Born without a right forearm, Rebekah Marine was told as a young girl that modeling wasn’t the career for her. Now, she's about to walk in New York Fashion Week.
The 28-year-old model, who has an i-limb quantum prosthetic hand, will appear in the FTL Moda show on Sept. 13, sporting her bionic arm.
"It's been quite a journey for me. It was hard at first to put myself out there for the whole world to see," Marine tells PEOPLE. "But I've become quite comfortable with myself now, and I'm the happiest I've ever been."
Marine initially gave up her dream of becoming a model after being turned down by several agencies as a kid. She recalled those days to PEOPLE.
"It didn't go very well, of course, when casting directors noticed my disability," she said of the times her mother would take her to agencies in New York City from their home in Woodbury, New Jersey. "Hearing the words 'You'll never have a future in the business,' really hit me hard."
Marine became self-conscious about her arm and would often shy away from photos. But when she received the prosthesis six years ago, she decided to take matters into her own hands – or rather, her bionic arm.
"Although I had a body-powered arm in elementary school, I gave up on it when it proved to be too difficult," says Marine. "The technology in my i-limb quantum really made my day-to-day life easier."
That newfound confidence and ease – along with support from an encouraging friend – was all it took for Marine to jumpstart her dream career. In just a few months, she was booked in a small bridal photo shoot. "I was blown away that I could be taken seriously in this industry, and be successful at it."
Since then she has walked in February's NYFW and been featured in Nordstrom's 2015 anniversary catalog. Now represented by Models of Diversity, Marine acts as an ambassador for the Lucky Fin Project, which aims to raise awareness and support for those with an "upper limb difference," according to her website.
And her camera-shy days are clearly over: She likes to show her "accessory" on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
But despite her success, the model still experiences hardships in the industry. She says she was recently turned down by an agency. "I thought my portfolio was strong, and I had a good message behind it, but they quickly passed on me," she says. "My image isn't for everyone; I've accepted that."
Along with Marine, other models with disabilities will also strut their stuff during NYFW, including Madeline Stuart, an 18-year-old Australian with Down's Syndrome.
"It's so important to include more diverse models, because after all, nearly one in five people in America have a disability," Marine told Mashable. "We should be celebrating uniqueness, not conforming to what the media thinks is beautiful."