Woman with disfigurement that stops her smiling becomes catwalk model

A woman with a severe facial disfigurement who is unable to smile has been recruited as a catwalk model. Hannah Setzer, 30, was left disfigured when she was born after an operation to remove a large mass from her face went wrong and important nerves in her face were damaged.

She is now unable to eat, drink or close her mouth and said she’s always wanted to show the public what ‘people with disabilities can do’. Unprompted and out of the blue, in September, Hannah was given a once in a lifetime opportunity to do just that when fashion designer Emma Manis asked Hannah to represent her brand on the catwalk.

Just a few weeks later Hannah became a diversity icon as she wore luxury clothes and strutted her stuff on the catwalk at a fashion show in Richmond, Virginia, as 100 audience members watched.

Small business owner, Hannah, said: ‘Emma contacted me at random and said she’s really passionate about showing diversity with her work.

‘She said she saw me as a positive role model for other people with disabilities like mine.

‘It was a very easy decision for me. I said yes straight away because I never thought I’d ever get the opportunity to be a model because of how I look.

‘I am a confident person but I was still very surprised and shocked to be presented with an opportunity like this.

‘The fashion show was a really exciting day. I had my hair and makeup done and I got to wear some really nice clothes that Emma designed.

‘I wasn’t too nervous to be honest, everyone gave me a great reception when I went out on the catwalk which I was very thankful for.

‘I was definitely outside of my comfort zone but I feel very passionately about representation and I hope that if someone like me saw what I can do, they feel as if they can do it too.’

Hannah was born with cystic hygroma, a condition that left her with hundreds of cysts growing in her head and neck.

But during an operation to remove the cysts shortly after her birth, Hannah claims surgeons were scooping handfuls of cysts out of her head when they accidentally removed facial nerves too.

Some of the cysts still remain and a cluster of them are blocking her airway and oesophagus, meaning Hannah needs a breathing tube and a feeding tube to survive.

Doctors feared Hannah would not survive infancy, but she has proved medics wrong by becoming a business owner and a fitness influencer in her spare time. She blogs about her fitness journey under the name Feeding Tube Fitness and actively campaigns for disability rights campaigner to show others ‘It’s okay to be different’.

It was because of Hannah’s online advocacy and fitness blog that Virginia-based fashion designer, Emma Manis, got in touch with her to ask Hannah if she would represent her brand on the catwalk.

‘My whole attitude is about showing you can do whatever you want to do no matter what your circumstances are’, said Hannah, who is married to husband, Brandon.

‘It wasn’t necessarily my dream to become a model but it is someone else’s dream, so I felt like it was important to show that people with a disability can do.

‘I’ve never seen anyone like me on a runway so I hope to inspire other people to follow their dreams. I feel very proud to be given such an amazing opportunity.’

Hannah’s appearance on the catwalk came at an annual RVA Fashion Week event in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of October. Several models represented several brands and designers at the show meaning Hannah rubbed shoulders with some well-known career models.

After impressing on the catwalk, Hannah has been asked to represent Emma’s brand, Evolve, at future fashion shows starting with a festive event in December.

Hannah added: ‘I am so grateful to Emma for giving me this opportunity and I hope I don’t have to wait much longer to see someone else who looks like me on a runway.

‘Representation and diversity is really important, so I feel very happy to be making a positive impact with that.’

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