Michael Whittaker

Is one of New Zealand's most successful fashion models, he was the focus of one of our merchandise designs captured by Adam Bryce. Michael lives with Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Click to listen to an audio description of this design

On being diagnosed later in life

Accepting being diagnosed with inevitable blindness is something I continue to struggle with. Over the course of my twenties, I did not like to admit my condition or my frustrations with it, seek support and help from others, or identify with a future of disability. It’s not easy for the young (or, as you point out, relatively young) to come to terms with the realities of mortality. To paraphrase something I once read: the future is a distant, foreign country for the young. I didn’t want to talk about it. In moments of fear, I would ask myself: Who would love a blind person, want to learn to live with me, alongside my disability? Disability itself can become an entity, an identity, a spectre. I didn’t want that. Being a burden, a recipient of sympathy, is a fear I believe many disabled persons have to address, work through, overcome. This is how we can become isolated. Losing one’s vision is widely held to be devastating. It can be. I cannot count the number of times I have heard people flippantly say: “If I went blind, I would kill myself.” Awful. We need to be careful with our words. I’ve been very good at hiding the extent of my vision loss, and so it is also hard for others to accept that I am a “disabled person,” that there is very little that can be medically done for me at this stage in relation to my eyesight. Moving forward, I hope to continue to learn to break down stigmas and misconceptions about disabilities that I myself have internalised, to constantly reaffirm what I can do, rather than what I cannot. As my mother is fond of saying, love over fear.

On his plans for the future

I am about to embark on my PhD in English Literature at Auckland University under the inspiring mentorship of Dr. Lisa Samuels. I will be focussing on the profound life work of Michele Leggott, a former Poet Laureate of New Zealand, who lives with RP, and whose visual trajectory (or decline) maps similarly to mine. I will continue to write and publish my own fiction, essays, and poetry alongside this.

On an inclusive fashion industry

It seems to me that the fashion industry—like the world of which it is part—has traditionally operated within an unfortunate matrix of hierarchies. It is true—fashion can be notoriously fickle and elitist. In my experience—whether intentionally or not—aestheticism in the fashion industry has often been used as an excuse for discrimination. Beauty standards have traditionally been exclusive and excluding—Eurocentric, chauvinistic, ageist, classist, etc. Beauty ideals have propped up the powerful. With that said, I think the proactive approach taken by All is for All is necessary to ensure that real difference is championed, rather than negatively or arbitrarily emphasised, that fashion is representative of an excitingly diverse world. In this, as All is for All’s title indicates, lasting and meaningful inclusion is as much—if not more—about coming to realise our underlying commonalities and universal right to be as about acknowledging how diverse perspectives and experiences need to be heard, seen, celebrated. As such, I do think that the inclusion of many traditionally marginalised groups—including the disabled—reflects a move towards egalitarianism. This drive toward equality, in my view, provides much-needed hope, positivity, and encouragement in a world in which we are often besieged by inciteful messages of division and exclusion, the fear of others who are not exactly like ourselves

@themichaelwhittaker

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