Jillian Mercado, a blogger and model with muscular dystrophy, has been cast as a new face of Beyoncé’s online store, where she can be seen modelling the T-shirts, hats and sweaters that comprise the pop star’s latest line of merchandise.
Mercado announced the news through her social media channels: “OK LADIES now let’s get in FORMATION!” she wrote on Instagram. “So BEYond excited to finally announce that I’m on the official @beyonce website!!!”
The image she posted features her in a wheelchair alongside two other models. Mercado is wearing a “hot sauce” cap and a sweater emblazoned with the line “I twirl on them haters”.
The words have been pulled from the lyrics of Formation, the surprise singleBeyoncé released in February. The song and clip represent Beyoncé’s most brazenly political work, commenting on the failure of race relations in the United States – both past and present – and their intersection with class, sexuality and gender.
The Guardian columnist Syreeta McFadden celebrated the clip as an “inherently political and a deeply personal look at the black and queer bodies who have most often borne the brunt of our politics”, saying: “It compels us to reclaim the black American narrative from its margin and make it centre.” Beyoncé’s performance of the song at this year’s Super Bowl paid homage to the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mercado has been represented by IMG Models since last year and has worked oncampaigns for Diesel Jeans and Nordstrom. But the 28-year-old began in the industry much earlier, working as an intern at a variety of fashion magazines while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where her classmates compelled her to start blogging.
“At first I was very hesitant,” she told Vogue in August. “I wasn’t sure about showing everyone my world because I didn’t know if there would be an audience. We’ve been brainwashed [as a society] not to care about someone who has a disability, or their world.”
Her blog, Manufactured 1987, is equally weighted with posts about new fashion lines and her career as a model. She uses the blog, along with social media, as a platform to champion diversity in her industry.
“I was shocked that I didn’t see anyone in the industry who was like me,” Mercado told Vogue. “So when people — girls especially — tell me that I’m their role model, I am taken aback. I love it and it is flattering but it affects me on a very personal level because I remember growing up without having a person I could look to.”
Mercado wrote on Twitter that since the Beyoncé merchandise images had gone live, the feedback from the press had been “truly surreal” – and she used the moment to start another conversation.
Referring to the term “wheelchair-bound”, which many in the disability community find offensive, she tweeted: “Now how about we fix that word bound...”