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Rebekah Marine is the bionic model.
Born with Symbrachydactyly, a congenital abnormality that results in missing or malformed hands and limbs, Marine is missing her right forearm. But she’s never considered it a disability—only a difference. And now she’s using that difference to not only make a big splash in the world of fashion, but to break through the barriers which typically inform the way we look at those with visible disabilities.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Marine says that growing up with her limb difference never caused any issues with her friends, family, or classmates.
That all changed, however, when she decided to model.
“As a kid, I always wanted to model. I really enjoyed being in front of the camera. I was really such a ham,” she says, in the interview.
As she underwent audition after audition, she faced numerous rejections.
“I didn’t fully understand why they wouldn’t consider me as a model. It became challenging for me to grasp that the idea they really wouldn’t take me seriously. It never really dawned on me. Then, towards high school, I started to realize, ‘Okay, hey, I am different.’ That’s when I started to shy away from the camera.”
Like many before her, Marine sometimes faces social consequences because her body is physically different from that of those around her—it is common for those who are disabled to experience disgrace, isolation, shame, and unfair rejection.
Temporarily setting aside her modeling dreams, Marine attended and graduated from Rowan University before moving on to a full-time job in the sales industry. But she wouldn’t stay out of the modeling industry for long.
Marine briefly wore a mechanical prosthetic when in elementary school, but found it too difficult to use at the time. At age 22, however, she began her search for a prosthetic again. As she was considering her options, a friend suggested that she model with a prosthetic and look into becoming a spokesperson for the company that produces it.
That suggestion revived Marine’s original aspirations, and once she was fitted with her new arm, she wasted no time in getting in contact with a local photographer, setting up a photo shoot, and starting in on building a modeling portfolio. In 2013, Marine signed with Models of Diversity, an organization which matches disabled models up with designers and career opportunities.
Things only went up from there, and it wasn’t long before Marine successfully became a spokesperson for Touch Bionics, manufacturer of her stylish i-limb quantum prosthetic hand.
And not long after, woman who was once told that modeling wasn’t for her walked in New York Fashion Week, appearing in the FTL Moda show in September of 2015.
“It’s been quite a journey for me. It was hard at first to put myself out there for the whole world to see,” Marine told People. “But I’ve become quite comfortable with myself now, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Marine is now not only a model, but an inspirational speaker and a humanitarian as well, and has gone on to become one of the most recognizable figures in the disabled community. Her fame and success inspire those with disabilities to believe not only that they can achieve their dreams, but that they are whole, valid, and valuable people. Her efforts to raise awareness of disability issues is generating a new level of empathy for those with physical differences.
“It’s so important to include more diverse models, because after all, nearly one in five people in America have a disability,” she told Mashable. “We should be celebrating uniqueness, not conforming to what the media thinks is beautiful.”