By Ophelia Brown, 17
First of all, I want to let you know that this isn't all your fault. I'm sorry that your photographer thought it was OK and I'm sorry the magazine published it. I want you to know that, deep down, everyone is basically good.
And now I want to tell you how that photo made me feel.
Seeing you sitting in a wheelchair, modeling, made me sad, angry -- even jealous -- that you could so easily get in and out of the chair whenever you liked. It made me think about all the times that I’ve been told “handicapped people can’t be beautiful” or that I was “too sick to love." There you were, on the cover of a magazine being published to a country that absolutely adores you. Here I was, completely invisible.
We live in a world where we are constantly told that being disabled is a bad thing. We are shamed for our mobility devices. We are shamed for having “broken” bodies. Disabled models are almost always turned down from a job. Hundreds -- even thousands -- of people want a place in the ever-changing spotlight of the media, yet people like me never get a chance. You being able to sit and pose confidently in a wheelchair astounded me.
Modeling in wheelchairs is practically unheard of! Do you know what that lack of representation means? It means that 9 year-old Ophelia is embarrassed about having to sit out from gym class. It means that 12 year-old Ophelia would rather die than go to school in a wheelchair. It means that 17 year-old Ophelia has been told too many damn times that her disability makes her ugly. I want you to know how much power that wheelchair gives you, and how, honestly, you don't deserve that power.
When I saw the photo, I found the article and read what you had to say. It was meaningful stuff -- it really was. But a wheelchair is, by definition, a mobility device. This means that it gives freedom and independence to the person who needs it, whereas your photo suggests a wheelchair represents limitations. You couldn't be more wrong.
My wheelchair is not a limitation -- it is my wings. It lets me go to school, go out with friends and live life like a "normal person." You're still young enough to remember what it's like to want freedom and independence. To want to go out without your parents, to want to live life as YOU. My wheelchair lets me do those things. And despite how different it makes me feel, I couldn't be more happy to have it.
This photo was a mistake, and if you've read this, I forgive you. We're all learning and we're all growing. I hope this can be a learning experience for you, your photographer and the magazine.