James Parr Is First Nations Model and Below The Knee Amputee Making Waves In The Fashion Industry
In this special episode of The I Can't Stand Podcast, Peta welcomes James Parr, a renowned First Nations model and below the knee amputee, to talk about life with a disability and his important role in the fashion industry.
This intriguing and interesting chat is a preview to their LIVE event:
The Next Big Thing In Fashion Is... Disability Inclusion at The PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival TOMORROW the 4th of March 2023 at 11:30AM. The event is FREE.
You can find more information here https://melbournefashionfestival.com.au/fashion-weekend-live-stage/i-cant-stand
Connect with James:
James' Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_jamesparr/
Connect with Peta:
Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand Podcast the podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. Welcome to this very special episode. And now you weren't expecting me to pop into your feed on a Friday, but here I am. And there's a very special reason. I have the amazing James Parr I renowned First Nations model and below the knee amputee with me today. Tomorrow Saturday, the 4th of March at 11:30 a.m.. James and I will be sitting down live at The Papal Melbourne Fashion Festival as part of their weekend fashion program presented by the City of Melbourne. We are sitting down to discuss. The next big thing in fashion is disability inclusion. I wanted to James on the part beforehand for you to get to know who he is and to enable him to share his story and his perspective on what life is like when you have a disability. This is a really interesting and intriguing chat, and if it's anything to go by, tomorrow will be an absolute cracker of an event. So without any further ado, let's hand over to James.
James [00:01:37] Hello, I'm James Parr and 26 years old. I am a model triathlete, a disability advocate and a writer.
Peta [00:01:47] Thank you for being here, James, Particularly as I know you're not 100%, so I really appreciate speaking to you today. How do you go with the head tilt that all of us get in and around disability and what people's reaction is when you tell your story?
James [00:02:05] Sometimes our presidents get exhausted by having to tell the story or explain it, or it gets to that awkward point, especially when I say cancer. Get to that point and people are taken aback. Oh my God. They're like, Well, it's not. When when I acquired my disability. The saddest thing was that so sad and I feel so sorry for you. And that was one thing that just like, really turned me off because I was still the exact same person. It just didn't resonate with me and it made me feel like people devalued me and viewed my life as less. I remember there was a girl. I was getting an ultrasound, and I don't mind it because medical professionals, like they're very interested. I was getting an ultrasound and, you know, she was like, Oh, like, how old are you blah, blah, blah? What happened? And again, she came out with that. So sad. I'm so sorry. And I just, like, looked around, like, before. She didn't have an answer. And I was like, Look, I'm not offended or want you to think about what you're saying because one, luckily I don't take any offence to it, but I also had a very traumatic accident or a very traumatic experience in my life. And you've just reiterated what I might feel, whether I'm sad or I feel sorry for myself. I'm having you constantly tell me that or other people just reiterate that. And also like you don't have an answer. So if you don't know what you're sad about or what you feel sorry for. Don't say it. I've looked at her and said, My life is probably better than yours. So. I was very good to that day.
Peta [00:03:50] From a medical professional, that's appalling. Like, yeah, I would like to think that I would know better. That's awful.
James [00:03:56] You would think so. I think she knows better now. Again, like I say to people, if you feel uncomfortable, awkward to ask, don't ask. I also still don't understand how people just come up and start asking that. That baffles me. But yeah.
Peta [00:04:17] Ablism is such an issue for all of us. Regardless of whether you are born with your disability or you gain your disability later on in life.
James [00:04:26] For me, I had to then unlearn what being disabled meant and I hate. Initially I hated the word disabled. I feel like I have such a negative connotation, but then I was able to unlearn and rewrite that for myself. So then I sort of set out to have that little mission of rewriting that narrative for other people.
Peta [00:04:53] I'm very conscious not to talk too much about representation in fashion because that's what we're going to do at the Melbourne Fashion Festival. But I wanted to ask you, how does it feel to know that you're such a strong form of representation for the disabled community? Like, you know, I keep seeing all these amazing images of you on the side of buildings and in these amazing campaign shots. Like, what does that feel like?
James [00:05:23] I just got goosebumps because I never really actually sit down and think about it. I think over time, when I first started, it was probably something that felt more special. Not that it doesn't feel special, don't get me wrong, but I think over time I've enabled it or created it into a career. And I feel like when it's your career and when you're living in it and you're working, that you don't actually sit down and you don't actually think about it. I feel special and I'm lucky that I have the voice or the platform or that my voice and platform has even been elevated to at least have some representation for other people, especially children. I think that's where my heart lies. I know last year, actually at Fashion Fashion Festival, they had the runway on Fed Square on a screen there. And I think I was sitting at Fed Square waiting to go to the next runway. And so I was watching it. But I also watched a little boy who had a prosthetic. Watch it. And just to see him watch it and then watch me walk down was was really special. I'm lucky. And I'm glad that. I can be that representation, even though you know, it is it is a physical disability in that so many more aspects of representation, but at least there is some representation. And I'm lucky and happy and glad that I'm able to do that.
