Body Positivity in the Fashion Industry

About the Author: Katie Knowles is a disabled curve model and a disability awareness advocate. She uses her platform to talk about body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin, inspiring women everywhere! For more awesome photos of Katie modeling and more about her journey you can follow her instagram here.

Fashion and me are not something I would automatically have said pair together. Growing up I was a total tomboy. Wearing big baggy jeans and rugby jumpers to hide my body. I started puberty very young at nine years old so have had a curvy figure for a long time and wasn’t comfortable in myself. I never had much of an interest in fashion and what people were wearing, as I was too busy outside playing with friends, mainly horse riding and playing sports like most kids that age. All that changed when I was 15 years old and got diagnosed with a variety of spinal conditions including distal generative disease, prolapse discs, sciatica, hyper mobility, and spinal stenosis.

This resulted in me having numerous surgeries, the last being a spinal fusion when I was 22 and was paralyzed from the waist down. I have severe nerve damage down one side but I gained some mobility back. This has now led to further conditions which affect my day to day life. When you sit in the hospital for weeks on end you naturally have lots of magazines to read and see all the latest fashion trends and what the celebrities are wearing. I just kept thinking who is out there representing me? The girl sitting here in the hospital rehabilitation who is going to have to use mobility aids, the girl who is not a size 10, the girl who has scars and marks on our body from surgeries.

My first question was why? Why was the new body representing someone like me with a disability, someone who is a bit curvier? I was at my biggest after the surgery, easily a size 16-18. I wanted to lose weight for myself and for my health and mobility. I did it sensibly through Weight Watchers and dropped the weight down. I lost so much weight, but what baffled me was I still wasn’t happy. Here I was size 10 to 12 more like the models in the fashion industry and the magazines I was reading, yet here I was still really concerned and panicking over what I could eat and suiting the clothing that’s on trend. I had to admit it to myself that I had a bad relationship with my body image and body confidence. I wanted to be proud of my body, what it endured, I wanted to be enough, I wanted to be a girl that was represented in the fashion industry. Something in me just clicked. I put a bit more weight on and I embraced the stretch marks which you naturally get from fluctuating weight, embraced the scars on my back and other areas from the surgeries I’ve had. I genuinely stood in the mirror and thought I’m a survivor, My body went against me and now I was going to regain the control, instead of fighting my body I would embrace my body.

Here I am a bionic woman so to speak with all the metalwork inside of me. I have survived being paralyzed. I have survived uncommon conditions in my teenage years. I am as healthy as I can be and I have gained mobility to enable me to enjoy life and go about what I want to do. I won’t lie, I still don’t fully love my body and I’m sure most of us still pick fault with the odd thing. But I have learnt to accept my body as it is. What I have learnt is not to think so much about the sizes that are in the shops, a particular size doesn’t mean anything. I can be a size 14 in one shop and can be a size 18 in another. I’ve learned it's not about the size it’s about how the clothes fit and how they make you feel. This did take a while to get in my head as we’ve naturally been conditioned to associate a size with a certain body shape. Being disabled as well I have to factor in how easy it is for me to fit the clothes and how accessible they are to get on and off with my mobility aids. There still is nowhere near enough diversity in the fashion media industry, not even slightly. People with disabilities are definitely at the bottom of the list, so no wonder people who do have a disability probably don’t feel that body confident because they don’t feel there are brands that are accessible or are representing them.

This is something that really really does need to change and baffles me that America is ahead of us in this aspect. Why is the UK not on board with more diversity? Plus size models are still less frequent in the UK fashion and media industry and still get a lot less work than the traditional size models in that industry. How does anybody expect to feel confident in their own body when the media industry portrays one particular type of body? Why should one particular body shape be the only appealing one? There are some amazing bloggers and models who are a lot more diverse in color, in gender, or in body shape who are taking the UK fashion and media industry head on. I myself constantly battle with this industry. As a disabled curve model my work fluctuates a lot more than a traditional model. Models of diversity are an organization that I am an ambassador of and feel very passionately about. They are working their socks off to change the way this industry is. To change the way we feel about our bodies. To change the way fashion is in 2020. Although I wasn’t naturally a girly girl who loved clothes and fashion and different trends, I now love to try all of these out. But don’t be fooled you are more than likely to find me at home in my comfy is or in my sweats with fluffy socks on and my hair tied up at the top of my head and you know what? I think I look quite good like that too.