A woman born with just one full arm and leg who felt like an “outcast” has taken the modeling world by storm – appearing in Vogue and strutting the catwalk at London Fashion Week.
Jessica Ping-Wild, 25, was born with CHILD syndrome – an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes limb underdevelopment and inflamed skin with only 60 known cases worldwide.
It means she only had one full arm and leg which left her feeling like a “medical anomaly” as a child.
The condition left Jessica with a shortened left arm, and she is missing her leg on the left side of her body. She uses a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair but can move without both.
In her childhood and teenage years, Jessica said her condition made her feel like an “outcast” who “didn’t have a place of belonging or anyone who understood.”
However, when she began therapy in 2019, she started to understand that she “was allowed to take up space as a human being” and started a blog about her experiences.
In February 2022, she walked in her first runway show, for the adaptive brand Unhidden, and six months later, in September 2022, strutted her stuff at London Fashion Week for the sustainable designer, Sarah Regensburger.
She’s also featured in several publications, including Vogue, Billboard, USA Today and on the cover of Flewid magazine.
Now she’s determined to use her platform to improve the representation of disabled people in the media and to “normalize disabilities.”
“My confidence has gone through some really high highs, and really low lows throughout my life,” said Jessica, an influencer, from Chicago, Illinois, who now lives in London, UK.
“As a child, I didn’t really consider myself disabled, I just did whatever I could. I didn’t think of myself as different until I got older, and I realized people treated me differently.
“I felt like an outcast in the world, I didn’t have a place of belonging or anyone who understood.
“I felt like a massive burden to everyone around me – my family, my friends, even my classmates.
“The amount of discrimination and ableism I’ve felt in my life is unreal.
“I felt like this was what life is, it was normal, and I’d just have to accept it, roll over and recognize that I’m less and don’t deserve more than this.
“It wasn’t until I went to therapy sessions in 2019 that I started to work on my mental health that I could see myself as a full-scale human being.
“I remember my therapist saying, ‘you’re a human being, you’re allowed to take up space,’ and that’s stuck with me ever since.
“I started to slowly be more open about my disability and posting about it on my personal social media, but now it’s grown into something much bigger.
“I have a good level of confidence now. I want to be the representation I needed as a kid and show people that disabilities are normal.”
Jessica launched her blog, The Rolling Explorer, in June 2020 – a year after graduating with a degree in English literature from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
She uses the blog and her social media channels to share her experiences, educate and spread awareness of the disabled perspective, and inspire self-love and disability pride worldwide.
She is also a public speaker and has made an appearance on the UK TV show Embarrassing Bodies.
She said: “There’s still a lack of understanding around people with disabilities.
“The biggest thing I wish more people understood is that disability is a natural part of the human condition – it’s not something to be afraid of.”
“People fear to do anything about disability – to even think about it because they don’t want to think it’s possible.
“It’s not scary though, the scary thing is how little society cares about disabled people.
“I’ve experienced ableism throughout my life, it takes on many different forms.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as not having access into a space, which in 2022 is unacceptable when there’s so much technology.
“Then there’s more direct attacks like people saying ableist slurs on the street, or more indirect stuff like strangers coming up to me, touching me and saying ‘you’re so brave’ when I’m just trying to eat some food.
“The amount of people that will just come up to me, touch my shoulder and pray.”
She added: “One of the reasons I think I had so much fear and frustrations in my childhood as a disabled person is because I didn’t have any disabled role models to look up to.
“There were none in media, TV or professional roles like politicians so that was really hard for me.
“In some ways, I didn’t even realize someone like me could have a future like the one everyone is shown growing up.
“I still dreamt of it, but I didn’t know it was possible because I didn’t see it.
“I want to be that representation I needed as a kid, whether that’s my writing, speaking at a conference or on Instagram doing a silly dance.
“It’s lit a fire under me to change the world, make a difference and show people that disabilities are normal.
“I’ve had such a positive response. I get messages almost every day telling me that my content has shown someone that it’s OK for them to embrace who they are.
“My younger self would be in awe if they saw what my life looks like now.
“I’m living in London and living out my dream fairytale of getting to work in industries I never realized would be a possibility for me.
“When I think about it, I get very emotional, I’m living my dream whilst inspiring and educating others on something that is so important.”
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