’m taking it day by day. Doing the show has been an unbelievable and overwhelming experience, but I know that God is working for me. He has a plan and a purpose for me, so that makes life a whole lot easier.

 

Check out Ryan’s website here and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

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media monday – april lockhart covers ‘i love it’

Happy Monday!

Start your week off with April Lockhart’s cover of Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” This girl seriously rocks. I’m so impressed by her talent and confidence.

Peace,
Caitlin Michelle

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