My name is Nicole Kelly and I was born with only half of my left arm. I was Miss Iowa in 2013 and competed at the 2014 National Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. This experience gave me an understanding of the importance of working towards inclusive change in our world. I have gone on to do much work throughout the disability community.
Despite my physical difference, I am 100% able-bodied regarding anything I truly need and live my life in the easiest, best way possible. To prove that, each day I live in a world made for people not born with me in mind. I ride trains, drive cars, and I put on my own clothing. Although my everyday experience with these things might be a little more difficult for me, based on the way I was raised and my natural, determined disposition, I am resilient and adaptable.
I was very lucky to have been raised by two amazing parents who encouraged me to try everything! I was on the swim team, dance team, showchoir, band, the list goes on-and-on. Because of my upbringing, I am also confident and poised enough to know I can create change, secure about who I am, what I look like and have discovered the self-confidence to express it.
One of the challenges I face because of having only one hand is clothing. For example, it’s very hard to wear long sleeve clothing! It is bulky, uncomfortable, and gets in my way. This has been a constant and ever present problem in my life. It also affects the way I look in clothing and the way in which I dress myself.
Reflecting on my life relating to fashion, a couple of weeks after I won the title of Miss Iowa, I was suddenly among an elite group of women headed to the coveted Miss America in Atlantic City. There I went to a store to try on dresses. Having spent a year as Miss Iowa, I was already intimately familiar with taking pride in how I dressed. The store was covered in mirrors, filled with hundreds of outfits. It was like a bridal shop but extremely colorful and much more exclusive. As I perused the shop, one dress was all sequenced, another all beaded, yet another all laced, and all of them worth thousands of dollars and custom-made by top-notch designers. Since I did not wear designer clothing typically, I couldn’t help but feel extremely lucky to have this private appointment. However, as I scanned what might be viable, I quickly realized half of the dresses had long sleeves. It would have been amazing to have the option of wearing them, but asking for delicate alterations was not an option. These dresses simply were not available to me. In that moment I felt a twinge of hurt as I watched half the stock being put back.
But regardless of if I am wearing designer outfits or not, I have learned that clothing is a tool to help make me feel confident. I may have only held the Miss Iowa title for one year, but that year taught me that using my voice for change was a possibility. It taught me that there were people looking to me to change industry standards of what our idea of beauty truly means. It taught me that when I stood in front of an audience of hundreds or even thousands to tell my story – despite any stares those people wanted to listen. I am also grateful that my experience has led me to having a supportive community that is interested in my ideas and goals…. People who understand my pain and also struggle with clothing that simply does not work with their bodies. The disability community has been waiting a long time for their clothing needs to be met. And even more importantly, I have learned I have the right to ask for and even expect adaptable options.
Runway of Dreams has already managed to help countless of people, which has made me feel extremely optimistic and grateful. That is because having clothing made with small adjustments has truly made a difference in my life. The option of being able to dress with full independence provides me an even greater level of confidence. As a result, I feel empowered and motivated by organizations like Runway of Dreams and Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It that are committed to improving the world in which we all live. As for me, what do I have cooking up for the future? You will just have to wait and see…you can bet it will be full of sparkle and adaptability!
*For more about Nicole Kelly, her background, supportive family and fabulously flaunting life-story, please read on here!