The amputee model making a name for herself

Gemma Adby
Gemma Adby Image credit:

Gemma Adby was extremely productive through the first lockdown, instead of making banana bread and watching boxsets she put the wheels in motion for an inspiring modelling career.

The 25-year-old from Slough realised having a disability could work to her advantage in the fashion industry, a sector which she never dreamed of pursing growing up.

At a young age Adby was body conscious of her missing arm, wearing a short sleeve top was completely out of the question.

She told MyLondon: “My parents never treated me any differently growing up. They always made sure that I felt loved and encouraged to get whatever I wanted out of life.

“For a long time I was in denial about my disability.

“The only time that I was ever made to feel different or less than others, was when I went into the outside world.”

Her insecurities never came from being picked on, Gemma was never bullied as a child because she would "take days off school and come back with a cool new [prosthetic] arm that everyone would want to see".

But in the classroom teachers would unintentionally patronise her by trying to make life a little easier, such as providing special scissors for art lessons.

“The offer of help was really sweet, but it came from a place of people assuming that I couldn’t do things. Most teachers hadn’t come across someone like me,” she explained.

“It wasn’t only because I was six years old, it still happens today. People doubt me because of my disability and that has made me develop a mind-set where I just have to prove them wrong.

“It’s bigger than just me. I hope that by putting myself out there I’ll be able to create awareness so that others who have been counted out will be given an opportunity.

”On top of that, I want to be the role model for children that I never saw as a child.”

Throughout childhood Gemma felt isolated, she believed she was the only person with one arm, but a TV show opened new opportunities.

Her mum was watching Missing Top Model on BBC Three, which caught Gemma’s attention.

“My mum called me into the room and said ‘Gem look she’s got one arm just like you’ and I got so excited," she said.

“There was a model on the show called Kelly Knox who was also missing an arm. It was the first time that I ever saw someone who looked like me on TV.

“It meant everything to me. She reached out to me when I started my Instagram account and I couldn’t believe it. She’s such a hero to me.”

Gemma is now following in Knox’s footsteps after being signed to Zebedee Management who exclusively represent clients with a disability.

Her venture into the fashion industry only came about when one of her friends at university needed help with her degree.

But despite being supportive Gemma herself still lacked confidence, being hesitant to upload images of herself on social media.

She said: “People tell me that I come off as super confident on my Instagram but I’m really not.

“When I first started modelling I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to face any embarrassment if it didn’t work out.”

“The secret didn’t last long because my sister let the cat out of the bag and told my parents,” she laughed.

“Everyone around me has been so supportive.

“My boyfriend takes my pictures for me and I even have to send screenshots to my nan because she doesn’t have social media and wants to see what I’m getting up to. “

Just as Knox inspired her as a child Gemma is now motivating other amputees to take up a modelling career.

“I’ve had a lot of people from the disabled community message me, loads of girls and also guys with one arm, but also a lot of mums reach out to me and send me pictures of their babies [who also have one-arm], which I really like.

“They message me for advice and no matter how many followers I get, I will always value those interactions the most and make time to respond to them.

“It’s almost like I’m trying to be that voice of guidance that I wish my mum had when I was younger.”

As her fashion career grew, so did her confidence. At the age of 16 Gemma no longer wore a prosthetic arm and it was not long until she started to upload photos of herself online.

“When I first made my Instagram I made a conscious effort to focus it on my arm, I wanted to raise awareness and hopefully inspire people through my picture. I still want to do that, but I also want to show people that I am more than my disability," she explained.

“When I’m not modelling I work as a designer, I also enjoy cooking, baking, going on walks and just having a good time. My boyfriend and I recently bought a house, which we’re really proud of.

“I also know how to drive too.

“I want my page to show all of that. Even if I had two arms I still wouldn’t be the same as other people, we’re all different and my disability is only part of what makes me unique.”

Gemma went on to look ahead to what the future will bring, although uncertain what is next on her agenda it certainly looks exciting.

“I have no idea what’s next but whatever’s thrown at me I will go for it,” she said.

"I would love to become a full time model and keep doing what I’m doing because I just love it so much.

“I don’t only want brands to use me, but also other people with different disabilities, ethnicities and genders. It’s all about creating awareness and making things more inclusive.

“If you told me four years ago whilst I was online shopping at a reception desk that I would be featured on ASOS, Pretty Little Thing, Zalando I never would’ve believed you.

“I don’t know where this journey is going to take me, but I hope that it will take me somewhere where I can show people more how special, but also how normal, disabled people are.”

For more information on Gemma Adby follow her on Instagram.