Why this model is on a mission to help people love their bodies
Allison Lang says she wouldn't have felt as alone growing up if she saw more people like her
At the corner of Lakeshore Boulevard and Bathurst Street in downtown Toronto, a large advertisement is posted on the Loblaws window with models posing in athletic clothing from Joe Fresh's new line.
One of those models, the one wearing the prosthetic leg, is Allison Lang, 29.
She says it took her years to stop hiding.
"It's a little bit surreal for me because I never used to see people like me in advertisements," Lang told CBC News.
"I have to pave this way for others because, as sad as it is, I didn't have anybody to look up to."
Lang was born without a fibula — the smaller of the two large bones in your calf — in her left leg. So doctors had to amputate just below her knee so she could wear a prosthesis.
Despite her parents raising her to be independent and adventurous, she says it was the experiences outside her home that made her childhood difficult.
"I was severely, severely bullied when I was younger both emotionally and physically," she said.
She says the abuse, which included everything from name-calling to physical abuse like pushing,forced her to switch schools in Grade 6.
"It got too extreme for me to the point that I was going home and telling my parents I didn't want to be here anymore, I didn't want to be alive," Lang said.
"It's really hard being a young girl with something so visibly different [that] you can't hide or change about yourself."
But she did whatever she could to get along — making up excuses why she walked with a different gait and wearing pants, even in the middle of the summer, to hide her prosthesis.
"I actually ... terminated the word disabled from my vocabulary, I refused to even associate myself with that word," she said.
In her mid-20s, she started playing with the Canadian women's sit-down volleyball team, which she says gave her a community she could relate to.
She also started travelling, backpacking solo through Europe and South America. She documented her travels using pictures on social media but excluded pictures of her legs.
"I was conflicted, do I start posting for myself or do I continue to hide who I am?"
As her confidence started to grow, so did her career opportunities. Through a friend, she was introduced to a talent agency and she booked her very first gig.
"I think it's actually incredible," she said.
Lang says people living with disabilities are "the largest minority in our world and anyone can join our minority group at any time and I don't think that really clicks with people."
She has gone on to book work with the clothing brands Ardene and Noize, VIA Rail and most recently, Joe Fresh.
Joe Fresh spokesperson Meghan Lengyell says the company is thrilled to have Lang.
"Representation is important to us at Joe Fresh and our hope is that when our customers come into our stores, shop online, or see our brand on social media, they see Allison and feel represented," Lengyell said in a statement.
Lang has now signed with a modelling agency in Toronto while still training with the national sit-down volleyball team and is hoping to represent Canada at the 2024 Paralympics.
LISTEN | New fashion campaign features model with a prosthetic limb:
She hopes to continue promoting body positivity.
"A lot of people don't think disabled people can live this fulfilling lifestyle," she said.
"I truly, truly hope that anybody who is struggling, disabled or not, they will see that image and say, 'If she can love her body, accept her body, show her body, so can I."'