Mama Cax on a runway during New York Fashion Week in September. “As a cancer survivor, she had grown accustomed to taking on life’s several challenges head on and successfully,” her agency said. Credit…Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times
By Derrick Bryson Taylor, NY Times
Mama Cax, a Brooklyn-born advocate for people with disabilities and a rising model who challenged the fashion industry’s standard of beauty by not shying away from displaying her prosthetic leg on the runway and in fashion campaigns, died on Dec. 16 in London. She was 30.
Her agency, Jag Models, confirmed the death, at Royal London Hospital. A cause was not given. Mama Cax, who lived in New York, said on her official Instagram account on Dec. 12 that she had experienced severe abdominal pain while in London and later learned that she had several blood clots. A statement posted on the site said she had spent her last week in the hospital.
“As a cancer survivor, she had grown accustomed to taking on life’s several challenges head on and successfully,” the statement said. “It is with that same grit (fervor) that she fought her last days on earth.”
She was born Cacsmy Brutus on Nov. 20, 1989, in Brooklyn. She studied in New York, France, Tunis and Rome, and had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in international studies, according to her website.
She was a teenager when she learned she had bone and lung cancer. After treatment she had a hip replacement, she said in an interview with Glamour magazine, but when her body rejected the hip, the decision was made to amputate her right leg.
She struggled to accept the changes.
“I probably spent one or two weeks without looking at my body whatsoever,” Mama Cax told the magazine. “That sort of disgust lingered and lasted throughout my early years in college. Feeling beautiful or being in a space where I would feel beautiful was not at all on my radar. It wasn’t a priority because I figured I could never get there.”
She later began blogging about lifestyle and travel. She used her prominence to inspire other amputees, drawing attention by dressing up her prosthetic leg.
“I didn’t see body appreciation being shown to people with disabilities or people with scars, so I started sharing my story on Instagram,” she told The New York Times in May. “I was sharing for women who don’t see themselves as beautiful and don’t see their bodies celebrated.”
She secured her first advertising campaign in 2017 before signing with Jag Models. “It was so surreal knowing there can be a space for me in beauty,” she said. “From that point on, I knew I had an ability to break certain barriers.”
She went on to land campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger and Sephora and appeared on the September 2018 cover of Teen Vogue. She walked in a fashion show at the White House in 2016 as well as in shows for Chromat and Savage X Fenty, a brand by Rihanna, who called Mama Cax a “powerhouse beauty” on Twitter.
Mama Cax is survived by her mother, Marie Vilus; her father, Cacsman Brutus; and four sisters, Sabienne, Lei, Cassline and Ashley Brutus.
“She was representing a whole community that’s always been either misrepresented or just been invisible,” Jillian Mercado, a friend and fellow model, said on Saturday. “She was really good at educating people on not only her disability, but how you can be an ally to the community. She was one of the first people who had a disability on the catwalk.”
Stephanie Thomas, who is a fashion styling expert for people with disabilities and who worked with Mama Cax, said her impact on the fashion industry was “undeniable.”
“She wasn’t afraid to be herself,” she said. “What I loved about it is that she challenged norms not by putting other people down, but by having the courage to, you know, really express herself through fashion.”