‘Normalize disabled fashun girlies’: April Lockhart wants to change Fashion TikTok’s image

After sharing details about her life on the internet for over a decade, April Lockhart decided to formally set her sights on what she considered one of the most taboo subjects in the fashion world — disability.

“I feel like the disabled community is still one thing that’s sometimes taboo [in fashion]. Not that it’s nonexistent in marketing, but I think it’s one of the last pieces of the puzzle that we haven’t all figured out yet, or we don’t know how to approach,” the 26-year-old Nashville content creator told In The Know. “When I look at people to follow who look like me, I feel like there’s really no one.”

Lockhart, who currently does communications for the clean beauty brand Ilia while also curating her fashion-focused Instagram account with 33,000 followers, made her first foray into online posting in high school over 10 years ago, when she began sharing music on YouTube.

“I was very much more into the YouTube music scene and going to Playlist Live, which was a YouTube conference — I don’t know if it still exists, but it was kind of like VidCon,” she explained. “I was playing guitar one-handed and piano — and that was kind of how I birthed my internet presence, primarily doing cover songs.”

Being 15 and posting music videos on YouTube, Lockhart said her disability was at the forefront of her online presence. She was born with amniotic band syndrome — which is a rare condition when bands from the amniotic sac get tangled around a growing fetus — and so she does not have a left hand.

But in terms of her online community that’s been growing over the last 10 years, Lockhart said she never felt a need to try and hide her disability.

“I haven’t known anything else,” she added. “Obviously, when I was doing music, there was really no hiding it.”

At 17, Lockhart participated in a now-defunct ABC talent competition called Rising Star. In addition to her talent, one of the reasons she stood out from the competition was her wild fashion sense.

“My outfits … were just pretty insane — like space buns, checkered skirts and just crazy outfits,” Lockhart said. “I definitely was always into [fashion], but I think I just decided I was more passionate about fashion and beauty than I was with music.”

Since graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Lockhart has grown her online presence to revolve around fashion and beauty. At the beginning of 2022, she took a moment to think about how she fit into worlds like Fashion TikTok, which predominantly features white, cis-gendered, non-disabled bodies.

TikTok fashion trends like cottagecore and dark academia have been criticized in the past for being centered around whiteness. Other critics have debated whether what’s considered “fashionable” in mainstream media is only called fashionable because it’s on a skinny model.

In 2020, disability advocate Keah Brown started the hashtag #disabledandcute to highlight disabled people who love fashion and beauty. In an essay she wrote for The New York Times, Brown said, “Three decades after the passage of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, disabled people want to be able to have freedom of self-expression through fashion rather than accepting scraps from an industry that has been very slow to embrace us and our needs.”

Two years later, while Lockhart can see the strides the industry has made in terms of marketing and actively trying to be more inclusive, she still feels like the disabled community is “the last piece of the puzzle.”

“My arm is a very present thing that kind of speaks to me every day … It’s like, ‘this is who you are, this is part of your purpose,'” she said. “I feel like I really need to talk about this. If I’m not going to do it now, when am I going to do it?”

That’s when Lockhart started adding “Normalizing disabled fashun girlies in your feed” to her outfit videos. The simple text addition drew hundreds of new fans who flooded Lockhart’s DMs and inbox with messages about how important her videos are.

“Even in the few weeks that I’ve been doing this, the messages that I’ve received from people in similar situations or parents of young kids that also have one arm or [are] in wheelchairs and things like that — it’s so amazing,” she said. “If I can help people, even if it’s a few people, [it’s] so worth it.”

Lockhart also noticed that a number of followers who had been with her for years told her they didn’t even notice she was disabled until she added the text or wore a certain outfit.

“[It’s] important because disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and some aren’t even visible,” she explained. “It’s interesting because while [my arm] is not the most noticeable disability, it definitely feels very noticeable to me … I just wanted to kind of call attention to it and also just normalize it.”

Brown also wrote in her New York Times essay that she went through periods with her disability where she wanted to convince herself that “fashion did not matter.” That’s another mindset Lockhart wants to dismantle with her posts — that fashion isn’t a meaningless or shallow realm but rather a source of confidence and empowerment.

“Throughout this whole series, while disability is definitely at the forefront, and representation is at the forefront, I also don’t want to belittle the power of a good outfit,” she said. “I feel my best when I’m in an outfit that makes me feel good and that also empowers me.”

For Lockhart, that outfit looks like a pair of cowboy boots and a blazer — preferably one from Anine Bing. 

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