Permanently Disabled by a car accident at the age of 6, Bri Scalesse runs every model’s lifelong dream, The Victoria’s Secret Runway with her Wheelchair.
Bri Scalesse has been making waves in the fashion industry as the first wheelchair-using model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Her inspiring story as a girl who faced a car accident at the age of 6 and became permanently disabled has made her a well-known social media activist and runway model.
Despite facing numerous challenges, Bri Scalesse has been a vocal advocate for disability representation in the media and air travel rights for wheelchair users.
Bri Scalesse’s story is a testament to the power of perseverance and the importance of representation in the media. Her journey inspires others who may feel marginalized or excluded, and her achievements have opened doors for greater diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry.
Bri Scalesse’s memories of Car Accident as a kid
Bri Scalesse’s life changed forever when she was just 6 years old. She was in a car accident that took her mother’s life. The accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. The accident caused a spinal cord injury at the t12 level. So, she had paraplegia and had to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Despite the tragic event, Bri’s grandmother, Frances Kornacki, stepped in to help raise her. She described her grandmother as a “strong, fierce woman” who was always there for her. Bri’s passion for fashion and beauty started at a young age, and she was surrounded by women who loved to play with makeup and style it up.
Bri recalled that she started wearing makeup at a young age, and lipstick was big for her. Watching her mom and aunts put on makeup was a big inspiration for her. She loved makeup and fashion from a very young age.
It was not an easy life as a permanently disabled person
Bri Scalesse’s life as a permanently disabled person was not easy. She felt ashamed of having a disability at a young age. And she was often the only student at school with a visible disability. On top of that, she didn’t see herself represented in the media. She realized that her wheelchair was going to affect her life and the way that people perceived her.
Despite these challenges, Bri succeeded in school and got into Trinity College. However, her studies were interrupted by mounting mental health struggles. She graduated and got admitted to Columbia University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program.
Bri was so sick during her first semester at Columbia that she “couldn’t sit up by the end of it” and “laid in a hospital for months staring at the ceiling imagining being back at Columbia.” After recovering, she finally got back to studying. But as she continued studying at Columbia and simultaneously launched a modeling career, one aspect of her life didn’t see as much success.
Bri’s dating life was also rough. People focused only on her wheelchair. Still, she wanted to put herself out there and downloaded some dating apps. However, men asking intrusive questions about why she used a wheelchair led her to hide her disability on social media.
In addition to these challenges, in 2021, Bri’s wheelchair was broken on a Delta flight. It affected her career and lifestyle. As a model and disability rights advocate, Bri revealed how Delta Airlines broke her wheelchair just weeks after her friend’s wheelchair was also damaged beyond repair. She spoke out about the incident and called out Delta for breaking her wheelchair in transit, stating that the chair was irreparably damaged en route from St. Paul to New York City.
Despite all these difficulties, Bri persevered and inspired others with her story.
Bri learns to love herself
Living in New York City, Bri Scalesse found herself surrounded by a diverse and accepting community. They helped her on her journey to self-acceptance. She learned to love her body, including the disability aspect of it, which helped her get sober. Part of accepting herself meant embracing her mobility device, which she had used since she was s years old. She even named her wheelchair Aphrodite and saw it as a partner, a piece of herself.
Bri’s community of people with disabilities also played a crucial role in her self-esteem journey. She admitted that she used to reject the idea of having friends with disabilities. But she soon realized what she was missing out on. Being with people who understood the struggles and the joys of living with a disability changed her life. Bri found that loving and being loved by others made her feel more complete than she ever thought possible.
Despite the positivity she found in her community, Bri acknowledged that it took her a long time to feel proud of calling herself a disabled woman. She had to overcome feelings of shame before she could embrace her disability and see it as a part of her identity. But for her, her disability made her the strong and resilient woman she is today.
Being a model while in a wheelchair was not easy
Bri Scalesse faced many challenges and difficulties in her journey to becoming a model, especially as a permanently disabled wheelchair user. She had to deal with discrimination and societal norms that often exclude people with disabilities from the fashion industry. However, she did not let these obstacles stop her from pursuing her dream.
At her first New York Fashion Week presentation, Scalesse felt vulnerable and stressed about her appearance. She had to give up control over how her legs looked in photographs. It was a big step for her. But once she got past this hurdle, she was ready to hit the runway and show the world what she was capable of.
“I spent A LOT of time stressing over how my legs looked at my first NYFW presentation. I had to give up complete control,” she said. “I’m… proud to be disabled but I’ve always posed my legs in a certain way on social media to ‘normalize’ them. Here, they are raw and real.”
Scalesse’s runway debut came at New York Bridal Week in a show for Theia Couture. It was a magical experience for her.
“I thought, ‘I belong here. I’m supposed to be here’ … Their eyes were falling on all of me, the clothes, the hair, the makeup, not just on the wheelchair,” Bri said. “I’m so used to having eyes on me even when I go down the street. [But this time] I wasn’t being ogled at for all the wrong reasons; I felt beautiful.”
After this, Scalesse got another chance to model for the award-winning series Project Runway. She was able to model the gorgeous designs of Season 18th’s runner-up, Nancy Volpe-Beringer. This was a moment that she had been craving since she was injured at 6 years old.
Despite her challenges, Scalesse was signed by We Speak Model Management, a modeling agency dedicated to breaking traditional beauty standards. For her, being signed meant much more than her love for what she did. It was a dream come true, and she hoped to inspire others with disabilities to follow their dreams.
Scalesse’s journey to becoming a model was not easy, but she did not let that stop her. She faced discrimination and societal norms that often exclude people with disabilities, but she persevered and proved that a woman in a wheelchair can be anything she wants to be.
Wheelchairs become the path to Victoria’s Secret
Bri Scalesse made history by being one of the faces of Victoria’s Secret’s Adaptive campaign. The launch of Victoria’s Secret’s Adaptive collection has significantly impacted the disability community. The Adaptive line includes sensory-friendly fabrics and magnetic closures, making it more accessible to people with disabilities.
Bri’s involvement in the Adaptive campaign has been a powerful experience for her. Rolling onto the Victoria’s Secret set for the first time was a dream come true for Bri. She was able to celebrate her body, her wheelchair, and her disability in a way that she never thought was possible.
Not just Model, Bri is also a social media activist
Bri Scalesse is not just a model, but also a social media activist who uses her platform to raise awareness about issues affecting her community. With nearly half a million followers on TikTok, she shares her thoughts on various topics and promotes her work.
One of the key issues Scalesse advocates for is self-love and body positivity. Through her platform, she inspires people to embrace their bodies and love themselves for who they are. In one of her viral videos, she lists discouraging comments directed toward disabled aspiring models. She follows them up with a slide of photos from her many campaigns, captioning it, “Never say never.” She also shares her experiences with body image and self-esteem, encouraging her followers to be kinder to themselves and others.
Scalesse also speaks out against the harassment and criticism that people with disabilities face. As someone who has experienced firsthand the ableism that exists within the fashion industry, she is vocal about the need for more disability representation.
“Only now are we seeing people with visible disabilities start to be included in the body-positivity movement. I think equality will come when we see disabled models alongside models of all different body types all the time. I want more for my community.”In an interview with Fashion Magazine