Peta [00:06:55] I sometimes feel like my disability is sort of like my superpower because people don't often forget me. It's very good to stick out. Do you feel like that's helped you in your career as well?
James [00:07:09] I would say so. Even down the runway, you know, you would have people watching. And then afterwards or a couple of months later, people would stop, stop me. They would see the one leg. And it was easily identifiable. So 100%. Even if I go on a date or something with someone, I always say, Well, you won't have to miss me because I'm the guy with one leg.
Peta [00:07:33] Having someone like you representing what disability can be. That is why it's so powerful, because clearly you've got an absolutely fabulous life and you're kicking so many goals in your career. Do you feel like you've become a more motivated person and a more driven person since you've become disabled?
James [00:07:56] Maybe. Maybe in ways that I wasn't before. I feel like when I had acquired my disability, you know, I think I was just going on, say, like a trajectory of finding myself. So I had like lost 30 kilos because I was really unhappy. And then I came out as, like bisexual. And then the week after I was diagnosed with cancer and then three months later I had an amputation. So I do feel like that that all was happening for a reason. When I found out I had cancer, I was like, This was supposed to happen. This is just a part of it. And then the disability, the amputation came. And again, I this it's just like I was preparing myself for this. So I think it enabled me to find to find my purpose and be motivated within that. And I always look at it like everyone has a struggle every day in their lives and everyone's perception of that and how they deal with that is so different. And I don't think people's experiences are able to be compared because it's an individual and a personal experience. You know, having cancer like for me was like down here, going through a Break-Up might be up here. And I think we all need to respect that and acknowledge that, you know.
Peta [00:09:27] How do you go about other things when people meet you like. You know, when I was doing my research, I was really struck with how often people used, leg jokes or leg puns during conversations with you. How do you feel about that?
James [00:09:44] Don't mind. As long as there's someone I know. I hate it when someone just comes up to me and uses that as a conversation starter because I'm like old news. I do love a leg joke. I do find it funny, but there still is a line.
Peta [00:10:05] I think for me, when I make jokes about my disability, I'm breaking the ice because I know that people feel uncomfortable. Right?
James [00:10:14] For sure. And I actually think it is quite funny. Like, I know one day, for example, just in conversation, me and my prosthetist, we're talking about something. And since I don't have a leg, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. Like, Oh neither do I and her face. I'm like, No, it's funny. Like, it's okay again. It's hard for people to know what the line is. But yeah, I think that just comes down to a bit of common sense, to be honest.
Peta [00:10:42] Yeah. And after all, like, we're not one homogenous group of people. Every person with a disability is different, so we're all going to have different lines and different senses of humour. But I have to say, like, I love the fact that you poke fun your disability, like I'm very similar. After a few drinks, I don't have cerebral palsy, like I've been run over by a bus because I just get sick of saying the same story over and over and over again.
James [00:11:10] I remember it was ages ago, and I don't know how it came about, but my friend started the conversation and just like, look, and it's like just real off me and was telling I think it was her boyfriend that said, just start dating about how I had gone to, um do you know Tiger King?
Peta [00:11:32] Yeah.
James [00:11:34] I'd gone to his zoo and the tiger did it off. And so I then had to fill in the gap. So I was like, Yep, yep. I went. That was long before when he had the zoo. I was like, they actually wanted me to be part of the documentary and be on Netflix and, you know, but it was all shushed. So I kept it shushed for the Netflix thing because they paid me out and I just I just kept reeling off and he fully believed that.
Peta [00:12:04] Well, sometimes playing with people's naivete about disability, can they to our own advantage. And to me, that's just a hilarious story. I thought I was being really clever and, you know, being my own Regina George, like she was in Mean Girls and being run over by a bus, but I think Tiger King's even better.
James [00:12:23] I think so, too. I don't know where she come up with that and I commend her for that. And I think that's like the best story I've ever told to this day. That poor boy is probably gone and told like, Oh my God, I met this guy that is like bitten off by the tiger at Tiger King Zoo.
Peta [00:12:39] Well, and not. Not that I was stalking your dating bio, James. No, not at all. But I just have to say, I like your intro on your bio, so. Good.
James [00:12:49] Thank you. Sense of humour. Ten out of ten. It's like one out of two. Perks of dating me, good caparks for the rest of our life
Peta [00:13:00] So we've talked a little bit about how you you know, I won't say overcome, but like we both have to constantly re-educate people all the time about living with a disability. What do you think? If you could wave a magic wand and get get people to understand one thing about your life having a disability, what do you think that would be?
James [00:13:23] I think just having a disability isn't sad and it isn't something to look down on or anything like that. I think people just need to learn that, you know, we have a disability but like it's not that big of a deal. It can be. I say that knowing that. But again, I just think everyone else, everyone has a struggle in their life, whether it's that or not.
Peta [00:13:51] I always make sure that I say I'm very privileged. Like, I'm a white cis woman that has a disability as much as the disability is difficult. There's many different experiences that you can have having a disability.
