(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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on rejection, the worst part of dating

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A few days ago, a friend (whom I met through this blog and who also happens to have one arm) told me about a recent dating experience. Just like I used to do, she tends to hide her limb difference when around members of the opposite sex, so the guy she’d been seeing had no clue about her arm. I encouraged her to be open with him and confident in herself, but things didn’t go very well after the Big Reveal. Surprisingly, he reacted like a complete jerk; he was reluctant to see her arm and basically dropped all contact with her. Not cool. And it’s not the only rejection I heard about this past week.

On the “Women Tell All” special episode of The Bachelor, limb different contestant Sarah Herron spills all about the pain she felt after Sean Lowe told her she was not the one for him. “It’s the worst to be told ‘you’re great, but you’re not good enough for me,'” she says. “I always fall back on, ‘Oh well, it must be because I have one arm.'” It’s a heartbreaking moment as the audience sees Sarah fighting back tears. And it brought me back to the times when no boys wanted to dance with me at parties and my 6th grade crush told me my shorter arm was ugly. So for the sake of honesty here, I’ll confess this: I cried after watching the show. I know exactly how Sarah felt, and I cried for her and for my friend and for myself and for any girl living with a physical difference in a superficial world.

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But here’s the thing that may just shed a little light and hope on this sort of situation – we’ve all been there. Turn on the TV or pick up a book or magazine, and I doubt you’ll have too much trouble finding a scene where a beautiful and seemingly perfect girl with two arms faces rejection from the guy she wants. Rejection is not a phenomenon exclusive to women with limb differences. People get rejected for all sorts of reasons, whether or not they have a disability. I know there are a few moms who read my blog who have young children with limb differences, and I’ve been hearing a lot of worries about their kids’ future love life. All I can really say is that dating isn’t easy for anyone. You will have to comfort your daughter after her first breakup and console your son after his first crush doesn’t pay any attention to him. But the fact is that you’ll have to do that with any kid, limb difference or not.

And when it comes down to it, a limb difference isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for most people. Just because you’re missing a limb doesn’t mean that all guys are going to reject you. It bothers me so much when people tell me or anyone with a difference that there will be a man who won’t be “shallow” and will look “past the disability.” That almost makes it sound as though a limb difference is some horrible deformity that makes you totally undesirable, which is completely untrue. I’m sure there are plenty of guys interested in girls like my friend or like Sarah simply because they’re gorgeous. A missing arm is not something a man should have to “accept” or “look past.”

215637_10151415710297642_1891414064_nI know I’ve been very insecure about my arm throughout my life, but I feel comfortable knowing that my boyfriend loves all of me just as I am. He’s there for me and he’s happy with the way I look, even with messy hair and 1.5 arms. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this here before, but he’s the one who inspired me to start blogging about my limb difference. And it’s definitely made me realize that I’m not alone and that I’m worth loving.

There’s not really anything comforting or intelligent I can say about rejection other than this: it really sucks. But when you do find someone who really loves you and who you can connect with and be vulnerable with, you’ll realize that all the hurts and heartbreaks kind of just fade away. So in closing, I’ll leave you with the lesson Sarah Herron took home from The Bachelor experience:

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Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 

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limb different girl takes on ‘the bachelor’ (and what this means for the limb different community)

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I know I’m a little late jumping on the bandwagon with this story, but how awesome is it that a girl with one arm/hand is on The Bachelor? I’ve never been a fan of the show before, but I’ll definitely be watching this season and rooting for Sarah Herron, a gorgeous 20-something hoping to find love with the handsome Sean Lowe. And you know what I think about her being on the show? This is a HUGE deal for the limb difference community.

Before I continue, let me just mention that I know The Bachelor is not exactly the most serious or positive or life-changing show on television. It’s pretty mindless entertainment where vapid young women basically fight for the attention of their “ideal” man (and the cameras). But think of it this way: how many people with limb differences do you see on TV? The ones featured on scripted shows (with the exception of Kurt Yaeger on Sons of Anarchy) are able-bodied actors using green screens to look like they had a limb amputated. Reality TV is only a little more accepting. We’ve seen amputees on The Amazing Race, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, The Real Housewives of New York, and American Gladiators. But a DATING show? This is a first! People and characters with disabilities, especially missing limbs, are typically not depicted as glamorous (think Darth Vader or Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump). They are usually evil or gritty characters with a chip on their shoulders.

Now The Bachelor, which is a show that pretty much epitomizes society’s obsession with physical perfection and beauty, features a beautiful and accomplished woman with one arm competing alongside dozens of other mannequin-pretty girls. Now the mainstream media (and all its audiences) can see that we limb different folks are not the Captain Hooks they had previously thought us to be. We can be pretty like Sarah Herron on The Bachelor. We can be elegant and stylish like Aviva Drescher. And we can be light on our feet (or foot) like Heather Mills. We are not stereotypes; we are people. And I just hope that everyone who watches Sean Lowe make out with a million girls over the next few weeks realizes this.

I also hope that everyone who has or who knows someone with a limb difference sees that we can be totally normal. Beauty is not as standard and rigid as society wants us to believe, and even the media is waking up to this fact.

So I’m super excited for Sarah and I hope she makes it far on the show. But if not, it’s cool to know that she changed (at least Sean’s) perceptions of people with physical differences.

 

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 

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