Wendy Crawford is the project coordinator/co-chairperson of Raw Beauty Project NYC with Susan Solman. Wendy is also the founder and editor of mobilewomen.org. When an accident left Wendy, previously a fashion model, paralyzed at the age of 19, she put the wheels in motion to change the perception of beauty as well as raising awareness of and becoming an advocate for women in wheelchairs. The Raw Beauty Project celebrates beauty in it’s more raw of forms, as well as brigs awareness of the often overlooked sensuality, ambitiousness, creativity and confident of disabled women.
What was the catalyst for the Raw Beauty NYC project?
Over 8 years ago I was part of a group of 6 women who started, The Raw Beauty Project, a photography exhibit of women with disabilities with their biographies next to their photograph. I had been injured in a car accident caused by a driving who had been drinking, which left me a quadriplegic at the age of 19, just as my modeling career was starting. After my accident, I experienced the world from a different perceptive. I began to see how beauty was perceived in the eyes of the world and women with disabilities were not considered beautiful. So becoming part of the project was important to me and now we are igniting a global conversation about what beauty really is. I have a website for women in wheelchairs, mobileWOMEN.org and decided to partner with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to bring this powerful project to NYC.
What are the major goals of Raw Beauty NY?
We truly hope that we can challenge the unrealistic standard of beauty that exists today and demonstrate that there is beauty in confidence, strength and uniqueness. This is important for all women, not just those with disabilities, for now and for future generations. We believe that all women are beautiful and the more women embrace who they are and not let the outside world define them, they can achieve their passion and dreams.
Also through awareness, we can transform stereotypes of women with disabilities. We can show the world that it is possible to overcome obstacles and to lead a joyful, fulfilling life and in turn, empower others to do the same in their own lives.
The photographs are wonderful, what sort of attention did they garner from the public and media?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both! The camera seems to act as a filter and enables the viewers to see the women in a different light. They are able to see their beauty, strength and confidence instead of their disability. We have has press from all over the world including major publications such as today.com, Huffington Post Elle.com and Cosmopolitan.com. I think that the photos speak to all women, encouraging self-acceptance and empowerment.
What has been a defining or pivotal moment during your journey with Raw Beauty NY?
For me there have been several defining moments. There was a point at the event, when we were showing our video (see The Raw Beauty Project NYC or below) and I saw the passion in the faces of the women in the audience. Many of the women had disabilities and I could see that they felt validated and finally acknowledged for the beautiful, strong, remarkable women that they are!
Also, one of our models, Emily Ladau shared with me how she often noticed that people stared at her and felt insecure. Then having been through a photo shoot with an award wining photojournalist in a popular park in NYC, she felt stared at again and but this time she felt beautiful. She became empowered in her own life and said she will carry this feeling with her always. That’s when I realized how powerful and important this project is. That’s when I realized we need to continue this project to a global level because I know as women own their beauty, they become empowered and bring that empowerment to those around them.
We have raised over $45,000 to date. To further our mission and benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. To donate, please go to www.ChristopherReeve.org/RawBeauty
You recently gave a TEDx talk entitled: Solving the Beauty Equation, where you talk about your life as a model and about how your life changed forever on the way to your first international modeling shoot. You speak very freely about that experience, how long did it take you to come to terms with this change?
It’s funny that you ask that because after my accident, I spoke to high schools and community groups about my accident and becoming paralyzed and of the perils of drinking and driving. It was routine after a while but then when rehearsing for TEDx 30 years later, I got very emotional and I was puzzled at why. Now, I realized, that I was a mature adult looking at a 19 year old young women just starting life and felt compassion towards myself after all these years.
How has your life as a quadriplegic made you move into an advocacy role?
I didn’t know anything about disabilities prior to my accident and just assumed that women with disabilities were treated the same as any other women. I was astonished to learn that there was such a lack of information and resources in the areas of heath, sexuality and even fashion! I wanted to do something to change that and created mobileWOMEN.org. Also to be a productive member of society is as important to me as it is with all women with disabilities.
Photo credit: here