How long have you been modeling?
I started modeling when I was 25 (so, almost 7 years ago). I had been in a relationship that put a lot of restrictions on me and I had already grown up with terrible self esteem and no real sense of self whatsoever. I started by doing some fun creative & casual shoots with a few local photographers in Dallas (where I lived at the time) after doing a little meet up to make sure I’d feel comfortable with them. It really helped me step into myself, embrace my body, and gain confidence. I’ve now modeled in Dallas, TX | Los Angeles, CA | Nantes, France | and Las Vegas, NV. I was still pretty able-bodied when I first started and much much thinner, but I love being able to continue to push myself and bring awareness to disabilities/accessibility and how beautiful every body is, no matter the shape or size.
What challenges do you face being a disabled model?
Aside from the physical limitations in needing mobility aids for most standing poses, requiring frequent breaks to recuperate when the pain gets unbearable, not being able to achieve certain formations with my body, and becoming easily overheated; I also face several hurdles based on stigmas surrounding being disabled. While it can be difficult to physically navigate around sets or outdoor locations, the most impactful restriction is typically when there is an unwillingness to work with accommodations or consider my requiring of accommodations an inconvenience.
Do you find Accessibility and inclusion to be an issue for disabled models?
I wish I could say I didn’t, but I absolutely do. There is still a very damaging prejudice against models with disabilities, as if their physical limitations prevent them from being able to collaborate in creating magnificent pieces of art. Of course, accessibility to more scenic locations is lacking, which definitely puts a damper on the options disabled models have. There has been some great progression in the representation of disabilities in print media, but there is still a long and arduous journey ahead to fully embrace the unique perspective offered by disabled models.
Is it challenging for you to find Opportunities?
I’ve found many photographers to either be extremely hesitant to work with me or simply shrug me off completely. It may require a little extra effort and compassion to collaborate with a disabled model, but the potential to attain truly breathtaking shots that result in powerful statements is exponential. I’ve also encountered photographers that seem to be open to working with me initially, but prove to be incapable of providing me with the same level of respect and professionalism that they undoubtedly bestow upon other, able-bodied, models they work with. It can be very discouraging to feel the energy shift within the interaction with a photographer when they reach their limit of tolerance and merely push me to the side, all due to disabilities that are completely out of my control. I may not be able time pose like a ballerina or contort my body into circus-worthy positions, but the strength, resilience, and determination that emanates through my photos is evident and undeniable.
Is there anything in the modeling industry you wish you could change?
Every person on the planet deserves to feel seen and represented. I would love to see print media saturated with every facet of the human body with all shapes, sizes, colors, styles, conditions, and so on.
What was your favorite modeling moment in 2023?
Undoubtedly, that would have to be this amazing photoshoot that blessed me with the opportunity to work with photographer Denise Vasquez. I have experimented with various mobility aids and do have certain scenarios where each one has a purpose, but my forearms crutches have allowed me to feel much more capable of achieving my goals when it comes to the results of a photoshoot. It was a breath of fresh air to not only feel physically able to navigate our outdoor location and present myself with pride and confidence, but to work with a photographer who was so understanding and compassionate and put in every single effort to bring out the best in me and ensure that I was comfortable.
What are you looking forward to in 2024?
I am so very excited for the first issue of PROMOTE Magazine to be published, of course! I am also looking forward to getting creative with accessories added to my mobility aids to add fresh and creative visuals for future photoshoots. I am hoping to network with more photographers that devote the same level of love and passion into their craft as Denise and continue to normalize and destigmatize the experience of working with disabled models. I also think it would be exciting to be able to collaborate with other models with varying disabilities or even completely able-bodied, to show that we are all in this together.
Do you have any advice for aspiring disabled models?
Simply said, don’t take it personally. If there are creators that seem to have an issue with working with you, know your value and move on from the situation with lessons learned, leaving all hurt behind. You are still capable of creating masterpieces and you deserve every opportunity allowed to those without disabilities… but understand that there is no quick fix and we have to practice true patience and never stop advocating for equity and recognition.
Where can people find you online? Website, social media?
Find me on Instagram @lilithgrayallday
Anything else you’d like to add?
My disabilities include Still’s disease (which is responsible for kicking off a ton of other issues and the reason I use mobility aids) and POTS/Tachycardia. I also have conditions that have the potential to incapacitate me. Such as: Stage 4 Endometriosis, GERD, Major Depression, cPTSD, Anxiety, ADHD… the list goes on and on.