Since Tae McKenzie was a young girl, she has been in the modeling industry. While shopping at the mall one afternoon, people stopped her and told her that her beauty would make her perfect for modeling. After battling a seizure that caused a stroke that left her in a wheelchair, Tae McKenzie’s life and experience in the modeling industry changed drastically.
Navigating the modeling industry
Although Tae Mckenzie has always modeled, it now has a much deeper purpose for her. The multiple jobs and phone calls she once had were scarce after she became wheelchair bound. “Photographers didn’t want to work with me. Even my makeup artist that I used to work with would give these sad excuses of why she couldn’t work with me,” says Tae.
Photographers aren’t the only people in the modeling industry that have been problematic; Tae has also had issues with the models she has encountered at casting calls and shoots. “When I walk in the room at a casting call, I see other models staring at me like, ‘Really? Is this something she is really trying to do’.”
When this happens at casting calls Tae often feels sorry for these models, instead of being angered. “Society has drilled people into thinking that we are contagious, or illiterate, or that something is just down right wrong with us. At first it used to bother me, but now I am learning to let it go,” explains Tae.
Tae also experiences a communication barrier at shoots and casting calls. Most models can walk over and start a conversation to break the ice, but McKenzie is nonverbal and has trouble communicating with other models. “Some models won’t even look my way or even acknowledge me. It seems that my disability makes them uncomfortable,” says Tae.
Location is an issue as well for wheelchair bound individuals like Tae. “Many job locations or sites are not as accessible as they should be. Owners automatically assume that those coming will be abled bodied,” says Tae. It is quite difficult for someone who is wheelchair bound to attend casting calls that only have stairs to enter or lack an elevator. Not only does it make it difficult for a wheelchair bound person to reach the casting call to audition, but it also sends a message out that the casting call host or photographer was only expecting able bodied models.\
Being a disabled model for Tae has even come with designers not taking her serious with her craft as a model or believing that she is capable. Frequently Tae comes to shows where she was selected to model and finds out that only one designer has chosen her to walk for their line. “I am stuck in the back or on the side watching the other models as they change from one look to the next for the next designer, or I may be just selected from the owner of the program of the show just to do an opening scene and not even selected by an designer at all,” explains Tae.
One of the first designers that has ever selected Tae for their line without seeing a difference in her is the designer of GiddyGal Swim, Karen Smith. Due to the nature of the fashion industry with models who are disabled, Tae feels extremely thankful for designers like Karen who treat disabled models with respect.
In the society we live in, those with disabilities are often erased from media representation or have specific roles in films. “We want to be able to see people like us in movies, magazines, billboards and on commercials. Unless this happens, society won’t see those with disabilities as people,” says Tae.
Society also often deems those with disabilities as being incapable of achieving goals due to their disability. One way that this thought is introduced to society is through the type of media coverage portrayed, which often shows those with disabilities as always looking sick or depressed. “The media makes it seem like people with disabilities cannot lead meaningful lives, when we do!” Tae says.
Tae herself has experienced society’s attempt to discourage her from reaching her goals by commenting on her dream to continue her modeling career. “There were people telling me that I might as well give up. They’d tell me things like, ‘You can’t model, or you don’t have what it takes.’ They would tell me, ‘No one is going to hire you because of your disorder.’ They wanted me to believe that I wasn’t hirable, attractive or marketable because I was wheelchair bound. They wanted me to give up.”
Those with disabilities are less likely to be hired and put into high profile positions in the work industry. Tae hopes that we will soon change these statistics and see those with disabilities with higher power in the workforce, in great positions and better work environments.
Tae also hopes to see more disabled Barbies of color being made so that children grow up having an understanding of those with disabilities. If by chance Tae does see a disabled Barbie in the toy section, it is always a caucasion one. “There is more than just one race that is disabled. We are a community of all colors, all different nationalities and races and that should be portrayed as well,” says Tae. In fact, she has a petition out now to reach her goal of having more disabled Barbies of color produced for children.
Tae McKenzie is the owner and CEO of MFSE Foundation Inc, where she fights for those with stroke and epilepsy. Her services and fight go far beyond that, as she fights for all of those with disabilities. “I want them to always feel equal in society,” Tae says.
Tae has an annual fashion show called MFSE Fashion for Change, were all individuals walking the runway have some sort of physical disability. Where they are always stared at in society for how they look and for being different, Tae created this fashion show so that they can be stared at for what they really are: truly beautiful.
To view more details about this event and others, scroll to the bottom of our page!
In addition to modeling, Tae also has her own hair care line Taesbeauty. It is something that she discovered while in the process of losing her hair. “I thought I would find a way to help my hair. Instead, I found a way to help changed my life,” Tae says. After her stroke, there was a lack of blood flow going to the side of her body that was affected by the stroke. This paired with the medication she was taking caused her to loose her hair. “They say a woman’s hair is her crown,” Tae says, “and losing it was extremely hard for me. So, I had to find a product that worked for me.” Tae mixed all natural formulas together and over time found one that gave her real results. She was amazed and started her hair care line Taesbeauty.
Tae ended up creating a hair growth mix that you can mix into any drink to increase your hair growth by providing you with the things your scalp is missing. The beauty line also has oils and sprays that are designed to stimulate your scalp.
Who inspires Tae
When asked who inspires her, Tae explained that answering that questions would be difficult, “There really are not too many people out there that look like me doing what I do, being represented.”
Someone who inspires me is Candace Rushing, the woman who gave me my first modeling job after I became wheelchair bound. “She looked beyond my disability and gave me an opportunity, says Tae, “and I will always be grateful to her for that.”o her for that.
In all the work that Tae puts her time into, she hopes to, above all else, inspire others. “I want to let others know that despite your situation, upbringing or where you come from, never ever let your situation define you,” says Tae, “Never be afraid to jump for what you believe in and follow your heart. Sure you may be alone in the beginning, and you may have a bunch of naysayers. Just remember the dream and goals you set for yourself and the journey will only get better as you learn and grow.”
I use my platform to inspire others through my YouTube channel to show the world that people with disabilities have lives and experience day to day issues. We find unique ways to deal with them and solve these daily problems.
Tae also uses her social media platform to inspire others and show that through everything you encounter, you’re still beautiful. As shown in the video above, Tae uses Youtube to show people how she does every day tasks while in a wheelchair. From cooking to squatting, Tae reaches thousands of people with every video she posts.
When asked about what she hopes others learn from her representation in the modeling industry she responded, “You should never be afraid to embrace your beauty or show your true self based on how society defines beauty.” That is exactly what Tae does every single day. Instead of the adversity she faces every day tear her down, she continues to model and break barriers in the beauty and modeling industry.
Keep up with Tae
Contact Page: here
Sat, August 12, 2017
9:00 AM – 11:30 AM EDT
1900 East Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28203
Sat, March 17, 2018
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM EDT
Charlotte, NC 28210
Fundraiser link: here