Pansy St. Battie is a disabled fashion model and burlesque dancer from San Francisco, California. Blending their love of all things vintage fashion, pin-up glamour, glitter and sexuality both beautifully and creatively into their modelling and performances complete with a fully-rhinestoned wheelchair. Boasting an incredible portfolio and massive following on Instagram, Pansy St. Battie is breaking down barriers in the media and fashion industry while representing disabled people.
It was a real pleasure catching up with Pansy St. Battie and asking some questions about what it’s like being a disabled model, the challenges of performing burlesque in a wheelchair and lots more.
Pansy, as a professional disabled model can you tell us a little about how you got started in the industry?
I got started doing a pinup shoot for my birthday, just for fun. From there I started creating photos with friends and classmates and realized it was something I really enjoyed. I kept building a portfolio and reaching out to brands and people I wanted to work with to gain experience and opportunities.
What inspired your love of burlesque and how would you describe your style?
My love of burlesque ties closely with my love of beauty and sexual expression. I can’t remember a specific starting point but I’ve always admired it. My style ties closely. I love glamour. I love being extra and sparkly, and I love being sexy. That can happen in many iterations and ways, but pretty much all of them I’m drawn to.
Your looks are always incredibly beautiful and creative. How do you come up with the different make-up, fashion and styles for your photographs and burlesque routines? Can you explain the creative process?
It varies a lot. For photographs, I often work with the ideas of those who hired me or collaborate on concepts. If it’s a personal shoot, it usually starts with an interest me and the photographer have in common. For shows, routines are often sparkled by songs I listen to I feel myself moving to or props. I built an act earlier this year around my lip-shaped couch that ended up turning into a studio 54 inspired act. For makeup, I just look at the colours I want and do a practice round where I experiment so I know what I’m going to do on the actual day.
Do you have a favourite modelling and/or burlesque memory or story?
So many! Shooting for The Angry Feminist Pin Up Calendar where I got to pose with a silkie chicken on a palanquin held by 2 scantily clad men was pretty amazing. It was also a great team and for a cause I really supported which made it even better.
What’s your proudest achievement so far?
It’s hard to narrow it down. I think the biggest is when people tell me they enjoy working with me, recommend me for shoots, or rehire me. I take a lot of pride in my work and when that’s recognized by coworkers it’s really affirming and I think it also makes me happy to be someone who people creatively connect with and want to continue to do that with as well.
If you feel comfortable, can you tell us a little about you, your disability and how it affects you?
I have a connective tissue disorder and a number of connected comorbidities. I have to limit physical activity due to pain and fatigue and am prone to passing out. It is definitely difficult having a physically exertive career and its a matter of very carefully scheduling and knowing how certain movements will affect my body.
What, if any, are the challenges of performing burlesque in a wheelchair?
Finding shows to perform in is hard. Even with the best producers, venues are inaccessible and unfortunately, a lot of people are not prepared to brainstorm solutions to that.
What are your thoughts on the representation of disabled people in the media and fashion industry? Do you think the industry is becoming more accessible and inclusive?
I think the industry is becoming more accessible. Social media has given a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to an opportunity to be seen worldwide by so many people, and I think the media and fashion industry is recognizing that there is a market to see all kinds of people. There’s still a long way to go, of course, but I think the fact that more and more people are fighting to be heard and proving they can do it on such a massive scale is helping a lot.
Where do you see your career taking you and what more do you hope to achieve?
I’m not really a plan for the future in great depth kind of person, because my life has been so unpredictable. My goal is just to keep getting as many opportunities to create as possible. I definitely hope to keep growing my platform both because I know that comes with opportunities to create more ambitious things on a bigger scale and because I know that LGBT+ people, disabled people, and people of colour struggle a lot especially when we’re young. For me, seeing creators, performers, models, and artists like me has brought me a lot of joy and gave me a lot of strength to pursue my ambitions confidently and unapologetically. I’ve been told by others I’ve done the same for them, and I’d like to continue to do that on a larger scale and keep that chain reaction going through generations.
When you’re not busy working, what are some of your favourite things to do?
I actually am also a full-time student on top of working, so free time is something I have to work really hard to intentionally make time for, especially when my work is my passion. When I do take it though, I hang out with my pets and cross-stitch. I also love board games or Mario Party type games that are low-stakes and I love playing those with my partner.
What advice would you give disabled people who want to become a model or dancer?
Find what works with your body. Respect your limits both physically and in the boundaries, you want to have. Don’t give up if you don’t get the opportunities you want right away. The world can really beat you down on top of the fact that it can be tough to break into performance or modelling even for people not struggling with axes of oppression. It is definitely important to not compare your success to others and focus on the joy you get from every opportunity rather than follower counts or rushing to meet big goals. Very few people ever feel like they’ve met all their goals or have made it, even incredibly successful people. In fact, the drive to keep pursuing and pushing is what builds success, but if you can’t get joy from doing the work along the way and value every moment as its own opportunity, that can breed misery.
Thank you to the lovely Pansy for taking the time to answer my questions. Follow Pansy St. Battie on Instagram.
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