Model with Muscular Dystrophy Becomes the Face of Fashion

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In The News

“I want to change the world.”

That was what Jillian Mercado said when she went for an open casting call, and it was this strength and determination that propelled her modeling career.

When she was a teenager, Jillian was diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy. In 2010, Jillian was a senior student in fashion marketing studies, and that was when she decided to enter the world of modeling. Jillian went online to search for a mentor who had a similar experience to her. Someone who looked like her. She couldn’t find anyone.

“I didn’t think it was a possibility,” says Jillian, regarding her envisioned career choice. “Not because I didn’t think I was worthy of it, but because I didn’t see anyone else like me out there. It was just not a thing.”

Embracing that powerful dream to change the world, Jillian has made a name for herself. She has appeared on campaigns for companies like Diesel Jeans and Target, and is signed with one of the biggest modeling agencies, IMG Models.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to normalize diversity. Campaigns should have real people. People should see themselves in an editorial, in a magazine or a commercial.”

When faced with various challenges, such as inaccessible photoshoot locations or suitable transportation services, Jillian and her team simply make it work. She does not allow these challenges to be used as excuses not to put out great work. Another concern is the integrity behind her hire. Jillian stresses the importance of communication between the client and the model. Both parties need to have the same objective in mind: to showcase the products to their best, rather than a PR move.

headshot of a woman in a wheelchair
Courtesy of IMG

Jillian admits that it took her a long period of time to develop the confidence and love for her body that she has now. Last year, she took on a lingerie photoshoot, and embraced her body and the surgical scars on it by baring them for the shoot. Jillian wants to empower people to be comfortable and confident in their own skin. “You shouldn’t be ashamed of your own body,” she comments. “I hope in the years that I’m alive that there will be a Victoria’s Secret model who has a disability, because that’s considered mainstream sexy.”

Besides work, Jillian is also focused on using her blog as a platform to reach out to people and encourage them to follow their dreams. She will be that mentor for future generations of models with disabilities. Anything you set your mind to, you can achieve it, and that’s the example that Jillian wants to be for everyone.

You can read more of Jillian’s modeling journey in this original post by The Washington Post.

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