New TV show ‘Fashion Dis’ features people with disabilities
When Ardra Shephard brought home her first walker from a medical supply store in 2017, she cried. “It was so geriatric and medical,” says Shephard, of Toronto, who writes the ‘Tripping on Air’ blog and has become a well-known advocate for people with multiple sclerosis since she was diagnosed in her early 20s. Even after painting it with metallic gray Dior nail polish, it still didn’t look like something she would have chosen for herself. In her mid-thirties at the time, Shepherd was more fond of accessorizing with statement necklaces and knee-high boots than mobility aids. But she was determined not to let her disability affect her sense of style and managed to source a sleek walker in Europe that looked like a modernist sculpture. To commemorate her new look, she hired a photographer, makeup artist and stylist to help her execute a high-fashion photo shoot which she posted on Instagram, hashtag the photos #babeswithmobilityaids.
From this experience was born the idea of ”Fashion Dis”, a new makeover show broadcast on February 9 on AMI-tv, a non-profit digital television channel whose programming is disability-focused and airs closed captions and audio description for those who are hard of hearing or visually impaired. “‘Fashion Dis’ is about how the disabled community has been dissipated or excluded from the fashion and beauty industry,” says Shephard, who serves as host.
Each episode follows a different makeover-worthy contestant whose disability complicates his ability to purchase the kinds of clothes he would like to wear. In one episode, Melissa Asselstine, a woman with dwarfism who is tired of shopping in the children’s section, wants a new wardrobe to reflect the glamorous and sexy woman she is.
Meanwhile, Christa Couture, who has an opulent floral prosthetic leg, asks the glam team, which includes famed adaptive designer Izzy Camilleri, to get her out of her “mommy rut” and create a polished, confident look. which is just as fabulous as the prosthesis she wears every day.
Finding participants to appear on the show was not difficult. After launching an open casting call, Shephard says, the response was “overwhelming.”
Unlike traditional makeup shows like “The Swan,” “Extreme Makeover,” and “What Not to Wear,” “Fashion Dis” isn’t trying to fix anyone. Rather, “it’s about giving people a platform to feel uplifted and celebrated,” Shephard says. “The photo shoot component of the show was very important to me because the canon of haute couture imagery that exists [depicting] people with disabilities is virtually non-existent.
One of the show’s most progressive elements is its refusal to pander to common tropes regarding disability. Instead of recounting a subject’s harrowing emotional journey, “Fashion Dis” focuses on the positive and uplifting elements of each makeover. We watch subjects learn how to put on the perfect red lip and buy clothes that suit their bodies. The show is imbued with a general feeling of joy. In every scene, it’s evident how much fun each participant derives from the experience. When petite Asselstine’s hair goes from basic blonde to alluring fire engine red and she swaps her laid-back leggings for a vampy, skintight outfit replete with a pair of sexy pumps – an item she doesn’t has ever been able to find his size – her confidence goes, she says, “from zero to 100 very quickly”.
“The disability community hasn’t always benefited from responsible or accurate storytelling in the television and entertainment industry,” says Shephard, who sees “Fashion Dis” as an opportunity to right those wrongs.
The aim of the series is to provide much-needed representation to people with disabilities and to showcase the wealth of diversity that exists within it. Each makeover is meant to be an empowering experience, as it creates aspirational images that give other “disabled people examples of who they could be,” Shephard says. Beyond the performance, the show “is a way to help encourage advocacy and pride in the community itself.”
And that’s just the beginning. “Hopefully we get more seasons,” Shephard says, “because there are a lot more stories to tell.”
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