Cover Zoe Zora (Photography: Grace Ho)

Meet Zoe Zora, one of six Asia-based models who shared with Tatler how they’re breaking boundaries and refusing to be limited by gender, race, sexuality, size, age, religion or ability

“It’s 2022: you’re finally seeing people of colour being represented, but you do not see that representation for people with disabilities—even though we are the largest minority group,” says Fathima Zohra. Known professionally as Zoe Zora, the Singaporean is a model, advocate, content creator and full-time programme manager for an inclusive sports club called Runninghour.

Beauty has come to have a different meaning for Zora since a car accident put her in a wheelchair five years ago: in her own words, she had to experience the difficulties and challenges first-hand to understand the importance of representation. It has taken time and work for the fitness enthusiast to accept her body again, but the struggle has led to her modelling career, and her appearance in an initiative for The Body Shop that celebrates and encourages self-love. Zora hopes to empower her community and inspire the industry to celebrate every “minority”. She says: “I want to use my story in a bid to fight for better representation for bodies like mine so no one has to feel the way I did when I became disabled.”

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I try to redefine beauty by boldly and unapologetically putting my disabled body out there and celebrating it in a world that makes me feel like I am not beautiful
Zoe Zora

What made you decide to become a model?

I didn’t see models who looked like me fronting brand campaigns and that was heart-breaking, because I always dreamed of being up on a billboard. [Add to that] a disabled body in a wheelchair, [and there was a complete] lack of representation for bodies like mine. That made me feel like I would never belong. It took a lot to put myself out there—put all my insecurities out there—but I wanted to use my story in a bid to fight for better representation for bodies like mine so no one had to feel the way I did when I became disabled.

My hope is for a little disabled person to see an ad campaign or a billboard and see someone like themselves and believe that they can be up there too—that they can be disabled and beautiful. 

What does “beauty” mean to you? 

Beauty to me is very different to what it was five years ago. Beauty to me is celebrating our uniqueness, [which] can be interpreted in so [many] ways. When we hear the word “beauty”, we immediately think of the physical aspects but I think [it] comes from within. Real beauty is acceptance of yourself, your individuality, perceived flaws and all, and realising that they are a part of what makes you, you. Today as a disabled woman I try to redefine beauty to society by boldly and unapologetically putting my disabled body out there and celebrating it in a world that makes me feel like I am not beautiful. 

Is there anything people tend to overlook when talking about diversity and inclusivity?

I think people overlook the literal point of diversity and inclusivity. They are such popular terms now, but seen more as a commercial opportunity or trend. Disabled people need to be a part of of the behind-the-scenes, a part of conversations when diversity and inclusivity are being defined. Because how are we truly going to talk about diversity and inclusivity when you’re leaving the biggest minority group behind?

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