Rebekah Marine, a 28-year-old from Woodbury, N.J., is much like any model who aspires to grace the runways of Los Angeles or pose for photoshoots in New York City, expect for one small difference – she only has one arm.
Growing up, Marine was told modeling was not a career choice because of symbrachydactyly, a condition causing the loss of her right forearm. Last fall, she walked in the 2015 New York Fashion Week.
“I was never bullied growing up,” Marine told O&P News. “I grew up with the same kids throughout elementary school into high school, so everybody knew me for me. Nobody treated me differently.”
But that changed when she decided to follow her dream to become a model. Her mother took her to several agencies for auditions and they began getting several rejections.
“That kind of got into my head and I became insecure about myself and about my arm,” Marine said. “I started thinking, ‘Oh, I am not being picked because of this,’ or ‘I am not dating because of this’ and I went into a dark period where I was not happy.”
She became self-conscious in front of a lens, she said, and eventually resigned her dreams of modeling for a less flashy way of life.
A change of pace
At 22 years old, Marine, newly graduated from Rowan University, decided to make a change. She received a Touch Bionics i-limb quantum prosthesis, a myoelectric hand controlled by muscle-stimulated electrical signals.
A friend suggested she model the petit-fitted device. “You have a purpose in life,” Marine said, recalling her friend’s words. “You should use it to inspire others to overcome insecurities and embrace themselves.”
Marine set up a photoshoot with a local photographer, began building a portfolio and, in 2013, signed with Models of Diversity, a group that pairs disabled models with designers from around the world.
It was not easy, she said. “It took a while to get there. For a long time, I did not know if I should be modeling with my prosthesis or without it. It has definitely been hard breaking into an unknown market.”
After some trial and error, Marine received a call that would change her life. In 2015, Models of Diversity landed a spot for her on the mainstage in New York Fashion Week, sporting her new prosthesis.
“It was incredible, she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I made it, I really made it. New York Fashion Week is one of the biggest fashion shows in the entire world, and here I am on the runway.’”
She did not stop there. Since then, Marine has appeared in publications, such as TIME, People Magazine, US Weekly and Cosmopolitan. She also was featured in Nordstrom’s 2015 anniversary catalog.
Now, she wants to give back. Marine is currently an ambassador for the Lucky Fin Project, a nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness and supporting those with upper limb difference. She also is a spokesperson for Touch Bionics and regularly participates in activities such as the Orthotic & Prosthetic Activities Foundation’s First Climb clinics.
“It is the best experience in the world to be able to work with the kids there,” she said. “Growing up, I never had anybody to ask questions to about dating, how to do my hair or things like that … and I wish I did.
“Even with parents who have concerns about their kids, I can help give them advice as well. It is an awesome feeling to be on that side of the fence,” she said.
An open door
Marine still faces barriers in the modeling industry, and she said there will likely always be a stigma against models with disabilities.
“I never take any offense though. If a brand does not want to work with me because they are looking for a specific look, it is not the end of the road,” she said. “There is always an open door somewhere.”
Marine seems to have found her door, and has embraced the fact she is unique. She said people like her should do the same. “It is all about finding your niche and doing what works for you. Being this ‘bionic model’ is what works for me, and it gives me a uniqueness and an advantage.”
Her future dreams include walking in upcoming New York Fashion Week seasons, modeling for Dolce & Gabbana and Marc by Marc Jacobs, and one day landing on the cover of Vogue.
“My overall dream is to keep modeling as long as it is fun for me. I enjoy fashion and as long as I am happy doing it, I am going to continue.”
Marine said that through her own journey, she wants to inspire others to push for their dreams as well. Judging by the outpouring of support and smiling faces on her social media, she already has set the stage. – by Shawn M. Carter
- Rebekah Marine: Bionic model. Available www.rebekahmarine.com. Accessed Jan. 7, 2016.
Disclosures: Marine reports no relevant financial disclosures.