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Cerrie Burnell: Making it as a model is nearly impossible


For disabled people, the acting industry and the modelling world are very closely linked and remain incredibly hard to break into.

Personally I've never worn a prosthetic arm, because it's only when I attach one to myself that I become disabled. They are uncomfortable and bulky and simply an aesthetic attachment that makes me look like everybody else – and that is something I've consciously decided I'm not going to buy into.

I began as an actor. There are days when every actor – able-bodied or not – gets depressed about the lack of work opportunities, but for disabled people these industries are particularly tough. You simply don't get called to many castings. The industries have a very closed mentality over what they want their models to look like; a very strict definition of what constitutes beauty.

I was lucky to fall in with a fantastic group of disabled actors early on in my career who had already spent many years fighting prejudice, and they explained to me how I could get on.

But for disabled people who want to become models, things are even tougher. The fashion industry is very fast, very unforgiving and it doesn't care about your feelings. Every day women are surrounded by a plastic surgeon's view of what constitutes the body beautiful. In magazines, fashion shows, on television and in films we're constantly bombarded with what a woman's body should look like and it's an image that is hard enough to match up to when you are an able-bodied woman, let alone someone who is disabled.

In terms of a disabled person trying to make it in the fashion world it's virtually impossible.

How often do you see a magazine cover with a disabled person on it? The only time would be to accompany a piece about their disability. You'd never see a picture of a disabled model simply because the magazine editor or client decided they wanted her in there regardless of her disability.

When I heard earlier this week that a small number of people had complained about me being on television it didn't really surprise me, and it certainly didn't hurt. I knew those people weren't complaining about me personally – they were simply reacting to the fact that we hardly ever see a disabled person on our television screens.

It simply reinforced what all disabled people know: discrimination still exists in so many forms. In many ways I'm glad the whole thing erupted, because it made the rest of the world aware of the kind of shit that disabled people have to deal with all the time.

Cerrie Burnell is a CBeebies presenter