Aaron Philip's foray into the fashion world breaks several barriers to acknowledging the beauty within disabled and trans communities. (Courtesy photo)
Aaron Philip's foray into the fashion world breaks several barriers to acknowledging the beauty within disabled and trans communities. (Courtesy photo)

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Stunning the fashion world, Aaron Philip recently appeared on the cover of Paper magazine, marking a graceful start to a promising career. Philip is a Black, disabled, genderfluid 18-year-old girl from New York, and she is propagating a new wave of inclusion. So, though she may be the first Black, trans, disabled person on runways, she will not be the last.

Philip and her family are originally from Antigua but moved to New York City to secure better medical care for her. Seven years ago, her family was forced into a homeless shelter due to overwhelming medical bills. At fourteen, she co-wrote a book with Tonya Bolden, This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability). But, after seeing Kylie Jenner’s 2015 Interview cover, Philip wondered, as she stated in an interview with Them, “where were all the other people with disabilities in the shoot?”

Initially, Philip sent headshots to agencies, but didn’t find success until she turned to social media where she had already secured a large following. The tweet she put out read: “honestly when I get scouted/discovered by a modeling agency it’s over for y’all.” And from that viral success, she started getting picked up for photo shoots. Philip was signed to Elite NYC, a high-profile modeling agency, in the fall of 2018.

In June, she made her modeling debut at the Willie Norris Workshop. When she said “it’s over for y’all” Philip knew how to follow through. Philip finished high school and went to prom rocking Marc Jacobs. Philip was also interviewed by one of her idols, Naomi Campbell, in Paper. Since this start, Philip has made skillful, effective steps, while remaining true to her own ideal.

On Twitter, she has stated that she’s not an activist, rather, that she just “gives a f**k.” And she certainly believes marginalized people should be allowed to live without needing to justify themselves. Philip is clear-sighted when it comes to her work; she rejects the idea that she’s an “activist,” and in an interview with Dazed she stated: “I think when it comes to being a marginalized person in society, people have such high expectations,” she said, “they want people who are marginalized to do the labor of constantly advocating for themselves. I’m not an activist. I’m a model.”

It’s this giving a f**k that gives her a strong position in the world, she stated in her Paper feature.

“I want to be seen as equal. I want to have the equal opportunities that any other woman would have in life itself.”

She knows this is beyond modeling, although modeling is her work. It is the creation of a lane where there wasn’t one before.

Philip knew the lack; “I was hyper-aware of my disability. I realized there’s no one I see on TV or online or in fashion on the stage that I love, looking like me.” The creation of representation is so important — “everyone deserves to be acknowledged, respected, and valued” she stated. It is modeling, but it’s also trailblazing.

It’s this clarity of purpose that makes Philip a stunning force in her field, as well as her authenticity. “I feel like I’m doing nothing but trying my hardest to authentically live my life,” she told Paper. Philip knows her image for the future of fashion, stating she wants “genuine inclusion and diversity,” in an interview with Dazed. In her first cover, she stated “I hope that my first show goes to show that runways and fashion collections with people like me in it can be possible.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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