James [00:14:06] Yeah, you just summed it up well, and I think you can't take that away from people, but also know that it's not a sad thing having constantly being told that it's sad or you feel sorry for us. That's what's sad.
Peta [00:14:20] So as you said, like you had a massive couple of months in your early twenties. Was there any self-care techniques that you employed to help you through that? How did you get through that, do you think now, looking back?
James [00:14:34] It's a good question. So I had a rough childhood. My mum died when I was 8. I ran away at 13. I think that basically built up the resilience in me to tackle that. The chemo was probably the hardest thing. Just like there was like one type of humour that I'd have for like about ten days that would. Make me feel very depressed. Would I feel like it would alter? The chemistry in my brain was ten days plus being sick for ten days. And then you sort of moved on. So every time I had that, that was probably the hardest one. But again, I don't know. To me, it was I wouldn't say easy, but it wasn't hard. I just feel like maybe I was built for that and yeah, like I don't have any answer far apart from that. Just like, once I got past, those like ten days. I would just sort of silence myself away from everyone and just have, like, my own time to get through the sickness. And then there was like, back to back to normal.
Peta [00:15:47] Do you also think because you worked in it's called a special school, but yeah, a school for kids that have disabilities. Do you think having that perspective of what disabled life could be was helping or hindering you in understanding what it would be like to be disabled?
James [00:16:07] No, no, Because, like, even then, all the kids were very individual. And, you know, as it was, a special school, we were teaching them how to live with their own disability. I think the only thing that showed me coming to them having a disability is probably like that connection to them and how they felt and why they felt awkward or why that was subconscious and because I felt like they didn't fit in or things like that. It just enabled me to connect with that and to realise why and how they felt like that.
Peta [00:16:44] Like sitting here. It's very clear how much self-belief you have for yourself, which is just amazing. Like, I wish everybody just had that in them because I don't think it's something you can learn. It's just something that possibly, maybe events in life make you develop. But I personally think it's sort of in the person when they have self-belief. Was there anything else that you felt like you had to learn about what this new life would be for you? Like from a very basic question, how do you maintain a prosthesis?
James [00:17:19] You know, there's not really much too much maintenance. It's more so if you need an adjustment or, you know, your leg does change shape. So your leg can change shape if you lose weight, if you put on weight. So you have like this socket part where your leg goes in to that probably gets updated probably every six months. You go in like past it, you get it a week later and you just swap over. So, yeah, like for me, there's not too much probably just, like, cleaning your liner. It's there's not too much to it, to be honest. I just, wake up put it on and yeah. Unless there's, like, an issue. And even if there is an issue, you can get it sorted in, like, one or two days. But no, it's pretty easy to maintain.
Peta [00:18:03] And I know you have different processes for the sort of activities that you do. Like, for example, you would have a different one if you wanted to go for a run, because I know you're a triathlete, but is there any other sort of modifications you can do that make it feel more like yours?
James [00:18:20] Yeah. So. So the socket, you can get whatever you want to do on it. So if I. Peta, if I wanted a picture of you on it, I could get a picture of you. That would be cute. Yeah. You can literally get anything on. I'm not a very I don't find myself like a very. Over. Extroverted person, I just go black. And I think it's safe even when it comes to like outfits and those types of things like black. Just like it's safe for me. The next thing I'm getting, it's a cover to go down the bottom. We're just like the metal part is just to go over the top. So that makes up a bit. Looks like an ancle. It's also patterned, which is quite cool. There's also heaps of different ways that it stays on. So that's like a pin. That's a suction, That's a pin and suction. Then that's just like a vacuum seal. So there's all types of different things that you can do. Yeah.
Peta [00:19:17] Is there anything you like or even love about having a disability?
James [00:19:22] I think probably just like the ability to stand out and know that I can go to walk into a room and probably be the most interesting person when it comes down to that, because people automatically say that one leg and be like oh I want to know about that. So yeah.
Peta [00:19:41] And is there anything you don't like about having a disability?
James [00:19:45] Nothing, nothing physically or personally. I probably just like the negative connotation. That's the one thing I don't like.
Peta [00:19:51] Finally, and I'll let you go back to your sickbed, what do you hope for the future for people with disabilities?
James [00:19:59] More visibility, more representation, and let's get rid of the negative connotation. I always hear other people with a disability. You have more accessibility requirements say that the world is not built for someone who's disabled and we are in living in an able bodied world. While I experience a little bit of that, I know that I don't experience wholeheartedly that. So I would also really like to see this world made for people who have a disability.
Peta [00:20:31] Thank you for listening to this very special episode. I hope to see you there tomorrow. The event is called The Next Big Thing in Fashion is Disability inclusion. As part of the Papal Melbourne Fashion Festival Fashion Weekend program presented by the City of Melbourne, the event is free. And if you'd like more information, there is a link in the description. If you can't make it to the event tomorrow, please make sure that you follow James on Instagram. His handle is @_JamesParr and my Instagram of course, is @petahooke. Thank you again for listening. We hope to see you tomorrow. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the Bunurong people. Where this podcast was recorded.