During the course of my travels on Twitter, I connected with Rebekah Marine. She was doing a photo shoot in NYC which I wanted to catch, but it never worked out. What interested me in Rebekah was that she was breaking through the modeling perfection ceiling that most American women don’t even dream about smashing through because our faces or bodies are too fat, too disproportional, not photogenic, too thin (that’s a laugh), too short, too old, too ethnic, too “whatever.” Rebekah, who was born without a right hand, is an amputee model who is 5’2″. She is a motivational speaker and model and her purpose is to help reshape how we look at beauty in America. I champion and support that cause.
Is the U.K. ahead of us? They have created an advocacy group, the Models of Diversity, and a new modeling agency, Visable People, which represents only models and actors with disabilities. Are there U.S. equivalents? Not entirely, but Rebekah Marine thinks and hopes that more are coming. There are websites and agencies like Amputees in Hollywood. One of Rebekah’s intentions is to promote the inclusion of diverse women in media. The U.K. may be moving more quickly than we are; their Models of Diversity on Youtube video is a step in the right direction. We certainly need to catch up to them.
Rebekah Marine spoke with me about modeling in America and the challenges of being an amputee model and model of diversity.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from Woodbury, New Jersey, where I went to West End Elementary School, Woodbury Jr.-Sr. High School, and continued my education at Rowan University. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Advertising, after I found my calling.
When did you know you wanted to become a model?
I remember modeling as a kid. My mom would take me to agencies in New York City to build my portfolio. I think I was about 12 years old. After a lot of rejection, I gave up for a long time, but got back into it a few years ago.
Who or what influenced you to become a model?
I remember speaking to a friend, who believed that I had some purpose in life to fulfill. He asked me why I gave up modeling and then insisted that I give it a shot again. That week, I came across a website, Amputees in Hollywood, run by Al Pike, who helps amputees find roles in films, photo shoots, etc. It was at that moment that I realized this is something I could do.
Did anyone discourage you from wanting to model? What was your attitude about it being hard?
I think from day one I’ve had full support from my friends and family. It was mainly the agencies that felt that this wasn’t a smart career for me to get into, based on the fact that I don’t fit the “model look.” It was hard to accept that I never would be treated as a normal model, because I never saw myself as someone who is different. I am positive that I can model just as good as any other model out there. But convincing agencies otherwise was hopeless.
When did doors begin to open for you?
It was after my photo shoot in Germany that I began to gain some recognition. I am not currently working with any agencies, because I fear that I will run into the same problems as I did before when I was younger. I don’t want to be constantly reminded that I’m “different.” Ideally, I’d like to work with a company who truly believes in me. I’m doing freelance and I’m on Model Mayhem.
How did you meet and connect with photographers and others in the industry?
It’s funny because I met a lot of photographers through the website Model Mayhem. Despite some of the negative feedback from people who have used the website, I have connected [there] with many talented photographers who love what I’m doing and want to work with me.
You are thin and lovely, two features that agencies should like. Any comments about that?
Although I tend to credit my high metabolism for my tiny frame, it has bothered me to see only slim models being portrayed. It’s not realistic. More than one third of the United States is obese, but yet, we as a society rarely use a plus size model in campaigns. On the other hand, I have been taking notice of the acceptance of models who don’t fit that “model look.” I think as time goes on there will be more diversity with body type in advertising campaigns.
What are some of the difficulties you encountered in NYC pursuing your career?
I was constantly told I was just not going to be successful. They said this is not worth pursuing. Not only am I missing my right forearm, I’m also pretty short. I’m only 5’2″ which limits any chance of making it onto a major runway. But again, these are things that should not affect my ability to model.
One size or one look or one way of being is no longer something that the industry thinks is all that important (unless it’s high fashion). To what extent to you think this is improving each year you’ve modeled? What changes have you seen in the industry?
Diversity is finally becoming a “thing” in the fashion industry, which allows me to almost capitalize on more opportunities and casting calls! It’s such a great feeling to know that my “disability” is not looked at as an impossibility in this industry anymore. I’ve found my niche, and it’s great that many more agencies are looking outside the box now.
Would you be interested in fit modeling? Even heavyset women are used as fit models for bras and other clothing? What type of fit modeling might you aim for?
I would one day love to be a fit model for prosthetics. I think it would be a great experience to be able to try out the latest technologies. I really enjoy fashion and editorial modeling, though. I like being creative and wearing things that I would never wear on a day-to-day basis.
What do you like to do when you are not modeling?
Believe it or not, I am a complete computer nerd. I recently bought a book to help me learn computer programming. I love graphics and web design, too. I did go out for auditions before for movie roles, and it’s definitely something I’d like to pursue, sometime, but right now, I am solely focused on modeling and speaking to people about my experiences.
Rebekah Marine is one of a number of models attempting to change American folkways about beauty and what is acceptable and worthy to be viewed in advertising campaigns. As more women young and old advocate for diversity, advertisers will bend and the images will become more realistic and natural. It may take a while, but as Rebekah has noted, it is happening.