Why this model is on a mission to help people love their bodies

At the corner of Lakeshore Boulevard and Bathurst Street 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. 

Allison Lang says she wouldn't have felt as alone growing up if she saw more people like her

How this Toronto model is redefining beauty standards

3 months ago
Duration 2:10
When Allison Lang was a baby, doctors had to amputate her left leg below the knee. After years of struggle, the 29-year-old has signed with a Toronto modelling agency to help others with disabilities love their bodies. Meg Roberts has her story.

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." 

Picture of the front window at Loblaws. Allison Lang is posing in athletic clothes with her prosthetic leg on a large poster.
A large picture of Lang hangs from the Loblaws window at the corner of Bathurst Street and Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto. (CBC)

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?"

A picture of Allison Lang when she was a small child. She is standing up on a man's knees who is sitting down.
Lang says she was 'severely bullied' while growing up. (Submitted by Allison Lang)

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. 

Allison Lang sits on the back of a camel in the desert.
Lang says travelling around the world allowed her to become more confident. (Submitted by Allison Lang)

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:

Allison Lang uses a prosthetic limb. She is one of the faces on Joe Fresh’s new activewear line BECAUSE she believes in the importance of body positivity and representation for young people with missing limbs and different bodies.

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."'