Amputee model Shaholly Ayers is challenging people’s assumptions about disability

Every young woman or man with dreams of landing the cover of a magazine encounters those moments—the ones where doors are literally and figuratively slammed in your face.

For model Shaholly Ayers, years of bullying in school ultimately turned into the courage she needed to walk into a modeling agency at age 19.

“Everyone was picking on me, from my classmates to my teachers, and it made me feel like a horrible person even though I knew I wasn’t. It was in that moment that I thought, ‘What can I do to change people’s minds about me and how they look at disability?’ and I knew that it had to be something visual,” Ayers recently told Shape Magazine.

AP Photo/Kevin Hagen

Ayers is a congenital amputee, born days after a large hurricane hit the coast of Florida. Born to adversity, Ayers is proof that anyone can overcome their struggles. She’s already been featured in The New York Times, and GQ Italia, and her portfolio is only growing.

She’s even strutted the catwalk during the last three seasons of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City — the Academy Awards of the fashion industry.

In many photos, you don’t notice the fact Ayers is missing her right arm. But some companies are choosing to showcase her diversity. Check out Ayers modeling in Nordstrom’s anniversary sale catalog wearing her prosthesis.

Ayers told Today she doesn’t feel the need to wear her prosthesis all the time. “I use it more as a tool,” she said. “I use it for working out primarily, kayaking, doing things outside.”

As she gains momentum in the industry, Ayers is using her experience to help young people with similar experiences. She is a partner of Love 4 Limbs, a resource website for amputees.

She’s also a brand ambassador for consulting firm Global Disability Inclusion, LLC. The firm helps businesses realize their possibilities for diversity inclusion.

Ayers says the first agency she approached about getting into modeling told her it would never work out. Bet they’re regretting that now!