Melissa Blake, born in 1981 with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder, triumphed over 26 surgeries, crediting her independence to her parents’ teachings that urged her never to let her disability define her.
In the 1990s, immersed in magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour featuring stars like Cindy Crawford, Melissa longed to see disabled women like herself represented. However, the absence of wheelchair models and the underrepresentation of those who resembled her highlighted society’s rigid beauty standards.
Despite facing Twitter criticism for sharing selfies, Melissa responded with grace and resilience, defiantly posting even more. This unexpected journey led her to the New York Fashion Week stage, courtesy of Mindy Scheier, the founder of Runway for Dreams, who became a fan and invited Melissa to participate in the 2020 fashion event.
Melissa showcased an outfit for the New York Fashion Week as part of the Runway for Dreams project, where over 25 individuals modeled brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Zappos Adaptive, and Target from the comfort of their homes. The virtual catwalk provided a platform for more than 25 disabled individuals to share their stories, emphasizing the significance of being seen and acknowledged by the fashion industry.
If given the opportunity, Melissa’s message would resound: “Please listen to disabled people. Our voices and stories matter—stop relegating us to an afterthought in society.”