Real Life: “I'm a real-life rag doll!”
A stunning model has a bizarre condition that can make her body go limp at any time – just like a rag doll’s. Clare-Alana Ford, 23, can lose all control of her voluntary muscles, including those in her legs and arms, due to the incurable illness, called myasthenia gravis. Yet she refuses to be beaten and now she’s moving to Hollywood to further her blossoming career. “Sometimes I’ll go to put my hair up and suddenly my arms will just go limp and flop down to my side,” she says. “I’ve been walking along the road before and my legs have just given way, and there’s nothing I can do.
“It’s a condition that improves with rest, so I have to take breaks from some activities. It sounds strange, but it’s just like being a rag doll. It can be difficult as I get very tired, but I refuse to be a slave to my condition. I love modelling and I’ve been able to be successful despite my health issues. I’ll always do my best and I’ll never let it affect how well I do on a shoot. I won’t let my condition define me.”
Collapse fears on the Catwalk
Clare-Alana began to model at the age of 17 – just as she began to experience her unusual symptoms. “A friend of mine was looking for people to model some dresses for a show during London Fashion Week,” she recalls. “I thought it sounded like fun, so I told her I’d do it. But at around the same time I started to get very tired easily, and weak for no reason at all – I was terrified I’d fall over on the runway in front of everyone. I was very active and I studied ballet, so I thought I was just doing too much. I was nervous but I loved the experience of modelling, and I decided to embark on it professionally. Then, one day, my legs totally gave way –I felt as though a weight was pushing down on me and I couldn’t get up.
“At first the doctor told me it was growing pains, but I knew it was something more, so I pushed for further tests. Eventually I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis – I’d never even heard of it. It was very scary and a shock to be diagnosed with something even medical professionals knew little about, but I was determined to carry on with my life as normal.”
Clare-Alana has continued to model, fitting work around an operation she hopes will help her body fight back. “I had surgery in July 2013 to remove my thymus gland, as there’s some evidence that this can help kick-start the condition into remission and aid symptoms. It can take up to three years to see an improvement, so I have a little while yet.” For now, Alana’s taking medicine and trying to get on with her life. But as well as battling her symptoms, she’s had to deal with others’ negative attitudes.
Misunderstood and called lazy
“It can be hard as the condition is invisible, so often people don’t realise if I’m having a particularly bad time with it,” she says. “People can be quite insensitive at times because of their ignorance about the condition and I’m often mistaken for being lazy, which is very upsetting. Stress can be a big factor in worsening the symptoms, so I try to stay cool and not let things affect me too much. Sometimes I’ve had to pass up jobs as I’ve been ill – I had the opportunity to model for Harrods but I was too unwell to accept it, and I turned down a job in Thailand as I was having surgery. My agency’s based in London, so travelling back and forth can be scary, and the idea of facing the Tube on a casting day is mortifying for me, with all the stairs and the crowds. It’s hard, sometimes, to miss out on things, but it makes me more determined to get better.”
Clare-Alana plans to move to Los Angeles to further her career. “Shortly after I was diagnosed with the condition I flew out to America to have a break from it all,” she says. “I loved the lifestyle out there and I met lots of successful people involved in the modelling and entertainment industries. It made me realise that I could still have fun and be me, regardless of the condition. Now I’m applying for my US visa and continuing my modelling career. I won’t let anything hold me back.”