NEXT TOP MODEL: Doubra, 15, dreams of a successful career in the fashion industry
FASHION IS all about pushing boundaries. But while catwalk couture seems to know no limit, when it comes to choosing its models the industry holds a very narrow view.
For 15-year-old Doubra Okah, of Peckham, south London, as an black aspiring model with a disability she is facing a double barrier.
But with a little bit of hope and lots of self-belief, the inspirational teenager is determined to follow in the footsteps of her idol Tyra Banks and become a world-class model.
Doubra is now the face of a new campaign from inclusive modelling agency, Models of Diversity, to challenge perceptions of beauty.
The 5ft 8in schoolgirl told The Voice: “I was so emotional at the photoshoot, but it felt wonderful. I was nervous on the day, but as soon as I stepped in front of the camera I became confident.”
As a child, Nigerian-born Doubra was diagnosed with chorea-dyskenesia, which affects development of the muscles and means she walks with an unsteady gait.
“At first we didn’t notice anything unusual; we just thought she was a lazy baby who didn’t want to suckle,” said Doubra’s mum Pamela with a smile in her voice.
She added: “But by four months she was very…floppy. Her development was delayed; she wasn’t sitting up or crawling so she went to see a specialist in America who diagnosed a metabolic disorder [a malfunction of body cells] but there was a question mark next to what kind.
“Her MRI scans [used to diagnose health conditions that affect organs, tissue and bone] were normal, her blood tests were normal but it was obvious something was wrong though no one could place a finger on what.”
When the family moved to Britain, another doctor suggested the disorder was not metabolic as previously thought, but neurological [relating to the brain].
And thanks to developments in technology, the secondary school pupil now receives brain stimulation treatment at the Evelina Children's Hospital, part of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, which ‘wakes up’ the muscles and improves mobility.
CHILDHOOD DREAMS: Smiling Doubra receiving treatment as a youngster
Doubra will, however, have to receive the treatment twice a year for the rest of her life.
Pamela, a midwife, said: “Growing up, there were people who pointed and laughed at her, but I just encouraged her to just laugh at them right back and smile about it.
“Doubra thinks of herself as simply different, she doesn’t see the disability. She is now wearing high heel shoes, you can see she’s struggling but she still wants to try. She doesn’t care what people say or think, she just want to pursue her dreams.”
As well as restricted mobility, Doubra also has some learning difficulties but was firm about wanting to attend a mainstream school, and not a special one.
The determined young lady gets additional support in lessons and, despite the challenges, enjoys her education, as well as extra-curricular activities including going to the gym. After all, top models must keep in shape.
It was just after Doubra turned 12 years old, that she decided she wanted to pursue fashion after becoming hooked on America’s Next Top Model, produced by Tyra Banks.
A family friend, who is a professional photographer, spotted her potential, and suggested that Pamela take her teenage daughter for some portfolio shots.
CHALLENGING PERCEPTIONS: Despite her challenges, Doubra is the star of a new campaign
It was through this that they met make-up artist Barbara Mensah who was taken by Doubra’s striking good looks and recommended her to Models of Diversity founder Angel Sinclair.
She is now the agency’s first black model with a disability.
Pamela added: “When Doubra went to do the shoot with Angel, she was very emotional. It was hard to stop her crying, I think maybe because deep down she never really though it would ever happen for her.
“The work Angel does is fantastic. What this has done for Doubra’s confidence is…I just get emotional thinking about it. Everyone has their own special qualities but sometimes it takes the right person to see them.”
Doubra, the eldest-of-four who admits to bossing her siblings, added: “I tried to sign up to some agencies, but they didn’t accept me. I knew it would be difficult, but my friends and family have always encouraged me when I feel negative.
“I want to let other people know that whatever your dream is, if you keep on hoping and keep believing then you will eventually achieve it. That’s all I did.”