Life Video

By Josh Saunders


A brave Coronation Street star cruelly called ‘freak’ for being born without half her arm that she hid for over a decade fights back by posing in sexy lingerie shoot to empower others.

Melissa Johns, 27, from Manchester, who played Imogen Pascoe in the long-running ITV drama, is encouraging others to redefine their views towards disability.

She was born without a right hand or forearm, but wasn’t self-conscious until her teen years, when she started covering it beneath cardigans and jumpers.

PICS BY LOUIS AMORE / CATERS NEWS

Hurtful moments when someone couldn’t believe she had a boyfriend reinforced her fear, alongside at 18-years-old, when a guy left vile voicemails calling her a ‘freak’ and saying she didn’t ‘deserve to be alive’.

After seeing Charlize Theron performance in the 2015 hit Mad Max: Fury Road, as a ‘sexy, strong, bad ass’ character with a limb difference she revealed her arm in public again.

From there, she entered a wellness month competition, which helped her to shed her layers in the gym – eventually leading to her sharing the first picture of her limb difference online two years ago.

Drawing courage from the support and encouraging comments, she stopped hiding for the first time in over a decade.

Now, the actress has since embraced her difference and gone onto work to empower others with disabilities to show they can be sexy and that attitudes need to change.

PICS BY LOUIS AMORE / CATERS NEWS

Melissa said: “I was in a nightclub and was dancing with this lad, we were getting on well and he asked my friend if he could have my number, I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.

“The next morning, I woke up with so many missed calls and voicemails and was so excited that I had butterflies in my tummy.

“I listened to them and he said things like, ‘You manipulative little b****, how dare you trick me’, ‘Freaks like you don’t deserve to be alive’ and a splurge of not very nice things.

“When I was 19, a girl said something that stuck with me for years: ‘YOU have a boyfriend? Really? Well how does he feel about having to have sex with you?’

“This feeling of ugliness and disgust resonated with me throughout my teens and early twenties.

“It resulted in me despising my body and loathing the way I looked every time I saw myself in the mirror or in photos.

PICS BY LOUIS AMORE / CATERS NEWS

“I saw everyone else around me as this perfectly cut, sparkly little gem. And then there was me. This uncut, grey stone that got in the way. Hating my body because of my disability was draining.

“It took up so much energy and at 25, after years of despising the body I was given, I decided I had to change the way I felt about myself.

“A few years ago, I watched MAD MAX at the cinema. Charlize Theron played a character with one arm.

“Seeing this strong, sexy, bad ass woman with one arm on the screen made me feel so unbelievably empowered that as we left the cinema, for the first time in so long, I took my cardigan off, I gestured with both of my arms, I didn’t hide away.

“I was showing off my body. Because I knew that the majority of people in that cinema had looked at Charlize Theron’s character and had seen what I saw.

“I had to work hard to undo all of this negativity I had created around my image. That took about two years. But it was so worth it.

“I love my disability and body difference. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

PICS BY LOUIS AMORE / CATERS NEWS

She posed for charity Models of Diversity to flaunt her stunning physique, a mere three months after nude photographs of the star were leaked online after her iCloud account was hacked into.

The images, taken by photographer Louis Amore, show the actress scantily clad in a range of poses in pieces from ASOS and Swimsuit for All.

Melissa said: “The shoot allowed me to take back ownership, somebody completely disrespected me by hacking into a private exchange between me and my partner.

“Those images are online and I can do nothing about that, but I am proud of how I reacted and how I have fought back.

“I want to spend time building up our girls and women so they feel confident and celebrate the body they were given.

“Then should something happen they can deal with it and feel like they don’t have to go into hiding.”

Melissa’s limb difference was first noticed after her birth, never showing on scans and even doctors were hesitant to tell parents Sara and Mike.

PICS BY LOUIS AMORE / CATERS NEWS

She said: “My parents had no idea, it didn’t show up on any of the scans and were not for the first hour, which shows how they approached disability in the 90s.

“They wrapped me up and tucked my arm inside, telling my parents I was perfect, it was only because I was taken off that my dad sensed something wasn’t right.

For Melissa, that feeling of being the ‘elephant in the room’ didn’t manifest until her teen years when she became more self-conscious, started liking boys and noticed her body change.

Her embarrassment developed into a fixation upon hiding her limb, which left her pre-planning her every action, often performing elaborate movements to ensure nobody would notice.

She said: “It was an art-form, I would trick people into thinking I had two hands, it was really draining and tiring to do every day.

“When I got off the bus [for an under 18s night] I would have to walk past the boys’ line, it was on the side where they could see my arm.

“So I would run ahead pretending to have seen someone I knew, then walk backwards.

