Katie Knowles is a 25-year-old woman from Newcastle. She is on a mission to become the first plus-size model who is disabled in the United Kingdom.
As a teenager, Katie was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and disc degenerative disease. These conditions resulted in loss of mobility, paralysis, and extreme pain for Katie when she was fifteen years old. She underwent surgery and completed a rehabilitation program. After which she began to lead an active life. She enjoys ballet, horse riding, and badminton.
However, her recovery period didn’t last. The pain worsened until she had to have major surgery. It was a scary moment in her life when she woke up and could not feel her lower half. The only symptom she felt beforehand was pain on the back of her right leg. She went to a general practitioner, and it was initially diagnosed at just sciatica. It continued to progress until the horrific morning where she felt nothing on her lower half.
She had to have one year of intensive physiotherapy to regain her ability to walk. To date, she has been able to get most of the feeling back in her left leg, but her right leg remains immobile. The intense therapy has allowed Katie to regain some movement, and she can go horse riding again. But she has accepted the fact that she will continue to use walking aides to get around.
Relearning the process of walking took more than one year to accomplish. Now Katie moves around by using crutches or a wheelchair. She continues to be on morphine so she can handle the pain that comes with her degenerative condition.
Katie is determined to be more than her disability. When Katie was undergoing rehabilitation, she was approached by the charity Models of Diversity. They are a charity who is out to promote a diverse representation of beauty. Katie has since done some shoots and walked the catwalk for Models of Diversity. Her modelling career has been gaining some media interest.
Katie explains her newfound career by saying, “It’s been my dream since I was a little girl to be a solicitor, but at the same time, when I got ill and the modelling opportunity came up, it gave me confidence and gave my life back. We’ve got a few disabled models, but they are not plus size. We don’t even have any household plus size models over here—we call Kelly Brook plus size, I just call her curvy!”
Katie wants to change the industry because there is a stereotype of what beauty is. Disability is not normally included in the fashion industry. She is part of the One in Six campaign, which stands for the ratio of people in the UK who are living with disability. Along with other disabled models, they are petitioning the government to pressure the fashion industry in being more inclusive with their models.
When disabled models are used in ad campaigns, the public reacts because it’s such a rare sight to see, but Katie’s goal is to make it “just normal.” She feels that disabled individuals wear the same clothes and buy from the same shops as other customers, so they should also be represented in the fashion industry.
There are times that she is not chosen because of her disability, that shows that the industry has far to go when it comes to being inclusive. She was once turned down for a bridal show because the casting agents felt she was too big a liability to walk down the runway on crutches. She recalls that time, saying, “That is so frustrating because that right has been stripped from me.”
Katie has continually had to correct stereotypes and the views of those people who do not have an understanding of her disability. She explains, “I’ve had men say to me, ‘But you’re way too pretty to be in a wheelchair,’ and they always ask if I can have sex. I’ve had women say to me I’m pretty ‘considering’—considering what?”
There will be people with those attitudes, but that has not stopped Katie from finding love and living her life. Her boyfriend, Matt, talked about Katie, saying,”My first impressions of Katie were that she was beautiful and I didn’t really notice the disability if I’m honest. I’m proud of her because she has achieved a lot.”
Since she has completed her solicitor training, Katie is now planning to travel to Australia because she hopes to unwind after her difficult life journey. She explains, “I feel like I got stripped of my teenage years or the chance to go on a gap year so I want to travel, let loose, and just be. I just feel like regardless of having a disability, you shouldn’t let things stop you.”
Katie is an inspiration, not because she is a disabled plus-size model who has become successful, but rather, she is an inspiration because she keeps a great positive attitude despite any setbacks she has encountered in her life so far.