Despite what we see in film, TV and the media; a wheelchair can often be the most beautiful part of a person, an extension of themselves.
When it comes to representation and wheelchair users, what is often presented to us is vastly different from the reality.
We recently chatted to Izzy Keane, one part of the duo that founded Izzy Wheels, to get a grasp of what it means for her to see fellow wheelchair users on magazine covers, in the film industry and in media campaigns.
Dove’s new project #ShowUs aims to empower women by showing faces and bodies that normally aren’t displayed in the media, and Izzy herself has been one of the hand-picked people in the 5,000 photo-strong movement.
So, why is this movement so vital? According to new research, a shocking 70 percent of women still don't feel represented in media and advertising.
This affects more than just beauty routines and self-esteem; by homogenising the idea of ‘beauty’, it undermines the notion that being different is what makes us stand out.
From dating to style to career choices, confidence goes a long way. It’s time to get unapologetic about diversity in fashion and media, and demand to see a more truthful and authentic portrayal of real people in our daily lives.
Digital editing, filters and social media have shined an ugly light on how narrow-minded these industries are when it comes to a woman’s appearance.
Dove are helping us to take back control of our differences, and it’s high time they’re highlighted for how perfect they truly are.
From people of various ethnicities to freckles, stretch-marks, acne and wrinkles to older mothers and people with disabilities- beauty doesn’t have a single face or body.
In collaboration with Girlgaze and Getty Images, Dove’s #ShowUs is no ordinary campaign, but showcases how nobody is simply ordinary. #ShowUs is the world’s largest stock photo library of images created by women for use by brands and agencies in marketing and communications.
The phenomenal project is designed to shatter beauty stereotypes by showing women as they are, not as others believe they should be. It aims to drive a more diverse and inclusive visual landscape through media and advertising, and it's set to be a game-changer.
The images are a call-to-action in the beauty industry, it’s no longer good enough to see the same type of body shape, skin tone, and ability on billboards and magazines every day.
True confidence lies in the individuality and unique essence within every single person.
If you’re not familiar yet with this incredible, important company, they’ll soon be a household name.
Izzy Wheels came into fruition when Izzy’s sister, Ailbhe Keane, designed stunning and creative covers for her younger sibling’s wheelchair as part of her project for NCAD.
The resulting social media post went viral, and soon there was a high demand for more covers to be designed for wheelchair users all over the world.
The joy of bringing colour to other wheelchair users, especially those of a younger age, can be seen in posts on their social accounts, and it couldn't be more beautiful:
Izzy was born with spina bifida, which meant that Izzy has never been able to walk.
Does this stop her from achieving any of her goals with infectious energy while wearing unquestionably funky clothes? Not a chance.
Her wheelchair and it’s kaleidoscope of brilliant designs reflects her vibrant personality, her ethos of creativity and self-confidence.
Who better to interview about her part in Dove’s new campaign of representation? The young student is acutely aware of the need to show individuality when it comes to representation;
“When you turn on the television, you don’t often see people with disabilities. People’s favourite soap operas, if you see someone with a disability it’s as a result of something really extreme and tragic.
"It’s really important in all types of media to show that it can be a really positive thing, and we shouldn’t see our differences with so much negativity."
“The whole purpose of the Dove campaign is to represent women of diversity, of all different shapes, sizes, levels of ability, ethnicities; as many types of women as possible. I ticked that box, because of my disability and because I wear quite unusual clothes and colours,” Izzy says, with a laugh.
Looking through her impressive Instagram, it’s difficult to ignore the splashes of colour and statement prints.
The motto of Izzy Wheels is a breath of fresh air in itself; ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out.’ It’s clear that Izzy intends to bring this principle into all aspects of her everyday life, and is refreshingly aware of the magical potential which unique traits hold.
Unfortunately, most of those currently in power in the beauty industry appear to disagree with expressing difference as a strength.
