Kelly Knox Talks Being Born Without A Forearm, Never Stopping & Mothering With No Hands

Kelly Knox Talks Being Born Without A Forearm, Never Stopping & Mothering With No Hands
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Kelly Knox on being born without a forearm, never feeling disabled and no-handed mothering

Kelly Knox has never felt ‘disabled’: ‘it might sound weird, but I never saw myself as different, my friends and family never saw me as a disabled person’. Born without a forearm, model, presenter and diversity campaigner Kelly only briefly wished that she could wake up with two hands ‘when I was about 13, and the hormones kicked in. But I knew it would never happen, so I’ve learned to accept myself again’.

Inspirational, right? We spoke to the Britain’s Missing Top Model winner to talk all things disability, including how she handles her son with no hands.

On the word disabled…
Before I did modeling, I never even used the word disabled. When I became submerged in fashion, I started to see barriers because of my impairment. In the dictionary, so many horrifying things come under the word, but that doesn’t define me as a person.

On one word not fitting all…
Disabled lumps a whole group of people together. Someone with a missing arm is different to a wheelchair user or someone who is visually impaired. The word itself is disabling; not being able to do one specific thing doesn’t make you disabled, it makes you human. Alternatively-abled might be better.

On not wearing prosthetics…
I stopped wearing my prosthetics before I was 7. I hated it. The colour wasn’t my skin tone, it was plastic… Wearing a false arm made me feel disabled. I couldn’t do my hair, go swimming or do my laces. When I was really young, I just pulled off my arm in the post office. Sophie from The Alternative Limb Project designed Viktoria Modesta’s Swarovski leg for the 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony – that’s a piece of art. For me, a false arm isn’t. You need a prosthetic leg to walk, but an arm is only there to make you look normal.

On starting out in modeling…
It was a whole new world for me - it opened my eyes to the ignorance surrounding disability. I used to read magazines growing up and didn’t stop to think ‘why isn’t there someone like me’? If I was a teenager now, I’d be more conscious about that. My agency closed six months after I won Britain’s Missing Top Model, I wanted to change the world, but the fashion industry wasn’t ready for a model like me.

On being used as a token…
I don’t think it’s OK. People should want to use disabled models because they believe it’s the right thing to do, not box ticking. It wasn’t so long ago you didn’t see many plus-sized models – the same can happen for disabled models.

On what needs to change…
It’s designers, casting directors, advertising agencies… Diversity sells. The quicker the decision makers realise that, the more proactive they will be. People get bored of seeing the same thing. Everyone deserves the right to grow up with confidence, beauty exists in ever size, colour, gender and ability.

On being a role model…
After the show, a 16 year old girl e-mailed who always wore a prosthetic arm and never took it off because she felt too shy. She asked for confidence tips. Four years later, she got in touch and said that she’s at university, has loads of friends and never wears her prosthetic. She said that deciding to contact me was the best decision of her life. It’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it. I want to do that on a grander scale.

On becoming a mother…
I have a one year old boy. I never thought ‘how am I going to hold the baby or change his nappy’, I just knew I would get on with it. People say you learn to do things one handed when you’re a mother, I just thought I’ll have to do things no handed. The hardest thing is no sleep!

On never giving up…
That’s my saying. Energy is everything, you’ll meet people on the same mission as you and together you can make amazing things happen. I started Diversity Not Disability with my agent because we believe beauty exists in all shapes, sizes, colours and abilities. I love Parallel London too, they’re all about inclusion and equality.

Parallel London, a celebration of inclusivity in the British capital, will take place at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Sunday 4th September, 2016. For more information and to sign-up to the challenges, visit parallellondon.com/signup

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