So, with New York Fashion Week wrapping up, I wanted to do something special for you guys.
Stuttering is my personal struggle. But the speech impediment is only one of many, many disabilities that exist in the world. There are millions of people living with abnormalities of all sorts, one of them being Rebekah Marine, the Bionic Model.
Rebekah is a 28-year-old model from New Jersey. When meeting her, one would first notice her striking beauty and her tumbling brunette locks, all complementing her petite, 5-foot-3 frame. But, upon further inspection, most likely even within the first glance, her absent right forearm is hard to miss.
Naturally, being born without a right forearm led to years of ridicule for Rebekah, and folks telling her that her dream of being a model would never come true.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rebekah last year, as she was gearing up for her second NYFW stint (Hi, haters! 👋🏾👋🏾).
I wrote an article about her journey through the modeling industry as a disabled person-- although she doesn't much like the word "disabled," (neither do I).
She recalled being rejected from several agencies as a kid, when she and her mom would travel from New Jersey to New York to launch Rebekah's modeling career. She said the meetings didn't go well when casting directors noticed her disability-- she said hearing the words, "You'll never have a future in this business" really hit her hard.
So, she gave up on her dream for awhile, only giving it another shot once she got an i-limb quantum prosthetic hand at 22 years old. That was six years ago, and now she has three NYFW shows under her belt along with work for major labels like Nordstrom.
We've become great friends since that first interview, texting back and forth and exchanging funny pics and videos. Our initial conversation is very special to me. Rebekah spoke of defying the odds, fighting for her self esteem and pushing boundaries. All things I can relate to. I told her that I stutter, of course. All of our conversations since have been sprinkled with understanding and topped with empathy.
I caught up with her recently at the FTL Moda Pre-Event Launch Party for Fashion Week. I watched in amazement as Rebekah floated around the room among renowned designers, industry big-wigs, fashion experts and Beyonce's stylist (yes, Beyonce's stylist), chatting and taking selfies with the guests, all ecstatic to meet the Bionic Model.
She was breathtakingly humble that night, even with 7-feet-tall posters of her face all over the venue (she's humble all the time, though). With the music blasting and chatter all around us, I told Rebekah that I'm proud of her, and she gave a sweet "thank you" before leaning in and adding, "you know, people like us have to work twice as hard as everyone else in the industry."
Like I said, Rebekah's my girl.
A few days later, I got to see her walk in the FTL Moda show for Fashion Week. This woman exudes confidence, y'all. And she makes a bionic limb look pretty damn cool. That's just Rebekah, and I've grown not to expect anything less than excellence from her.
But, I have to say, I wasn't ready for her next, boundary-pushing, look-at-me-I'm-different-and-wonderful move. As she strutted down the cat walk, at her side was a little rosey-cheeked girl with her left forearm missing: Gianna Schiavone.
Yes, the Bionic Model has a mini-me. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾
I, along with 90 percent of the audience, rose to my feet and applauded (I couldn't help but let out a little "yaaaassss, SLAY")-- and slay they did, Rebekah with her bionic arm and 6-year-old Gianna with her born-this-way bare left elbow.
I caught up with Rebekah and Gianna backstage and, just six years in to her own modeling journey, Rebekah is already paving the way for others.
"I've been trying to push the boundaries in the fashion industry, hoping that I can open doors for people like Gianna in the future," she said. "It's almost symbolic of passing the torch to future generations."
I know it sounds cliched, but you can do anything. Absolutely anything. It's only cliche because it has been repeated so much, and it's been repeated so much because it's true. Rebekah's story is just one illustration of how possible it is to overcome. Whether you stutter, were born with one limb, are dyslexic, deaf, suffer from mental illness, what ever it is, you can live your best life.
Since launching this blog, I've had countless people reach out to me, revealing the things that they are avoiding because they stutter. From refusing to apply to college and leave home to proposing and pursuing careers, people are afraid. And you don't have to be. Here's another over-used phrase: you can do it.
Yes, you'll most likely have to work twice as hard in this able-bodied world we live in, but the reward is much greater than the risk.
Now, go. Be bionic.