Tamera McLaughlin, 25, made history as the first little person to walk the runway at Miami Swim Week, Art Heart Fashion, which produces the event, says.
McLaughlin made her debut with Naava Swim on Friday. She says the experience was as liberating as it was nerve-wracking.
“I had like an anxiety attack,” she tells Yahoo Life.
McLaughlin was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. People with the condition are born with shortened limbs. It can make everyday tasks especially challenging and, in some cases, painful.
“When we walk long distances, our legs hurt really bad. We have knee problems. We have a lot of issues when it comes to our legs because they’re little and they didn’t grow the way they were supposed to grow,” explains McLaughlin.
In 2021, Tamera became the first little person ambassador for Rihanna’s lingerie brand
This made walking the runway daunting for McLaughlin, who says she usually does print modeling, which doesn’t require the same physical exertion.
“One step, for an average height person, is like three steps to me,” McLaughlin says.
Her anxieties were exacerbated by the high-heeled shoes she wore — something she does not often do.
“I was nervous I was going to fall. I was nervous about a lot of stuff,” she explains.
But all of those nerves melted away as soon as she heard the applause from the crowd.
“When I heard the clapping and everything that people were doing, that’s when I was very excited, like ‘OK. Yes, I’m really doing something,'” she says.
When we walk long distances, our legs hurt really bad. One step, for an average height person, is like three steps to me
McLaughlin hopes her casting will help serve as inspiration for anyone who has felt excluded from the world of modeling.
“I really do get a lot of little people saying they look up to me due to the simple fact that I am creating change. I am doing something that a lot of people don’t see,” says McLaughlin.
“You don’t have to be tall to be a model. You don’t have to be really short. You can just be yourself, and whoever accepts you accepts you,” she says.
In addition to her own talents, McLaughlin says a large part of landing these gigs comes from others “seeing something” in her.
“You have to have somebody to push for you. The designer of Naava Swim, Justin Houpe, pushed to have me in the show and really advocated for me,” she explains.
Though it was her first time walking in Miami Swim Week, it is not the first time McLaughlin has made modeling history. In 2021, she became the first little person ambassador for Rihanna’s lingerie brand Savage X Fenty.
“Younger me definitely would be shocked. I never looked at myself as being a model,” says McLaughlin.
Now, with multiple brand deals and history-making debuts under her belt, she hopes to continue inspiring people from all walks of life to pursue their passions unabashedly.
“Everyone should be able to do everything. And what people can do shouldn’t be limited to how you look or how you were born,” she says.