The 20-year-old says she's honored to represent so many others. 

Blake Bakkila
July 11, 2018

Aerie has done it again. While looking at their latest rollout of products on American Eagle’s site, 20-year-old Abby Sams noticed a familiar face—her own. In a tweet that has since gone viral, Sams shared the news.

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“@Aerie just sneakily released some of my photos!” wrote Sams, who is shown modeling in her wheelchair. “Look at this disability representation people!!! Also look at me because I [can’t] believe it's actually me so yeah.”

Sams also shared the series on Instagram, and she ended her post with the kind of amazing positivity we can't get enough of. “Beautiful with mobility aids. Beautiful in a wheelchair. Beautiful with an invisible illness. Beautiful, not despite those things, but because of them.”

Time for something very big. Earlier this summer I was chosen to be an #AerieREAL model for their newest campaign and the other night they surprsied us all by releasing some of the products early. A wheelchair user is a model for a major company! I am PROUD to say I've done this. PROUD to be a part of it. PROUD to be a model representing a community of disabled and chronically ill people. PROUD to be comfortable in my own skin. As a Christian a lot of people have expressed to me their distaste with what I did here with Aerie, but I have something to say to that. God gave us this life, our bodies, and our struggles to glorify him. These photos are not risque, or provocative, or slutty. This campaign is the epitome of confidence and beauty in who you are as your true self. I have confidence in who I am in Christ even with my disability and my wheelchair, and that translates physically. Being a model in a wheelchair for a major company is kind of a big deal and I want to be transparent about it all. Confidence is hard to come by and even harder to master. Just when I thought I had it my disability and illnesses stripped it away. I was embarrassed to be seen in public with mobility aids, hated how everything looked while I was in my chair. Then God put his hand on my heart and reminded me that i am fearfully and wonderfully made in his image. He put me on this path of life to be the light I needed when I was struggling. To remind young disabled women that they're beautiful no matter what. Beautiful with mobility aids. Beautiful in a wheelchair. Beautiful with an invisible illness. Beautiful, not despite those things, but because of them. That is Aerie Real. . . Image description: Abby holding her hair up and smiling over her shoulder. Shes wearing a black lace bralette and sitting in her wheelchair.

A post shared by Abby Sams (@abby_sams) on

Sams was sporting Aerie’s Boho Lace Bralette, and her candid shots were met with lots of cheers and excitement. One fan responded that this was the first time she saw herself represented in a model. Others were so thrilled, they couldn’t resist commenting in all caps.

Sams tells Health that the environment at the shoot was as fun as it appears in the photos. She was joined by several other models, some of whom had disabilities and conditions that are not usually represented in fashion spreads.

“There was always music playing and we were all dancing and making jokes while the photographer, Andrew Buda, was working his magic,” she says. “Most of the photos are candid and I love that. The crew was also always asking what they could do to make things accessible and make sure I could get around. They made sure not to do things for me but instead make them accessible enough for me to do myself which blew me away.”

She wasn’t the only one blown away by the photos. Sams says she woke up to more than 200 messages from people who had seen them.

“So many people are so excited that a major company is really going deep into representing diversity in all communities,” she says. “[People were] so happy to finally see someone like them in the media, totally unretouched and happy.”