Spring Fashion Feature: After Years of Modeling Shaholly Ayers Steps Into A New Role Advocating For Amputees
After years of doors being closed and limited visibility for models with disabilities on the runway, Shaholly Ayers is calm, confident and courageous. Hell, she just walked in a Rihanna runway show. She and other models are redefining our notions of beauty, and opening doors for different body types in a cutthroat industry.
“I was born like this,” Shaholly Ayers says. “I really don’t know any other way of living and I feel 100% comfortable with who I am.” She truly is. Wiggling into a tight Gucci crop top is no problem, and when the camera starts clicking, she moves with confidence and grace. Ayers was born without her right arm below the elbow and, for her, this photo shoot checks off a bucket-list wish—to be featured in a fashion editorial. She’s worked harder than many to earn her spotlight.
“During my first 10 years none of the modeling agencies would represent me and I had to hide my arm in photographs,” Ayers recalls. “I was actually told by a local agency that I would never be a model because no one would want to photograph me.”
It was painful to hear, but she ignored the ignorance. She decided to represent herself as she went on casting calls, took jobs for no pay and reached out to boutiques for in-store modeling work. Finally, in 2014, a breakthrough came in New York City. “My first big, and paid, gig was with Nordstrom,” she says. “They were one of the first companies to have the courage to represent me for me. I was so grateful.” The following year, Ayers says she was the first amputee model to walk in New York Fashion Week without a prosthesis. Her photos were seen around the world and generated life-changing opportunities: invitations to walk in New York and Milan Fashion Week, and modeling gigs for national labels including Third Love, Zappos, Ulta Beauty and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty. “What’s interesting is that I’ve never booked a proper job in Hawai‘i, until now,” says the Honolulu resident, laughing. “And I’m eager for more.”
“Accept your uniqueness! Don’t wait for the world to change, change it yourself.”
The hapa beauty is not just sitting pretty and waiting. Ayers is an ambassador for a consulting firm that creates solutions for people with disabilities. She says insurance companies rarely cover prosthetics. Her own apparatus cost $100,000 and it took her more than three years to find a company that would help her pay for it. Excited, she went to Portland during the pandemic for a fitting. “I came back to Hawai‘i, with my device, only to realize my sweat made it fall off after walking a few blocks. It’s a huge disappointment; I rarely get to use it.” Her prosthetic is also extremely difficult to put on. At the shoot she kindly asks for our help. It takes three of us more than five minutes to attach it correctly. Witnessing her frustration, it’s clear why people like Ayers fight hard for change and visibility.
“That’s why I loved this shoot,” she says. “It shows that a person with a limb difference can be a fierce model and representative.” She ends the day with one thought: “Accept your uniqueness! Don’t wait for the world to change. Change it yourself.”
Ganni Jacquard Egret dress, $295, We Are Iconic, 1108 Auahi St., #155, (808) 462-4575, shopweareiconic.com.
Knitted bodysuit with harness, $2,200, Gucci, Ala Moana Center, (808) 942-1148, gucci.com. Esse Studios Collected skirt, $530, Florrie logo lace rain booties, $220, We Are Iconic.