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Jillian Mercado speaks on a panel at the Global Citizen She Is Equal event on Sept. 28, 2018.
Briana Elledge for Global Citizen
NewsDemand Equity

This Model Is Shattering Stereotypes About Womanhood and Disabilities

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The entertainment and media industry are often criticized for their lack of diverse representations, but that is beginning to change. Diverse representations of women — including women living with disabilities — help to combat harmful stereotypes and advance equality. You can take action here and help to reduce inequality and fight against discrimination.

Women make up half the world’s population, yet few women see themselves and their stories truly reflected in media and entertainment.

Women made up just under a quarter of protagonists in the top 100 grossing films of 2017, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television. Of those roles, nearly 70% were white, while only 63% had a job or career identified in the film’s storyline.

But those numbers don’t reflect the reality of the world we live in. By not telling a range of stories and diversifying representations of women in advertising, entertainment, and media, gender stereotypes and discrimination are perpetuated.

Take Action: Tell the UK Government: Help Create a World Where #SheIsEqual

“When I was younger I used to hoard magazines … and the only thing I noticed when I was growing up is that I didn’t see myself,” Jillian Mercado, a model and advocate living with muscular dystrophy, said on Friday during a panel with President of IMG Models Ivan Bart at the Global Citizen #SheIsEqual Summit.

“That was very disheartening and disappointing, so as soon as I got my first break ... I felt a responsibility. I was waiting for someone to be my mirror when I was my own mirror all along — I was my own role model,” Mercado said at the event, presented by P&G and #SeeHer, an initiative to improve the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and entertainment in the US.

But Mercado is much more than just her own role model. The model, who uses a wheelchair, is shattering stereotypes about both womanhood and living with a disability, by telling her own story through her work and her platform.

“I’m the author, I’m the director, I’m the screenwriter of my own life,” she said.

Read More: The Global Citizen Festival in New York Just Got More Accessible for People With Disabilities

Mercado is featured in the game-changing “Face Anything” campaign from Olay, a P&G company, which encourages women to be “strong,” “defiant,” “driven” — anything they want to be.

The 31-year-old model has already been featured in several major brand campaigns and is one of the most recognizable faces advocating for greater representation of people with disabilities in media and fashion. And though change within the fashion industry is happening — Tommy Hilfiger launched his latest collection for his inclusive Adaptive line, for example, and more models living with disabilities have lit up the catwalk — Mercado says she can’t do it alone.

She urged people to stand up for what they believe in and to vote for leaders who will push for the changes they want to see. 

“It takes an army,” Mercado said. “We should all do this all together; we should all team up together to make this world a better place.”