By Rosario B. Diaz
The modeling and fashion industry has been notorious for showing consumers a distorted image of what it means to be “beautiful.” With unrealistic beauty standards that display stick-thin (and often photoshopped) images of women, the business has convinced an entire generation of young minds that the fashion industry is exclusive only to those who fit these standards. Fortunately, recent years have shown a backlash against these images, and there’s now a movement to dispel the myth that only one type of body can be displayed. Jillian Mercado is a part of that movement, and it all started when the young Latina, who also happened to have been born with muscular dystrophy, decided she wanted to not only work in the fashion industry, but to be up front and center.
At 28 years old, Jillian has modeled for the IMG/WME Worldwide modeling agency, has been contracted to work at several fashion events, and just earlier this year, starred in merchandise ads for Beyoncé’s Formation tour. But these things did not come easy for Jillian. As someone who had been accustomed to using her wheelchair since the age of three, nothing ever came easy for her. Still, she worked through it all—from enduring the cruel taunts of middle school bullies to seeking out a mentor who looked like her (and at the time, finding none). Jillian’s resilience was all thanks to the lessons she had been taught by her Dominican parents. Though they were concerned for how their oldest daughter would fare through life, they were ultimately determined to ensure that Jillian knew one important thing—that the only person who can stop you in your goals is yourself.
Jillian carried this lesson throughout her life, and it was likely what encouraged her, when she was starting, to try out for an open casting call for Diesel Jeans. In the audition, Diesel representatives asked her why she wanted to model for them, and she replied that she “wanted to change the world of modeling.”
Diesel took her up on that goal, and she was not only featured in her full glory, but the image of a model in a wheelchair spurred an inclusivity movement for Diesel Reboot, with the campaign slogan being “We Are Connected.” Now, when she is asked by others how she would like to be seen—as she is not only representing people with disabilities on the runway, but also Latinas—she simply answers, “A model…like every other model.”