Jessica Ping-Wild is a disabled influencer behind IG/Blog, @therollingexplorer as well as a prominent model with Zebedee Talent Agency. In today’s post, she discusses her life as an influencer, top picks for an imaginary dinner party and why representation matters to everyone. Follow her journey at Instagram or on her blog.
Click the picture below to watch, or read the transcript below!
Maddie: Hey Jessica! Thanks for meeting with me today!
Jessica: Of course, Maddie! I’m so exited to see you again!
Maddie: Yeah, it’s been a while. For those who don’t know you, you’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades. You’re a freelance writer, content creator, speaker, advocate, actress—one of the coolest people I know— influencer, consultant, and model for Zebedee. Lol did I miss anything?
Jessica: I mean, haha, that pretty much sums it up. I’m always trying to dip my toe into new things.
Maddie: I was reading over your profile and you mentioned you were diagnosed with Child Syndrome, and you have a limb difference (which you display beautifully on your Instagram, by the way.) If you don’t mind speaking about it, what inspired you to share your story, disability, and life on social media?
Jessica: There were a lot of things actually. I loved telling stories. I think that’s where a lot of it was founded. From a young age I liked being on stage and performing, but then in college, I went backward a little and feel self-conscious in my own body. I hated it.
In my senior year, I went through about six months of therapy, and in this therapy, I was relearning how to love myself and take up space. It made me see all these microaggressions that I had experienced throughout college and how problematic it was. And if people were just more aware I think it would be different.
I started with my personal Instagram, posting stories about things that happened to me over the month. Then two months out of college, I met this mentor that told me if I wanted to be a storyteller, I needed to have a blog. So I started the blog, and it just seemed to fit, talking about my personal experiences and different ways we can be more kind to each other and ourselves.
Maddie: I love that you went to therapy and knew you needed to take a moment to reassess because it’s true that you can go from feeling so confident to questioning yourself throughout life. And I’m happy you found a mentor at such a young age!
Jessica: I think therapy is one of those things I’m so happy I did and I think everyone at any age should benefit from it.
Maddie: Something I just love about your Instagram is that you’re so confident and that self-love comes through in your social media presence. Do you have any tips for someone who is struggling with that?
Jessica: My biggest tip honestly is to just…pretend? Let your inhibitions down a little every single day and do something that makes you uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to do with your body. It could be picking a new dish at your favorite restaurant. Constantly putting yourself out of your comfort zone will make you more well-rounded and adventurous. And once you’re more adventurous it’s like a stepping stone.
Maddie: Right, it’s like exposure therapy. Speaking of new experiences, can you tell us about working with Zebedee? How did they find you, and what’s it like being a model?
Jessica: Sure thing! Zebedee has been a whirlwind of an experience. I am so grateful for the opportunities they’ve opened up for me. Growing up, I didn’t see people like myself represented at all and so the fact that there’s a whole agency dedicated to people that have unique differences like disability or queer or trans, they’ve done so much opening up the fashion industry. I’m proud to be on their books.
In terms of how I got signed, I actually reached out to them in January of last year. I applied on their website after finding them through my blog the month before. In November, I moved to the UK and applied as soon as their books opened up. Three months later I officially signed and two months after that, booked my first job!
Maddie: Wow! They keep you pretty busy too, right? I feel like you’ve had a lot of bookings so far.
Jessica: Yea there was a lot coming in and I was shocked because I didn’t have much model experience. I was just doing it like, “why not?” It’s been beyond my wildest dreams.
Maddie: I love that you just went for it! So, here is more of a personal fun question. We love your style! What’s shopping been like for you? (Also can I borrow your wardrobe sometime? Those red dresses, girl! Haha!)
Jessica: Well first you have to get to London! Haha, thank you. Honestly my style changes by the day. Sometimes it’s a rocker girl vibe and then other days I’m in this [points to outfit] neutral thing.
Maddie: You're giving me gossip girl vibes.
Jessica: It makes me feel very professional. But in terms of shopping…on the whole, it's not too problematic for me. If I want a statement piece or something fitted I might go to a tailor to adjust for my shorter arm or let out for my prosthetic.
Maddie: I know you’ve been sharing your journey with your prosthetic. How’s that going?
Jessica: It’s been interesting. I’ve used a prosthetic on and off since I was about four. But when you’re a kid, you just want to run around with the other kids. You’re not focused on form or posture or how your back will be affected your twenties haha. Getting this new prosthetic, I made it a goal for myself to get it sorted while I’m still young.
Maddie: So true! And you just walked in London Fashion Week last weekend, right? What was that like? Would you do it again?
Jessica: (Thinking) 100 percent, I would do it again. I’ll be honest, since I’m not totally comfortable with my prosthetic, I was a little nervous going into it. There were so many things that could go wrong, like, what if my leg would hurt that day or if there’d be stairs, etc. I also had no idea what I was getting myself into. [The day of] I learned that I was modeling for an Adaptive Fashion Brand, so I didn’t have to worry about the garments but I was still alongside other brands that left out disabled models. IT was a mental front of being excluded very publicly but I got along well with the designer and was able to go to the press event for the brand the next day.
