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"Bold Beauty" Photo Exhibit to Showcase South Florida Women With Disabilities

Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, beauty isn't limited to the traditional standards handed down by movies and television. In other words, Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie ain't all there is.

Real-life loveliness comes in many incarnations, and showcasing this diversity is the mission of "Bold Beauty," a photography exhibit opening November 12 at the Bakehouse Art Complex.

The showcase features award-winning photographers' images of 25 South Florida women with disabilities. Co-created by Shelly Baer and Eva Ritvo, the project seeks to show the world that these women buck the stereotypical standards of beauty while being strong, sensual, and brave.

Baer has a visible disability herself, having contracted juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 3, and was one of the models in a 2006 exhibit that was the inspiration for the creation of "Bold Beauty."

Fast-forward to today, and Baer is now director of leadership training initiatives at UM School of Medicine at Mailman Center for Child Development. She wanted to pick up where the previous endeavor left off, and she and Ritvo decided to create the Bold Beauty Project and turn it into a nonprofit.

"Our goal is large. We want as many women with disabilities to have this transformative experience," Baer says. "It is transformative for the model, for the photographer, and the audience that comes to view our exhibit." Baer and her team hosted a "Bold Beauty" effort in Washington, D.C., last year and plan to take the concept to Philadelphia next.

"We want to break up stereotypes and create new paradigms of beauty," she says of the exhibit. "For all women, really, our society places unrealistic standards of beauty on us. But things are changing. You see plus-size models now, and there are a few women with disabilities out there in fashion magazines and walking the runway. But most often, women with disabilities are still left out of the conversation."

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Spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, rheumatoid arthritis, amputations, and hearing impairment are some of the disabilities represented in the exhibit. Models include Cynthia Fleischman, a Miami-based artist, bodypaintographer, and UM MFA grad who was hit by a car while riding a motorcycle and lost her left leg above the knee; Heidi Johnson-­Wright, an ADA compliance professional and adjunct faculty member at the UM School of Architecture who uses a wheelchair due to rheumatoid arthritis; and LaQuantis Morton, director at the Paralyzed Veterans of America Florida Chapter, who acquired a spinal cord injury after a motor vehicle accident.

As far as photographers, the lineup includes Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff photographer and recipient of 2015 NPPA Humanitarian Award; Jeffrey Salter of Sports Illustrated and the New York Times; Maggie Steber, contributor to National Geographic, the New York Times, and Smithsonian Magazine; and Robert Zuckerman, contributor to Vanity Fair, Time, the New York Times, People, and many other publications.

"We also want to shine the light on the incredible women with disabilities in our community," Baer adds. "They are in the world creating, working, getting married, having children, and much more. They are real leaders. Most people don’t think people with disabilities can do much, but our exhibit shows this visually through their image and through their narrative expression."

"Bold Beauty"
Presented by the Bold Beauty Project this Saturday, November 12, through Friday, November 25, at the Bakehouse, 561 NW 32nd St., Miami. The opening reception will be held Saturday, November 12, from 6 to 9 p.m. Visit bacfl.org.

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