As told to Maddy Alford
Tue, 14 February 2023 at 3:02 pm GMT
The hashtag #GRWM (Get Ready With Me) has been used over one million times on Instagram alone. And Gemma Adby, a professional model born with a left arm limb difference, thinks more of those posts should feature disabled people. Gemma spoke with Cosmopolitan UK about her now-viral videos and the importance of disability representation in fashion.
I was born with a limb difference, and I often describe my disability experience as being a one-armed girl in a two-armed world. Growing up, my generation never saw disabled people in pop culture, even though 14.6 million people with disabilities currently live in the UK. Without access to social media back then, it meant that I never saw any role models like me, and I felt “different” than my peers – I had no one like me to look up to. It made me feel like I wanted to hide my disability.
I’ve always loved fashion, but for years my wardrobe was based around my arm. I hid under baggy clothes, and my search history on every fashion site was “long-sleeve.” Going shopping was bittersweet; I loved what was trending but wouldn’t buy things unless they covered my arm. It feels so weird to think that now, but honestly, I couldn’t leave the house without it covered back then. People would just stare, and the insecurity and anxiety around that was too much.
Naturally, I was nervous to start using social media, because it meant really putting myself out there in a vulnerable way. I kept seeing a lot of “Get Ready With Me” videos on my feed, where people film how they get dressed for the day; but never any GRWMs by disabled babes! I wanted to change that. I cautiously posted my first video, and I couldn’t believe how quickly it blew up – it got 700k views on TikTok. The response was just amazing. Knowing that disabled people of all ages, especially women, could watch my videos and see someone that looks like them was huge.
I went from never letting my arm show in public, to suddenly letting hundreds of thousands of people see me online. Being able to do what I love and reach so many others made my confidence grow. And now I’ve built this incredible community and connected with so many talented disabled creators.
At the start of the pandemic, I ended up signing with an agency for disabled models. I always felt immensely proud of myself after a shoot, because I was pushing myself way out of my comfort zone. I realised that this is what I love doing, and now alongside modelling and social media, I’m Content Director for Liberare, an adaptive intimate lingerie brand. My whole life is now fighting for representation in the fashion industry.
Brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Aerie, and Liberare are leading the inclusion revolution. It goes beyond disabled models starring in campaigns; brands are starting to create functional products adapted for disabilities. There is still a long way to go with the fashion industry, but it makes me so happy to see brands becoming more accessible. And with creators like me helping normalise seeing disabled babes on our feeds, doing what they love? It’s a small step in the right direction.