Thursday, August 9, 2012

The model called Debbie Van der Putten

Debbie Van der Putten's portfolio looks like that of any aspiring young model.
She seems to have both the face and figure to make it in such a competitive world, and it's easy to imagine her catching the eye of casting directors and magazine editors.
But look more closely and it becomes clear that Debbie, 22, is not your average jobbing model. In most of her pictures, only one arm is visible  -  and this is not because the other is somehow obscured.
Three years ago, her right arm was severed at the shoulder in a bus crash in France.
Unlike most top models, Debbie can't be described as perfect.
That she should now have a real chance in the world of modelling is thanks to a new BBC reality show, Britain's Missing Top Model, in which eight women with differing disabilities compete to prove to a panel of industry experts that they have what it takes to be a mainstream model.
The aim of the series is to challenge the boundaries that seem to exist in the beauty and fashion industries and cast new light on our concept of the ideal woman.
Whether the winner will go on to have a career when the cameras stop rolling remains to be seen.
But having now dipped her toe into this world, Debbie is adamant that she has found her calling.
'Although I've always known I had the figure for modelling, I'd never really considered it as a career before taking part in this show,' says Debbie, who works for a holiday planning company.
'The reason was because, at 5ft 4in, I knew I was too short. Then, when I lost my arm, any thoughts I might have had of modelling went out of the window. Have you ever seen a girl who is my height with only one arm on the catwalk?'

Debbie's accident happened in 2005 when the driver of the bus she was in fell asleep and the vehicle careered off the road.
She says: 'I was 19 and travelling from Holland to Spain by bus with a group of friends.
'We were looking forward to hanging out on the beach and partying. But 16 hours into the journey, I was asleep next to the window when I heard a loud bang, felt a jolt and realised the bus had crashed.
'It was night time, the bus had fallen onto its side, and other passengers and their luggage were on top of me.
'I looked down, and my arm was gone  -  completely severed  -  and there was blood everywhere, but it didn't hurt at all, most likely due to shock.
'My memory is fairly hazy, but I remember getting up and rushing around frantically to find my friends. It was carnage  -  many people had lost their lives.

Thankfully, I found my friends, who were unharmed, and recall asking one of them to
tie something around my arm to stop the bleeding.

'The next thing I knew, I was in a French hospital and my family had flown to my bedside.
'It wasn't until more than a week later, by which point I had been transferred back to hospital in Holland, that I saw my friends again.
'They were horrified by what had happened to me. They'd thought I might die. In particular, one of the guys felt very guilty as he and I had swopped seats a couple of hours before the accident so I could sleep leaning against the window.
'He said he was much bigger and stronger than me and that his arm might have survived. But I told him it was pointless to dwell on such things.
'Losing my arm was really hard, and I was completely shocked and upset at first, but I knew I was lucky to be alive.
'So all things considered, my attitude has been to get on with it. I've been determined not to hide away just because I'm missing a limb.

In fact, just two weeks after my accident, I went shopping with my mum. It was a really hot day and I wore a vest top, which meant everyone in the street could see my missing arm, and my bandages.
'I did feel odd, but I told myself my arm was gone, and from now on I had to be brave and open about it otherwise it would ruin my life.
'I wanted to force myself to get used to the stares and the reactions. Of course, even now, people still stare at me but I don't really notice any more.' 
Because Debbie, who is left handed, lost her right arm, she says she can still do almost everything she did prior to her accident.
I go to the gym three times a week and my job requires me to travel around the world,' she says.
'Having one arm hasn't affected me at all when it comes to men, either  -  if anything, men approach me more now than they ever used to do as they want to know what happened.
'I only ever feel down about it when I think about my wedding day, and what sort of dress I'd end up wearing with just one arm.
'And it frustrates me that sometimes people treat me as though I'm a bit thick  -  and even speak more slowly  -  just because I have a disability. But I realise it's just ignorance and don't take it personally.'
Indeed, so uninhibited has Debbie been about her looks following her accident that, earlier this year, she posed nude for Playboy.

When a friend told her about the new BBC series, she put herself forward straight away.
'I find modelling cathartic,' she says. 'Showing myself off and proving I can make the best of myself even though I've got an obvious disability has been my therapy, and has helped me come to terms with what's happened.
'If someone on a shoot said to me to turn to one side so it didn't look like I was missing my arm, I wouldn't be happy. Having one arm is me, and I want to be seen as me in the pictures.'
'Although some people may say I shouldn't be a model because I'm not perfect, there is nothing about the job that my disability leaves me unable to do.
'I want to show everyone that you can be beautiful and successful and an inspiration, even if you are missing a limb.'

Fellow contestant Kellie Moody, however, finds it hard to share Debbie's unshakeable confidence or unwavering optimism. 

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