Interestingly enough, Stroud’s model Viktoria Modesta is a self-proclaimed “independent bionic multimedia artist, creative director, DJ and a supporter of future innovations.”
Modesta doesn’t seem to have let her amputated leg hinder her in any way, in fact she sees it as a release: “When I had my leg removed, I was able to actually make a choice about what kind of leg I could have, like how it’s going to look and what it’s going to do.” She has obviously caused a reconsideration of the general attitudes surrounding sex and beauty among disabled persons. In interviews published on her website, she speaks of having to overcome stereotypes in the pop and fashion industries: “For a long time, pop culture closed its doors on me as an amputee and alternative artist. I think people have always found it hard to know what to think or feel about an amputee who wasn’t trying to be an Olympian. In sports, ‘overcoming’ a disability makes you a hero, but in pop there is no place for these feelings.” She says that sport is the only industry where people are united in their acceptance of disability (referring to the Paralympics Games, during which she performed), and that this simply is not true of any other industry to date. Her main goal seems to be not so much engaging with disability discourse, but challenging accepted notions and proving that ‘bionic can be cool’, just another aspect of your personality without any negative connotations. In fact she uses it as a very powerful tool – her different styles of prosthetic limb reflecting a different facet of her personality. On disability she says: “I have never felt comfortable thinking of myself as disabled and this has inspired me to actively challenge old-fashioned views and create a platform in mainstream pop-culture… The time for boring ethical discussions around disability is over. It’s only through feelings of admiration, aspiration, curiosity and envy that we can move forward.” Celebrating difference!
Her prosthetics are made by Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s alternative limb project. This company not only tailor-makes realistic looking prosthetic limbs designed to blend in, but also creates more stylish looking prosthetics, designed with the specific purpose of attracting attention:
The idea of designer prosthetics is probably one of the finest challenges to attitudes towards amputees that I have seen! It is embracing the fact of the missing limb and celebrating the bodily difference; no shame or concealment, quite the opposite, what Haraway calls “conscious appropriation of negation” where the site of oppression is seized upon and used to construct an identity (Haraway 1991, p 156).
Another site that celebrates the beauty of women despite their disability is the online magazine VOL•UP•2, dedicated to women who are ‘plus sized‘ – this is an issue that is coming more and more into debates about the unrealistic standards of beauty that are promoted in the media and then forced onto women. As a result of this ‘normalising’ body type, very often the disability debate has crossover with the feminist cause. The entire magazine is a celebration of bodies that differ from the ‘accepted’ norms and notions of beauty (as such it could be viewed as a feminist magazine, though its creator plus-sized model Velvet D’Amour does not position herself as a feminist, and the site claims it is merely dedicated to encouraging its readership to “revel in their every “imperfection” and celebrate their bodies in their glorious entirety“. Each issue has a feature from their Differently-Abled Correspondent, which is either a feature on or a fashion shoot with a disabled model:
Unfortunately these kinds of image are not generally found in mainstream media – why is this? Is it because the accepted rules of marketing and endorsement would deter brands from using disabled models in case their image or reputation would become associated with disability? On the one hand, this could be the case, but as Benetton has shown, the brand can ride the wave of controversy to its advantage rather than build up stigma and negative associations.