Danielle Sheypuk, well, that’s about to change. The psychologist turned fashion model is the toast of New York Fashion Week after becoming the first person to work the runway in a wheelchair.
Sheypuk, a 35-year-old New York-based clinical psychologist who specializes in love and sex issues for the disabled, wheeled down the runway at the Feb. 6 Carrie Hammer show modeling a black cotton blouse, a newspaper-print A-line skirt, and five-inch nude snakeskin heels. “There’s a misconception about people with disabilities — that we’re not glamorous and sexy — and I want to break that stereotype," Sheypuk tells Yahoo Shine.
At the age of 2, Sheypuk was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that impaired her motor skills, and she was fitted for her first wheelchair. "I never had a problem adjusting to my chair; it seemed like second nature," she says. After college, Sheypuk moved to New York City and became interested in fashion, experimenting with clothes and devouring magazines, but there was one problem: “I never saw disabled models,” she says. “Which is odd because I shop in the mainstream fashion department. I might have to alter my clothing a bit more than the average person, but I still wear designer clothes.”
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It wasn't until Sheypuk met fashion designer Carrie Hammer at a cerebral palsy luncheon in 2013 that she started getting some recognition. “Carrie noticed my Louboutin booties,” says Sheypuk. “We hit it off, and she said, ‘You’re Carrie Bradshaw in a wheelchair!’”
The two became fast friends and when Hammer hatched her idea for a “Role Models, Not Runway Models” fashion show featuring nonmodels, she knew whom to call. “This wasn’t about getting a token model in a wheelchair — Danielle is a gorgeous role model who happens to be in a wheelchair," Hammer tells Yahoo Shine. "Hopefully the industry will begin moving away from gaunt models and excessive airbrushing to real, powerful, diverse women.”
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That shift to a more diverse beauty standard has already begun. In January, Diesel tapped 26-year-old fashion blogger Jillian Mercado (who uses a wheelchair due to a condition called spastic muscular dystrophy) for its spring/summer ad campaign. Meanwhile, British model Kelly Knox, born without a forearm, posed for an April 2013 fashion spread in British Vogue. And Angela Rockwood, who became a quadriplegic after surviving a car accident in 2001, landed a Nordstrom campaign in August 2012.
Next up for Sheypuk: another modeling job, this time for The Raw Beauty Project, a photo series on display in a New York City gallery in the spring, sponsored by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Sheypuk was one of 22 women selected to pose for the project, aimed at changing people's perceptions of disability. “I'm excited," says Sheypuk. "It will be another step toward normalizing people with disabilities.”
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