Photo credit: Charles Gipson
“I have a disability called cerebral palsy . . . I use a wheelchair, so I’ve always been different. Ultimately, I want to change the face of beauty . . . and (be that) representation of another type of beauty.”
Jessica Kirkwood has been modeling for 9 years, and today one can’t mistake this young woman’s confidence. But that’s not at all how her story begins. Originally from Peoria, Illinois, she’s the youngest in her family of four siblings. “Actually, it’s a little interesting,” she states. “Growing up I wasn’t pretty at all . . . I had ‘Ugly Duckling Syndrome’ so bad.” As a teen, she enjoyed reading Vogue but also recalls thinking none of the models looked like her. It wasn’t until she turned 18 that her outlook began to change and modeling became a safe haven.
“I started modeling in my early college days . . . I was about 21.” Jessica became actively involved in photo shoots and a member of the campus’ modeling group. Today, the young model shares that living with cerebral palsy (CP) has its challenges, but she also views it as a blessing and rewarding at times. “There’s many different types and levels to CP, but in general it affects motor skills and body movement. I happen to use a wheelchair just because my legs aren’t very strong and walking is difficult and tiring.” But aside from that, Jessica lives a relatively normal life and enjoys her independence. She even credits the disability to feeding her ambitions of one day gracing the covers of Vogue and Sports Illustrated and becoming a Covergirl.
Photo credit: Joe Vahling
“I honestly feel living with CP has shown me anything is possible and to never give up. Just believe in yourself and be passionate. Tough roads lead to beautiful destinations. I aspire to be and do so much and my disability keeps me motivated.”
One of our Barbie on Wheels’ favorite thing about being a model is being able to touch the lives of others and to share her story. “When people tell me that I inspire them . . . and how I’ve helped them or that I’m strong it really warms my heart.” When asked what message she’d like to share for those also living with CP, Jessica says, “Never let a disability define you or dictate what you can and cannot do. With drive, passion, and determination anything is possible. Stop thinking of yourself as disabled and start thinking of yourself as ‘differently abled’.” She encourages others to not let a disability prevent you from connecting with someone who has one and to not judge based on outward appearances.
Photo credit: Lisa Shelander
Jessica credits her sister, who became a second mother after the passing of both parents, as her source of inspiration. “I really admire her strength as well as all she does . . . She really stepped up in every way possible . . . and really has been with me through it all.” She describes herself as a girlie girl who enjoys shopping and sees herself advocating for people with disabilities through mentoring and public speaking.
In a society where bigger agencies define to the majority what beauty looks like Jessica shares that she just prays to remain strong and never give up on her dreams. Modeling and being published in a local magazine has played a major role in her individual growth. You can learn more about Jessica and see her modeling portfolio via her social media listed below.
Photo credit: Lisa Shelander
“If I can do it so can you. Beauty is not at all one dimensional, in the least bit. It’s ok to be different and set your own standards of beauty. Embrace your weirdness.”
Facebook: Jessica Kirkwood (personal)
Disability Awareness-Living with Cerebral Palsy (modeling)
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