With current standards of beauty seemingly impossibly high, what is Izzy’s own perception of beauty?
“I honestly believe that the most beautiful people are so self-confident that their confidence is infectious, and they make everyone around them feel amazing about themselves. The type of person who is able to bring everyone up around them.”
Brands in the industry have a huge responsibility to boost the confidence of consumers, rather than profit from their insecurities. Thankfully, Dove's message is one of hope for people who feel left out.
“Dove is an absolutely amazing brand to be undertaking a cause like this, because they’re so huge. Everyone knows about them, they’re very highly regarded and respected. It’s such an important task to undertake and I think they’re able to do it in a meaningful way."
Together, we have reached 4 million young people with our body-positive and self-esteem curriculum and now we will reach even more! https://t.co/9hFz7nJ4Ug
— Dove (@Dove) April 12, 2019
While numerous brands are beginning to expand their reach in terms of diverse models, it’s still a rarity to see anyone with disabilities such as those with hearing loss, blindness or users of wheelchairs in the media.
The modelling world have strict limitations on what they see as beautiful, but many brands are seeking to break those chains.
Some of them may not use authenticity, but Dove’s latest batch of stunning imagery are gorgeously genuine.
They show off the essence of the models themselves, and their personalities jump from the photographs.
Izzy’s bright and sunny nature as well as her taste for the colourful are weapons in her beauty arsenal, but her wheelchair assists her in her quest for confidence.
“I think that we’re living in an era when finally brands like Dove are starting to realise that it’s not acceptable to just show one type of body or one type of person. It’s really important for even their own sales and their own business that their audience is able to relate to the image they put out to the public," Izzy shared.
Writers and activists like Erin Clark are opening up more and more about the difficulties of never seeing your appearance in the media, and slowly progress is being made.
How does Izzy feel when she sees how limited images in the media are in terms of ableism?
"It can be really annoying when people like myself open up the fashion magazines and I don’t see anyone like myself, but things are going in the right direction.
"There’s always further to go and I can’t wait to see the strides that are made by everyone to be more inclusive, it’s an incredible thing to be part of. It’s really about embracing the thing that makes you different," she continues.
Izzy’s wheelchair is a device used for her creative-expression, why should a wheelchair only be seen as mechanical?
We were interested to hear Izzy’s own personal inspirations, and who she loves to see on the covers of magazines representing her.
“Sinéad Burke is an absolute legend, I absolutely love her. There are so many people making big waves in the area of diversity," she says.
"The first person I saw who made me feel really included in the media was Joanne O’Riordan. She is incredible, but there’s so many other people that I’d be here listing for ages.
"There are also people with a knowledge about disabilities that some people with disabilities themselves don’t necessarily have," she adds.
“Lucy Jones is a designer in New York, she’s from Wales, and she’s designing clothes for wheelchair users. She has such a knowledge of what needs to be done and she’s so open-minded.
"There’s such an opportunity there. People shouldn’t be afraid to tap into that, and push the boat a bit.”
The campaign hopes to target those who work in the media as well as those who deserve to be included and see their own faces reflected back to them.
What makes the images extra special is that each woman photographed has chosen the search result tags, meaning they have digitally taken control back over their own beauty.
Izzy's goal is to share that part of her which she wants seen the most:
“My wheelchair! The wheels do so much for me, and I think it’s so important out of a sign of respect to show it off well and make it look nice. It’s an extension of my body and it tells such an interesting story.”
#SeeUs is a direct challenge for the beauty industry to tackle, what does Izzy hope the audience will get from seeing these pictures?
“I think so many different groups will finally feel represented and included. For someone like me can be asked by a brand such as Dove to work with them is incredible, it’s a dream come true."
"Other people will realise that that kind of dream will come true for them too.”
Women worldwide can get involved in #ShowUs: go to Dove's website to share your images.
Check out Izzy Wheels' incredible array of wheelchair cover designs by Ailbhe Keane and other artists here.