april lockhart

How Fashion TikTok Changed My Disability Narrative

This year, I decided to take up space.

At the start of each year, like most people, I take time to reflect and set goals. Sitting in a coffee shop, I look back on the ones I set the year before—some accomplished, some not—and think through what I actually want for the year ahead, and who I’m becoming as the time flies.

I’ve been sharing my life with the Internet for the better part of a decade. My channels have taken on a few different lives over that span—music, vlogging, nerdy skincare reviews—but currently I share about fashion, home interiors, and clean beauty, while working in the beauty industry full-time.

As a creator, I battle with myself over who I want to be to the Internet. Always coming back to the idea that I want to talk about things I love, but also help people. Inspire. Relate. Encourage. 

The Back Story

I was born with amniotic band syndrome, AKA no left hand—well, not a fully-formed one. I’m one of those believers that everything truly does happen for a reason though. My little one-handed resilient soul never let it stop me. I did gymnastics, played guitar and piano, learned how to type (pretty insanely fast, might I add), paint my nails, everything.

Growing up, it never really bothered me until I saw it bothering other people, mostly in the form of double takes and concerned stares. I’m sure the heart behind them was well-intended. I didn’t help myself out too much though, because my whole life I never wanted to wear a prosthetic. It felt heavy and sweaty...and just not me.

As a kid, my parents thought I’d prefer to appear normal and would continually get me updated prosthetics. When I was five, they realized they were wrong when I sweatily took off my prosthetic and threw it across my Kindergarten classroom, and a class of very confused children freaked out. Clearly, I was bound to be the center of attention since day one.

april lockhart

April Lockhart / Design by Tiana Crispino

What I never wanted to be was a “one-handed influencer.” I never wanted my disability to be me. My personality, my career, my content, my friends, my work ethic, my style—I wanted my life to speak for me, not my disability.

Over the years, I’ve had periods where I’m more or less comfortable with it. The whole reason I started sharing online in the first place was that I was creating music, playing the guitar one-handed—another story for another piece. With new seasons of life, usually that security dissipates as I become comfortable with a new job, new people, or a new city who don’t know me. Because in real life, I’m not really able to hide the fact that I, uh...don’t have a hand. On the Internet, it’s a lot easier to curate who we are.

The Latest

It’s been about eight years or so since I transitioned from music to beauty and fashion. For the last few years, I’ve concealed my arm with long sleeves or careful angles—not blatantly ignoring it, but not highlighting it either. With so much comparison online, it’s easy to just try to fly under the radar doing what everyone else is doing—the same style photos, same angles, same all of it. But wait...that’s not the point, right? We want to actually have influence?

I never felt represented much by anyone I followed, or found a source of inspiration that looked like me, but was also doing things—building a business, curating looks, doing makeup tutorials. There were amazing people using their voices to tell stories of overcoming obstacles, but it felt like the sole focus of their platform and that wasn’t me. Lauren Scruggs Kennedy was one of the first fashion and wellness influencers I’d discovered and fallen in love with. Still, I felt like there was space missing within fashion and beauty.

This year, with my notebook in a loud Nashville coffee shop, I decided to take up space.

The TikTok Experiment

When writing down my goals for the year, one of the more practical ones I set was consistency. I landed on posting 30 days of outfits on TikTok and Instagram Reels. Once I started, as I thought about the content I’d been creating, it just felt...dull. I decided I needed to let go of the fear of being judged and be the influencer I wanted to follow. It feels silly to say, but it was a big internal leap.

That’s when I decided to film a reel getting dressed, with my quirks and all—no more hiding. I included clips I’d normally leave out, like buttoning my pants one-handed, the hilarious struggle to tie my shoes, or roll up my extremely long, dangling sleeve. Spotlighting that yes, I have one hand, but mostly that I can also put a cool outfit together. The two can coexist without it being weird. In fact, it can feel light and joyful and fun.

I typed “Normalizing Disabled Fashun Girlies in your Feed” on a whim, and hit “post.” I was so nervous to even look at it that I pretty much went to sleep. I woke up to a lot of emotions. The messages that I’ve gotten over the last few weeks are what it’s all about for me. A sweet mom on TikTok whose 3-month-old daughter also has one hand wrote me, “Brb crying. You’re so beautiful. I can’t wait to show my daughter that she’s not alone,” and it was over for my mascara.

april lockhart

April Lockhart / Design by Tiana Crispino

Beyond normalizing my disability, I want to emphasize that clothes have power. Putting on a good outfit can give you the confidence you need for the day. Taking the time to do your makeup can be a moment of rest. Curling your hair gives you time to think without being glued to your phone. And a good pair of jeans can make you feel like a 10 on a first date.

Through this experiment, I’ve learned the power of the good on the Internet. It exists. This foray into a new space has given me hope, refreshed my stagnant creative energy, and reminded me to have fun with fashion. Also, the TikTok community is...really nice?

The Future

So, what’s next? Who knows. Hopefully this is one step in the right direction, toward brands prioritizing representation and a community feeling represented. We’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s always interesting to me that the disabled community still feels absent in a lot of marketing. Little by little, new standards blossom in beautiful ways.

One thing I’ve learned is that confidence is a journey. You don’t arrive, and you likely won’t always be fully there, and that’s completely okay. At 26, I still haven’t grown out of my insecurity. That’s when I put on my favorite Levi’s, remind myself of my goals, and try to not take myself too seriously. There’s a lot of beauty in purpose.

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