When I was little, I wanted to be a Disney princess and look like Britney Spears. I know, I know - what was I thinking, right? Britney? Really??? Well, in my defense, late 90s/early 00s Britney was like Selena Gomez/Victoria Justice/whoever else (I feel so old right now) is currently famous in the tween world. Everyone wanted her style and her dance moves and her seemingly perfect relationship with Justin Timberlake. And what 90s girl didn't want to don a ball gown and marry a handsome prince like a Disney princess? They were the standard of beauty that every tween wanted to look and be like: Britney, any Disney princess, and the infamous Barbie Doll. But Britney Spears and the Disney princesses and even Barbie were thin and beautiful and had all four limbs intact. So who was a chubby kid with a limb difference supposed to look up to for reassurance that she was beautiful?
Fortunately, times are a little different now. There's much more diversity in youth culture (with everything from the first African American Disney princess to Glee character Artie (and Quinn, briefly) who uses a wheelchair), but what many people don't realize is that the need to see others who look like you in the media doesn't end in childhood or even tweenhood. Recently, while doing research on the fashion industry since my company is working on a new show about models (you can follow The Face here, actually), I've discovered several women with limb differences who work in the media. And a part of me can't help but wish I had strong and successful people like them to look up to during my formative years when I was feeling ugly and believed it was impossible to be beautiful or sexy with only one hand.
Just a few weeks ago, a young filmmaker named Jana emailed me and asked if she could interview me for a project she's working on about women with disabilities and the idea of sexiness. I'll be the first to admit that it took me a looooong time to think of myself as sexy or pretty. There were definitely moments when I looked in the mirror and knew I looked good, but there was always the nagging thought that I would never be desirable because I looked so different. As much as I'd starve myself and exercise like a maniac (although that's a whole other issue you'll find out about in a future post), I never had the "perfect body." I'd pick on my flaws and cake on my makeup to compensate for my perceived ugliness. But that wasn't working for me. And in addition to finally letting myself see myself as a human being who obviously isn't going to be perfect, I've realized that I need to stop defining myself by individual parts of me. I may have one hand, but that's not all I am. Yes, I have athletic legs and Taylor Swift curls. But that's not all I am either. That's not what makes me sexy and it's not why my boyfriend is with me. It may be cliche, but I think sexiness comes from knowing your true value. If you take care of yourself and carry yourself like you KNOW and feel that you're awesome, then that's sexy. You don't need to have Barbie's impossible proportions to know that.
Of course, I understand how hard it is to just say "Hey, I'm sexy" and really believe it, especially with the media's focus on who's hot or not and how much baby weight celebs have put on. So it always helps me to see others who have limb differences in the spotlight. Watching them take on the world and own their look really inspires me to do the same. So just in case you're insecure about your body or limb difference specifically, since I've seen a lot of bloggers whose young daughters have hands similar to mine, here are some role models who have made it and who just so happen to be missing one or more limbs.
Shaholly Ayers is so gorgeous that you may have missed the fact that her right arm is actually a prosthetic. To be honest, I don't know a lot about her. But there are times that I wish I could be as confident and comfortable as she is with her congenital limb difference. She poses both with and without a prosthetic. And there are several photos in which she doesn't even attempt to hide her arm, which I find very bold and inspiring in a profession that puts so much emphasis on perfect appearances.
Aviva Drescher is currently one of the stars on the hit television show Real Housewives of New York. If the last name sounds familiar, that's because her husband's cousin is actress Fran Drescher. Aviva lost her leg in an accident when she was a young girl and, like so many others, she's made a happy life for herself. She's married with four children and starring on a Bravo show. Although the show does not always reveal her best qualities, Aviva has mentioned that she doesn't mind what critics say about the show as long as she brings awareness to amputees.
Kelly Knox was the winner on BBC's modeling competition show Britain's Missing Top Model. Like me, she was born without a left arm past the elbow. She's appeared in magazines like Marie Claire and in ads for VO5. She also doesn't wear a prosthetic and is much more comfortable without one.
So there you go: 4 strong and beautiful women to look to for inspiration and motivation whenever you feel down about being different. Even when I feel like absolute crap about the way I look, it's helpful to know that there others in the world who understand. And it's also very encouraging that with their "flaws" and differences, they (and I) are still beautiful.