We’ve taken to featuring real people in our fashion packages. I don’t mean to imply that models aren’t real people. It’s just that I see our style section as an opportunity to showcase local folks—diner waitresses, say, or a rock group like the Silversun Pickups. In this issue you’ll meet the stars of the Sundance Channel’s Push Girls. The reality show, which debuted last year, follows the lives of four women who are smart, tough, and beautiful. They are also paralyzed—three as a result of horrible car accidents, another because of a spinal cord injury at 15.
We had no idea how Auti, Mia, Tiphany, and Angela would react when we approached them about appearing in a fashion layout, although Angela had been a professional model. We knew that they have strong personalities, were savvy with makeup, and liked to dress up—all prerequisites for the runway. I’m happy to report that they were overjoyed when we asked. Linda Immediato, who oversees the magazine’s style coverage, and our photo editor, Amy Feitelberg, met with the four to discuss a concept. We could be marionettes, they said, or Old West sheriffs on horseback. “When I watched the first season of the show,” Linda told me later, “I was so moved and inspired. It was clear we had to reflect who the women were and what they and their show set out to do, which is empower by revealing something we all share: the ability to persevere in the face of adversity and bask in triumphs, big and small.” Linda proposed the idea of depicting the Push Girls in outer space, where we are all weightless. They loved it.
When photographer Michael Rodriguez, aka Comrade, came on board, we realized how far you could take the idea of “space” even when your models can’t stand upright or walk. “There were challenges,” says Linda, “but I didn’t want to give up just because it was hard. These women face challenges every day.” Michael asked, “Are we talking Xanadu space? Or Kubrick space?” Using the fantastical backgrounds he created in postproduction, the team imagined a storyline in which the Push Girls must blow up an asteroid that’s threatening Earth (suddenly a timely topic). They were going to save humankind and look damn sexy while doing it.
We gave them the option of being photographed in their wheelchairs, but they were intrigued by the chance “to be seen in a different light,” as Mia put it. “We’re always pictured in our chairs.” During the shoot, Auti texted a picture of herself having her hair and makeup done to her husband, who replied, “That’s my hot mama.” Later she took another picture in her Nicole Miller outfit and knee-high Ferragamos and wrote back, “No, this is your hot mama.” Saving the world is a heated business, after all. Should the time come, I know whom to call for help.