hen she was a really young girl, Shaholly Ayers didn’t feel that she was growing up differently than any other kids in her Oregon neighborhood. But in her school aged social circles, she started feeling out of place. Shaholly is a congenital amputee, born almost completely without her right forearm. Her constant and biggest uphill battle is acceptance of her appearance from people she encounters every day.
In later elementary school through early junior high, she was bullied by her peers, even as she moved from state to state. “Name calling was every day,” she recalls. One boy beat her up for being different, trying to prove, probably, that she’s defenseless without her other arm.
Shaholly covered up her arm, wearing long-sleeved shirts and miserably hot sweaters even during summertime, “I was hiding it because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I didn’t want to gross anyone out. I wanted to avoid that conflict. It was my way of escaping all of that...I was comfortable with myself, but I was afraid of other people reacting to it.”
“Girls were really mean, and they’d always would pick on me and say I was ugly...And when I came back to Oregon, the girls would call pick on me again, and they’d say, ‘You’re a snob for not showing us your arm.’” This push-and-pull argument about her body frustrated her through her teenaged years until she decided enough was enough, “Too hell with it, I’m just gonna be myself.”
Shaholly uprooted once more after high school - as far away as possible from the negativity she wanted to shed away.
In Hawaii, Shaholly decided to pursue modelling. People she knew discouraged her from trying out. But she remembered all the times as a kid she was told she couldn’t play sports or being told that her disability would hinder her -- she proved all of those people wrong in the past. She was determined to prove she could model.
The first modeling agency she applied to, she was turned down. They told her, point blank, that she will never be a model because of her arm. The blow was painful, but Shaholly picked herself up and pursued modeling from a grassroots angle. “I was determined to change the way people saw me and thought about me, and hopefully other people’s disabilities.”
She produced her own portfolio shoots, networking with photographers and boutiques to model clothing locally. Eventually Shaholly not only filled out her portfolio, she made it to covers of many magazines. As she became more visible, she found that people would reach out to her, especially as they realized that their own need to embrace ability diversity.
That’s when Shaholly joined the team at Global Disability Inclusion. As the view of disability changes to the idea that people are able to do the same things in a different way, many fortune 500 companies seek support and consultation in creation of jobs for everyone. Global Disability Inclusion brings experienced disability inclusion experts together to provide one resource to address a company’s inclusion needs. Shaholly is their brand ambassador, the person that proves that being different is good. “I like to think that being different is beautiful.”
“These days, I accept myself pretty fully. The big thing was putting myself in uncomfortable situations. Now, if I ever feel like [...] people were looking at me, I stick my arm out and anyone who sees it, it’s education time. The more I’m out here, the more I can condition them to get used to it. If we keep hiding, like I used to do, it doesn’t change anyone’s mind. Instead of getting mad about it, I just say, ‘There’s more teaching I need to do.’”
To see more of Shaholly and her journey please follow her @Shahol1