PICS BY MELISSA JOHNS / CATERS NEWS

“I would calculate how to sit, stand, every movement and would hold people’s gaze, in the belief that they wouldn’t look below my collarbone.”

Even in the dating world, prior to meeting rugby player partner Mat Swain, 26, she would disguise the fact that she had a limb difference.

She added: “I used to be so scared that people would be nasty and reject me because of it, I wanted them to get to know me as much as possible before anything else.”

But Melissa became determined to alter her mindset and thoughts about her disability in 2016, shortly after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road – with a strong female character who had a limb difference.

Later, a friend encouraged her to take part in the Highway to Well Fitness competition that encourages people to change something about themselves.

Determined to change her own perception of her arm and embrace it, she would go onto post her first image revealing it online.

Melissa said: “My focus was my boyfriend’s rugby dinner and dance to be able to go and leave my cardigan at home.

“For the first time I took my hoodie off at the gym instead of judgemental looks, people were like ‘fair play’ for lifting weights, ‘What’s my excuse.’

“They were so supportive that I decided to post my first picture showing my arm on social media.

“The comments, support and love people showed was so lovely, all their beautifully wonderful words glued back these cracks that had appeared of the years.

“It was such a nice feeling I kept going with it, it made me stronger and stronger. From there it took a good two years but that skyrocketed it.”

PICS BY MELISSA JOHNS / CATERS NEWS

Last year, while celebrating being the winner of the 2016 competition Highway to Well Fitness challenge in Los Angeles, she was told about landing a role on Coronation Street.

Now the actress is working alongside charities to alter the representation of people with disabilities in the media, TV and film.

Melissa said: “I grew-up not seeing anyone looking like me, now I strive for perfection and being given a profile and platform I want to do good.

“I genuinely know what it feels like to hate the way you look and I know all the experiences that come with that, I want to show that disabled bodies and body differences are magical.

“I am not a sexual fetish. I am not a tick box to prove equal opportunities. I am not even here just to show representation.

“I’m an individual that has a different body shape from the ‘norm’ and I have the right to so be raw, sexy, intimate and real.”

Melissa hopes that campaigns from charities like Models Of Diversity will help to reverse the tide of low representation for people with disabilities and differences.

She said: “It’s time for everyone to play their part. Clothing brands, advertisement companies, businesses that market products.

“It’s time for everyone to think: ‘What can I do to represent the 20% of the population that are currently completely under represented?’”

PICS BY MELISSA JOHNS / CATERS NEWS

Models of Diversity are looking to challenge common perception of disability in the hoping of changing attitudes and uniting people.

In 2016, four years on from the London Paralympic Games, 43% of the public claimed not to know anyone with a disability and a further 67% felt ‘awkward’ around people with disabilities.

Studies report that just over one in five people have disability, MOD hope that by increasing representation of people with disabilities in fashion, advertising and the media it will alter society.

MOD said: “To us Melissa represents the 13 million disabled people living in the U.K. who feel that they don’t fit in.

“She’s a young women, who loves fashion but for so long hid her disability as there was no one like her in any media, tv shows or fashion campaigns.

“To have her on board as an ambassador means that people, who for so long have felt like she did, can see that their disability doesn’t need to define them or stop them living their dreams.

“Disabled people are just that, people and they like everyone else need positive role models and Melissa is just that.

“She embraces her disability, chases her dreams and doesn’t give up! We can only hope inspires people with disabilities, and we urge them to join us in confronting brands to ask why they are not being represented in their campaigns.

PICS BY MELISSA JOHNS / CATERS NEWS

“To us the Photoshoot represents the need for a change to the face of Fashion. It shows that people with disabilities are beautiful and that they should be used alongside ‘normal’ models in fashion Campaigns without question.

“In the U.K. brands have used models with disabilities for one off campaigns, such as ASOS with their fitness line, however they don’t use them throughout their campaigns alongside the other models.

“In the U.K. there is a huge market that brands are missing out on, the disabled market. In America, Tommy Hilfiger has released his 2nd season of adaptable clothing however this is by accessible to the U.K. market.

“There are currently no brands In the U.K. who are producing adaptable clothing which is shocking due to there being such a high number of disabled people living here.

“On many occasions we have reached out to the high street brands and tried to arrange meetings to discuss the possibility of them using a disabled model, we have only had success once and that was with Missguided who used our stunning model Chiara Bordi in their Babes of Missguided campaign.

“We were lucky enough to attend the British Fashion Awards, thanks to the British Fashion Council, back in December last year and the thing that stood out to us most was how they made diversity the forefront of the awards.

“It showed that Fashion, and the people working in the industry, want the change and now all we need is for the brands to take note and follow suit.”

For more info visit:  www.modelsofdiversity.org