Maddie: That sounds anxiety-inducing to show up the day of and have everything thrown together, but I suppose that’s how those types of events are. Was it nerve-wracking to go down the catwalk? I would be terrified!
Jessica: Yes and no. It was scary before I got out there but once I was on the catwalk, it was fine. I have a background in theater so...I mean at least I didn’t have to sing, haha!
Maddie: I think it’s really cool that you’re so bold and I’ve noticed that if you want something you just go for it. It seems like that’s been important for you building your career. If someone else was thinking of pursuing a similar career, what words of advice might you give them?
Jessica: The biggest piece of advice I can give is focus on your story. Everyone has such a unique life experience and different things to bring to the table. There really is room for everyone in this space. Getting more people to share their story only bolsters the message that we [as disabled women] are amazing human beings that deserve equal rights, access, and equity. More people living their truth will never be a bad thing.
Maddie: Have you experienced any negative pushback? How do you handle people who come to your site and not understand what you’re about or bring negativity? Do you have a way to deal with those kinds of people?
Jessica: It depends. I’d say everyday social media I have a lot of kind people who follow me. But if I have a vid go viral that brings in people who are not familiar with my messaging, that brings in negativity. When that happens, I tend to disappear from my comments & DMs. Which makes me feel like I’m losing connection with people who I want to have conversations with. But that’s just what I have to do for my mental health.
Maddie: That’s totally understandable. I feel like that’s a struggle that I see with a lot of influencers and advocates. Like there’s a misconception inside and outside the disability community that is challenging to deal with. On a more cheerful topic: If you could invite two famous disabled people to a dinner party, who would you invite?
Jessica: Ok, I’ll say Soph Butler. I’m obsessed with her. She’s an influencer here in the UK. We would vibe and she just seems like a good time. I’d love to hear her experiences and learn from things she’s done or wish she’d done differently. And then....Nina Tame. If there is one influencer/advocate that I have learned the most from on the disability & inclusivity—because disabled people grow up in the same society and have the same negative beliefs ingrained in us—She’s helped me with my unlearning so I’d love to thank her for all the great things I’ve taken away from her account.
Maddie: I love that! I think many of our readers are interested in your career path. What’s your process of getting inspired when making content?
Jessica: Sometimes it’s hard to come up with unique and creative ideas all the time. I turn to music a lot. If you notice, my reels are music-based to the point that I use the lyrics to a song and then come up with my concept from what I’m listening to. Or just being out & about and having a personal experience. I was watching Encanto and there were so many parallels between disability and non-disabled people. I get most inspiration from other media.
Maddie: You are so right about Encanto! And your dancing videos are awesome! What do you see for your future? Will you keep focusing on content creation?
Jessica: A lot of what I do and the industries that I like being a part of are last-minute industries. I don’t even know what I’m doing next month, you know? That said, I definitely want to focus on content and giving my all to this blog for the next few years because it’s something I’m passionate about. I love the freedom to be my own boss and make the final calls. I’d love to remain in this space for as long as I can, but [one day] get into presenting. I love speaking and performing, so getting into TV or event presenting could potentially be a future path.
Maddie: I could totally see you as an MC for a TV show.
Jessica: I used to say “I want to be the disabled Ellen.”
Maddie: While we’re speaking of your blog...I know you post about accessible travel. Is there a destination you like the best so far?
Jessica: It’s hard because I romanticize places to the point where I can ignore their problems with accessibility. Paris always sticks out in my mind because it’s such a beautiful city but terrible for accessible travel.
Maddie: I’m thinking lots of cobblestone streets...
Jessica: They also don’t know how to make ramps. There’s always a gap at the bottom!
Maddie: Has everywhere had different [accessible travel] challenges?
Jessica: The touristy areas always seem to be better because cities expect people to travel with children who might use strollers. Even in London [where I live] I see that it’s terrible in other ways. If you’re just visiting as a tourist though, you might think it’s amazing. Spain really disappointed me. Toledo was the worst.
Maddie: Maybe it will change. Representation in fashion and media, maybe it will carry over. Lately, it seems like there’s been a boom in representation.
Jessica: I think companies are finally realizing that there’s an untapped market and they are realizing the spending power of the disabled community. Not that capitalism should run everything but I’m just being honest about the motivations.
Maddie: Totally. I suppose we’ll take it if it makes the world a little bit better, right?
Jessica: I totally agree with you about representation. I talk about that a lot on my blog. Growing up, I didn’t see anyone like me in media or entertainment or fashion. The effects of that can be lifelong, not only for the person not seeing themselves but also for others not seeing the types of human beings that exist on this planet. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized the disability community was a community. I know my disease is rare, so I thought disability was rare. I grew up in a small town and you just don’t see it. I’m excited to see representation expanding so much and can’t wait to see where it goes.
Maddie: Thank you for making time for me! I’m sure our community will be excited to read more about your story!