Woman’s tweet about Savage X Fenty model opens up conversation about ‘rare’ disabilities

A woman on Twitter shared that Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty had hired a model with limb differences to showcase new products, and it opened up a conversation about disability representation.

“Obviously representation only goes so far, but when your disability is on the rare side and you’re used to never seeing anyone else who looks like you, stuff like this feels really nice,” Kim Kelly tweeted alongside photos of model Lyric Mariah Heard in some of Fenty’s latest garments.

Kelly, a journalist and author based in Philadelphia, told In The Know she was “speechless” when her friend sent her a link to the Savage X Fenty website showcasing images of Heard, who was born with amniotic band syndrome — where the amniotic bands that usually protect the fetus instead wrap around its limbs and organs, cutting off blood flow and affecting growth.

“People with limb differences generally don’t get a ton of attention because there aren’t that many of us compared to folks with other types of disabilities,” Kelly explained. “For example, I have ectrodactyly, which occurs in one out of about 90,000 births, and far too often, disability, in general, is left out of the broader conversation around diversity.”

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), ectrodactyly is a condition where all or part of the central digits (fingers or toes) are missing. As Kelly mentioned, ectrodactyly affects one out of every 90,000 births — for context, in the U.S. one in four adults have some type of disability.

“It really was just the pure shock of seeing someone who looked like me, whose hands looked like mine, modeling this gorgeous lingerie for a huge brand,” Kelly said. “I’m glad that the model, Lyric Mariah, got that opportunity and was able to do such a beautiful job repping people with limb differences in an industry like lingerie, in which that kind of representation is very scarce.”

Kelly also pointed out that this isn’t the first time Fenty has embraced diversity and inclusivity. In 2019, Fenty also announced that 67-year-old model JoAni Johnson would be the face of its new luxury clothing line. Then, in October 2020, fans praised the brand for featuring Steven G., a plus-sized male model.

“Never in my adult life have I seen a male model that has a similar body to mine,” one user tweeted at the time. “I feel . . . almost emotional? Like I finally can buy something I saw and want and KNOW it was made for people like me in mind.”

There was a similar social media outpouring in response to Kelly’s tweet, too.

“Love this,” one Twitter user replied to Kelly. “My kid has a limb difference and his eyes absolutely light up when he sees someone with a limb difference.”

“I honestly didn’t expect to see so much positivity, either, or to hear from other folks with limb differences, which was really heartwarming and affirming,” Kelly told In The Know of the response she has received online. “We’re rare, after all, and it’s pretty special to unexpectedly come across others in your community and be able to bond over something like that.”

As far as making a sweeping change in the fashion industry, Kelly still says we have a long way to go. But, as someone who used to “hide this part” of herself, the image still feels hopeful.

“We’re still talking about a billion-dollar company here, and putting disabled models in more fashion campaigns isn’t going to hasten the downfall of capitalism, end the rampant exploitation of garment workers within the global fashion industry or bring us that much closer to liberation,” she said. “It was just nice to feel seen for once.”

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