Jan. 23, 2019 -- Beth Wilson was so taken aback when she saw the window display at The White Collection, an independent bridal boutique in her hometown of Portishead, England, that she snapped a picture with her phone and posted it on social media. Already married and not someone who wears dresses anyway, Wilson wasn’t shopping for wedding gowns. Yet, for the first time in quite some time, she saw herself represented in the shop window.
The mannequin wore an off-the-shoulder, high-low gown by House of Mooshki -- and used a wheelchair.
Wilson, a 36-year-old artist who uses a wheelchair herself, tweeted a photo of the window and said, “The new wedding shop in town has a wheelchair-using mannequin and it shouldn’t be exciting but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen disability portrayed in a shop window.”
“It was so surprising and made me feel represented,” Wilson says. “So often, disabled people feel invisible because we don’t see ourselves in the media much and especially not modeling beautiful clothes.”
Wilson’s tweet quickly went viral, garnering 8,158 retweets and 35,967 likes (and counting), and shining a light on a gaping hole in advertising. Her tweet and The White Collection’s subsequent Instagram post of the window display have sparked an international conversation on the topic.
Among the 190 comments (and counting) on The White Collection’s post are several in which women express what a challenge it is to envision themselves in a wedding gown in their wheelchair.
“As a wheelchair user who has always looked at dresses and [thought] ‘But, would it work in my chair?’ THANK YOU,” @patricialwatts wrote.
An Instagrammer who uses the handle @dtaudette said, “We love this for the same reason able-bodied women love bridal…we all dream of this day, disabled, abled.”
Commenter @jesserobertaturner added, “As a disabled woman (and wheelchair user), your window display means a lot to me! The greatest barriers I have faced are not physical barriers, but instead people’s negative perceptions of disability. That disabled people are not of value, not sexual-beings, not capable of meaningful relationships. Thank you for helping to dismantle those perceptions.”
It wasn’t only the presence of the wheelchair in the window that earned praise; it was the way it was displayed. “Mobility aids are often portrayed as negative things that people want to hide when actual mobility aids like wheelchairs give us freedom,” Wilson said. “It’s great that they decorated the chair rather than try and hide it away.”
As for shop owners and sisters Laura Allen and Sarah Parker, who borrowed the wheelchair for the display, they didn’t expect so much attention in response to the window, nor did they do it for social media likes, Parker said.
“You don’t want to come into a boutique and wonder ‘Are they looking down on me? Will I be judged?’ ” Parker said. “Every bride is special. It doesn’t matter what your body shape is, your size, whether you are able-bodied or disabled. It’s your day.”