21st Century Model: Q+A with Kat McCain

Photography by Jacob Moran

The face of fashion is constantly evolving to represent a more inclusive market. Today, the status quo is being challenged by Black and Brown faces and bodies of all shapes and sizes. Although the history of the fashion industry has been known to be heavily influenced by eurocentric beauty standards, the brave, the bold and the daring new generation is making a statement that can not be ignored. PATTERN has developed The 21st Century Model series to highlight the new, eccentric and representative faces of fashion’s future!

Katherin (Kat) McCain is no ordinary model, she is a beaming light of inspiration challenging outdated industry standards simply by being her unapologetic self. Using her social media presence to provide representation and spark conversations about self love and mental health, Kat has not only impacted the lives of others, she has also taught herself a valuable lesson: be proud of who you are! PATTERN had the chance to hear her story, as she talked about self worth and what it means to be a congenital amputee in the industry.

Khaila King: Tell me about yourself.
Kat Mccain: I value faith and family more than anything. I think the thing that I value the most is making a difference in other people’s lives and being a role model for girls that are younger than me, because that’s something that I never really had when I was growing up. I was born with one arm. I am a congenital amputee at the left elbow. I didn’t really have anyone to look up to and I never saw anyone that looked like me in the media. Now, I try to always be there for girls that are younger than me and I’ve connected with a lot of girls through social media. Every year I try to do different kinds of volunteering. I’ve struggled with eating disorders, depression and anxiety in the past so I’m also very open about that. I think it’s important to have those conversations so I participate in volunteering whether it’s with girls that have disabilities or things of that nature. 

KK: How were you introduced to modeling?
KM: When I was in college a local clothing brand reached out to me. It was a local Instagram boutique and they wanted to diversify their brand. They loved that I had one arm and asked if I would be willing to model for them. I had never modeled for anything before, but I ended up modeling for this small clothing line that was about self love, because the brand really felt like I embodied that. From there I went on Model Mayhem and I connected with a bunch of photographers and models through that. 

KK: Did you always see yourself as being a model? If not, why and what changed that?
KM: I’ve never seen myself as a model and it’s almost hard for me to admit that today. I’m shy about telling people that I’m a model. Today in 2020 you can see more diversity and more people becoming models, but when I grew up a model to me was someone who was way taller than me, skinnier than me, and blonde or whatever. Growing up I was told that I was pretty, but I was always told something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re really pretty, it’s too bad you’re disabled. It’s too bad you have that one ugly thing about you.” I never thought I was beautiful or worthy enough to be qualified for anything like modeling. I’ve only recently come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be disabled or to say that I’m disabled, because I always thought that was a bad word and I didn’t want to describe myself like that. I would try to hide my arm in social situations so that it wouldn’t be the first thing that you would notice about me. I’ve had kids point at me and that was traumatizing growing up. What changed for me is that I found two people that are older than me that have one arm and are super successful. One was Sarah Heron and she’s actually a really close friend of mine now. She went on the bachelor in 2013, so that was the first time I saw anyone on TV that was like me. As far as modeling, I saw two models that were represented by normal modeling agencies and that blew my mind. One of my role models was Kelly Knox and she is signed to Milk Model Management which is huge. Here she is speaking out, saying, “I’m beautiful, I don’t have to hide myself,” and I was inspired by that. That changed the view I had of myself. Connecting with so many people on social media and knowing I can be there for the younger girls, has also made all the difference to me. 

KK: Where do you believe the modeling industry is at in terms of diversity and representation on a local and a national level?
KM: I want to say that it’s at a better place on a local level than a national level. I think that the modeling industry, while we’re trying to be more inclusive, I think we’re still not being as representative as we could be whether it’s with disabilities or even skin color. I’ve heard girls say, they already have a token whatever race in certain agencies. To hear that was really f**** up. I think we have a really long way to go but I know that locally, my agent who’s in Indiana, she has a ton of diversity in her agency. I know a couple agencies in Chicago that support you whether you’re disabled, no matter what your sexual orientation is, no matter what you identify as, no matter who you are as a person. I’ve seen that a lot on a local level and it’s been inspiring for me but nationally, I think we’re still far behind. I do here horror stories where agencies are like “we already have someone that’s black, disabled, asian, etc” I know that Kelly Knox was told that “you’ll get more jobs if you get a prosthetic arm,” or “we already have someone thats disabled so we’re not going to sign you.”  I think while we’re trying to be more diverse, we’re still so far behind. 

KK: Who are your sources of inspiration?
KM: I definitely have two other inspirations. Shaholly Aires, who is in Hawaii. She signed with a normal modeling agency local to her. Originally, she went to them and said I’m interested in being a model and they said no, because she had one arm. Then she went on her own, did a bunch of test shoots and brought her portfolio to them and they signed her. They couldn’t deny her talent. Another inspiration for me would be Ashley Acon, she had this video on SoulPancake and she said, “everyone told me I was beautiful, but then when they see my body, they don’t see that anymore.” Her being able to show herself on social media really helped me stop hiding myself on social media. It’s so easy to post photos where you can’t notice I have anything different about me. It was just really inspiring to see her put herself out there. 

KK: How did you find the right agency?
KM: I submitted to a couple different agencies online to see what would happen. I went to an open call for Lmodelz in 2018. My agent, Leslie, invited me back for the model bootcamp. I was super discouraged because of my disability, but this year I decided to shoot her an email. I’ve been following her on Instagram for so long and I just know so much about her. I see the love that her girls and guys have for her as an agent. Relationships, to me, are so important. Anyone that’s in my life, I want them to value me, I want to feel loved and cared for. I’ve seen Leslie’s girls rave about her and she posts positive affirmations everyday. Her story in general motivated me. She’s Black, she started her own business and she was a single mom. She had all these things up against her and I know she had a hard time starting an agency so to hear her story was really inspiring. You hear horror stories where your agent doesn’t do anything for you or they criticize you. Leslie has never done that. She gives me feedback on my work and gives me suggestions, but she has never said anything toxic. It’s really like being in a family.

KK: What advice would you give to an aspiring model that is hesitant to go for it, because they’re not sure they’re what the world wants to see?
KM: My biggest advice is to just go for it. If it’s something that you want to do, I 100 percent believe you should follow your heart and do what you want. If modeling is something that you love, then you should definitely do it. The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that if someone doesn’t want to work with you, there will be someone that does. There’s always going to be someone that can see amazing things in you and that’s going to be there for you. It took me til this year to realize that and I wish I had gone for it at a younger age and just believed in myself. People love and admire confidence more than anything, so if you’re like, “no I deserve to be here,” and put the work in, you can do anything. The biggest myth about modeling is that you have to be “pretty”.  Modeling is more about selling a product, portraying a character or making someone feel something. You don’t have to look a certain way especially now in 2020. Yes there’s still a lot of trouble with diversity, but despite that we’re so much better than where we were at years ago. Anyone can model, really, and I love that.

KK: What message do you want to send to people who are inspired by you?
KM: First, I hope that I inspire people for the right reason. Some people have told me that I inspire them, because I can put my hair up or that I can drive a car and I’m like, “this is ridiculous.” People think that I can’t do things that able bodied people can do. The message I would want to send is to be proud of who you are. God gave you these amazing gifts and you should never hold them back. Everyone has something that they are self conscious about whether it’s visible or not. Everyone has something, but everyone can contribute something so do what you love and be proud of it. 

Keep up with Kat on Instagram!